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Panna Cotta Recipe & Video

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Panna Cotta is an Italian dessert that literally means "cooked cream". It contains just a few ingredients; cream (and/or milk), sugar, and vanilla that are set with gelatin. This lovely eggless custard-like pudding has a rich flavor and silky smooth texture that takes just minutes to prepare. Panna Cotta is the perfect dinner party dessert as it is can be made ahead, is well suited for individual servings, stunning to look at, and delicious to eat. I like to serve these Panna Cotta with a medley of fresh berries, poached fruit, or a chocolate or fruit sauce (strawberry or raspberry are very nice). 

Panna Cotta begins with gelatin. For this recipe we are using unflavored powdered gelatin as leaf gelatin is hard to come by in North America. Powdered unflavored gelatin is sold on the baking isle of grocery stores and is packaged in small boxes that contain four paper envelopes of powdered gelatin. We need just one - 1/4 ounce (7 grams) (scant tablespoon) envelope. Unflavored gelatin is tiny granules that are tasteless, colorless, and odorless. It is used as a thickening agent but only becomes active when dissolved in a hot liquid. But first we need to sprinkle the gelatin over cold liquid (in this case milk) which allows the gelatin to soften, swell, and become spongy (to bloom). While the gelatin is softening, the next step is to heat the sugar and heavy cream (double cream) (cream with a 35-40% butterfat content) until hot. I realize that some may want to make the Panna Cotta lighter in taste, texture, and calories. If that is the case just substitute milk or a lighter cream for some of the heavy cream. Once the cream is hot, stir in the softened gelatin. The gelatin then needs to be gently warmed so the granules completely dissolve and the proteins become activated. I always like to check to make sure all the gelatin granules are dissolved. Do this by dipping a spoon into the cream to see that all the crystals have melted. The final step is to stir in the pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste, and you are done. Pour the cream into 6 to 8 - 1/2 cup (120 ml) dessert cups and refrigerate until firm. This will take about two to four hours, or even overnight. Absolutely delicious.

Note: For a more intense vanilla flavor, you could substitute half a vanilla bean for the pure vanilla extract. To use a vanilla bean simply split the bean down its length and scrape out the seeds using the end of a sharp knife. Then, stir all the seeds into the cream before it is heated. This not only imparts a wonderful vanilla flavor to the cream but I also like how the seeds dot the finished Panna Cotta. Now, do not throw away the vanilla pod once you have scraped out the seeds. This can be used to make wonderful vanilla scented sugar. To make the vanilla sugar first leave the vanilla pod on your kitchen counter for several hours or even a day until it dries out. Then, simply bury the dried vanilla pod into your canister of sugar. After a few days you will find that the flavor of vanilla has permeated through all the sugar. 

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Panna Cotta: To start, have ready six small (1/2 cup) (120 ml) custard cups, ramekins, ceramic bowls, wine glasses or other small dessert cups.

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold milk and let this mixture sit for about 5 - 10 minutes. It will soften, swell, and become spongy. Meanwhile, combine the cream and sugar in a medium saucepan and bring it just to a boil, stirring to dissolve the powdered sugar. Once the cream is very hot, remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the gelatin mixture. Stir until the gelatin has completely dissolved. If necessary, return the saucepan to the stove and stir over low heat until you no longer see any gelatin particles. Stir in the vanilla paste or extract.

Pour the cream into the dessert cups and place in the refrigerator to chill for two to four hours, or until set. The Panna Cotta can be made one to two days before serving.   

Can serve with a medley of fresh berries, fruit, chocolate sauce, or a fruit sauce.

Makes 6 individual servings. Preparation time 35 minutes.

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Alexander, Stephanie. 'The Cook's Companion'. Lantern. A Penguin Group. Victoria: 2003.

Killeen, Johanne and Germon, George. 'Cucina Simptica'. Harper Collins Publishers. New York: 1991.

Panna Cotta Recipe:

1 package (1/4 ounce) (7 grams) unflavored powdered gelatin

1/4 cup (60 ml) cold milk

2 1/4 cups (540 ml) heavy whipping cream

1/2 cup (60 grams) confectioners' (icing or powdered) sugar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla paste or pure vanilla extract




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