The Italian Dessert Delight: A Panna Cotta Recipe You Can't Resist!

Vanilla Panna Cotta

Who loves Panna Cotta? This dreamy Italian dessert is one of the easiest desserts to make at home requiring just a few ingredients! A vanilla panna cotta with berry sauce is a classic and my version uses that wonderful combination of raspberry, lychee and rosewater inspired by the flavours of the Ispahan cake. If you're looking for a make ahead dessert and one that can potentially feed a big group try this amazing neverfail panna cotta dessert. This is a pushy recipe Dear Reader!

What is Panna Cotta?

Panna cotta is an Italian dessert that translates to "cooked cream" that contains just 4 ingredients: cream, sugar, gelatine and vanilla. To make panna cotta, you heat full fat heavy cream with sugar, vanilla and then add bloomed gelatine. Then pour the mixture into moulds or serving cups. The texture of panna cotta should be wobbly and jiggly, some say like a woman's breast. You don't want your panna cotta to set like a firm jelly but you want to ensure that it is set enough.

Panna cotta set in the serving cup is easiest while panna cotta that is unmoulded and served onto a plate requires a bit more precision. A kitchen scale can help in this regard just to ensure that the gelatine measurement is correct. And if you're serving this to a large number of people I'd keep these in the cup to save you unmoulding a lot of them.

Vanilla Panna Cotta

My recipe for the raspberry, rose and lychee sauce is thick enough so that it blankets the panna cotta nicely. Sometimes the sauce can be too thin and it drips down easily while this one coats the panna cotta so that you get the peek of white panna cotta underneath the crimson sauce. I love the combination of raspberry, rose and lychee but you can also make it a plain raspberry or strawberry sauce too. Just omit the rosewater and replace the lychee juice with water.

What is the Difference Between Panna Cotta, Crème Brulee, Crème Caramel and Bavarois?

Panna cotta is most similar to bavarois and like a cousin to the crème brulee and crème caramel. All of these desserts use dairy cream or milk as the base. Crème brulee and crème caramel use eggs as the setting agent while panna cotta and bavarois use gelatine to set them. Bavarois uses whipped cream and fruit in the actual base while panna cotta often has fruit served on top or as a sauce.

What type of Gelatine Do I Use for Panna Cotta?

Vanilla Panna Cotta

I made this panna cotta using gelatine powder because gelatine leaves are quite frankly hard work with the different types of gelatine strengths. Honestly I feel like this meme whenever I am trying to figure it out. And when I put in the measurement for say gold gelatine leaves, someone always asks me about titanium etc. I know using gelatin leaves are supposed to be fancier and for pastry chefs but I'm giving gelatine leaves up for 2023 and honestly I feel freeeee...

What type of Vanilla Is Best for Panna Cotta?

I love using vanilla bean paste because it's easier and less messy to use than a vanilla bean and I suspect an easy recipe is why you are here Dear Reader but if you have vanilla beans you can certainly use those. Split the bean in half lengthways and scrape out the seeds and add them to the cream mixture. Then place the scraped vanilla bean halves in the cream and allow to steep getting all of that lovely aroma out of the pod.

Can I Use Milk Instead of Cream?

Yes you can, although the amount of gelatine specified in the recipe below is for cream. When subbing with milk which is lower in fat you will need to use more gelatine to set it.

Vanilla Panna Cotta

I have to admit that I don't order panna cotta very often when eating out. To me it's the dessert of convenience as it is so simple and easy and a chef's dream when feeding a lot of people for events. Panna cotta can keep for days in the fridge in an airtight container and is so easy and cheap to make in bulk. That's why it often features on airline economy meals. I remembering getting bavarois and panna cotta on a lot of economy flights and I think that's why I have slight PTSD about it.

