The exquisite silken dessert of Northern Italy, Panna Cotta or Cooked Cream, has spread the culinary globe, embraced by millions of people loving luxurious simplicity as the finale to a fine meal. Today, there are as many variations as there are chefs and cooks preparing this dish but it is based on centuries-old tradition. Italian panna cotta is made with either cooked cream or cooked milk or a mixture of both so it becomes light and smooth in texture. Without warming first, dairy products produce heavy results, and often, do not blend well with flavorings. To set, dissolve food gelatin in the warm mixture then pour it into molds. Molds can be bowls, cups, glasses, ramekins, or anything of your choosing. Refrigerate until