That is until I switched and now I always pre-order a meal and my choice is always the Hindu vegetarian meal when flying economy. I have never once regretted it and I have been doing for years now. I don't know what it is but they seem to take better care when preparing the food, perhaps because it is made in smaller volumes. It's always a delicious curry of some sort and the main always includes a naan flatbread which is so much better than the weird, dry bread roll that you would otherwise get. Sometimes they do a double take and check that I want the Hindu meal and I nod enthusiastically. The other advantage is that you get served first! And it's bye bye to panna cotta in favour of fresh fruit and gulab jamun!

So tell me Dear Reader, do you have any tips for flying? Do you make panna cotta often?

Vanilla Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta Recipe

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An Original Recipe by Lorraine Elliott

Preparation time: 10 minutes plus 30 minutes steeping time

Cooking time: 5 minutes

Makes 4 x 150ml/5floz panna cotta

  • 600ml/21flozs heavy or thickened cream
  • 75g/2.6ozs caster or superfine sugar
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
  • 1 tablespoon/20ml/0.7flozs water
  • 2 teaspoons/7g/0.25oz gelatine powder (one envelope Knox gelatine)

For Sauce

  • 125g/4ozs raspberries (fresh or frozen)
  • 1/4 cup/50ml/2flozs lychee juice (from a tin of lychees)
  • 60g/2ozs caster or superfine sugar
  • 1-2 teaspoons rose water (to taste)

To Serve

  • Lychees, raspberries, mint and rose petals

Vanilla Panna Cotta

Step 1 - Heat the cream on medium heat in a small saucepan (do not allow to boil). Stir in the sugar and allow to melt. Add the vanilla and place the lid back on and allow to steep for 30 minutes (leaving the lid on prevents a thick skin forming).

Thermomix directions for panna cotta: Add cream and sugar to the TM bowl and set to 8 minutes/100C/speed # 2. Add vanilla bean paste and set to 30 seconds/speed #4 and leave lid on and allow to steep for 30 minutes. Place the water in a microwave proof bowl and sprinkle with the gelatine powder. Allow to swell (add a few extra drops if it is too dry). Then microwave on high for 20 seconds until liquid. Stir to ensure that all of the granules are dissolved. Set the cream mixture to 3 minutes/100C/speed#2 and when finished add the gelatine mixture and set to 15 seconds, speed #4. Pour into the cups.

Vanilla Panna Cotta
Gelatine swelling in water

Vanilla Panna Cotta
Once heated, it becomes liquid

Step 2 - Place the water in a microwave proof bowl and sprinkle with the gelatine powder. Allow to swell (add a few extra drops if it is too dry). Then microwave on high for 20 seconds until liquid. Stir to ensure that all of the granules are dissolved. Heat the cream up again and add the gelatine mixture (the two mixtures should be roughly equal temperatures to ensure that they mix well together and don't clump). Stir well.

Vanilla Panna Cotta
Straining the pips out of the sauce

Step 3 - Take your bowls or cups (you can briefly spray them with oil) and pour the mixture into the cups and allow to set in the fridge for 3 hours or preferably overnight. While it is chilling make the sauce. Place the raspberries, juice and sugar in a small saucepan and allow to simmer for 10 minutes until the raspberries are soft and mushy. Add the rose water to taste. Blend in a food processor and strain the pips (tip: don't use your finest sieve, it will take forever). This sauce will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Vanilla Panna Cotta

Thermomix directions for sauce: Place the raspberries, juice and sugar in the TM bowl and set to 9 minutes/90C/speed #3 until the raspberries are soft and mushy. Add the rose water to taste. Strain the pips. This sauce will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Step 4 - If unmolding run a sharp knife around the edge of the panna cotta to loosen and place the cup in a bowl of hot water for 10 seconds and allow it to loosen. Place a plate on top and then gently upturn. The panna cotta should slide out. If not place it back in the hot water to loosen for a further 5 seconds. Be patient as you don't want to force it out as it may break. Serve with a tablespoon of sauce, lychee, raspberry and rose petal.

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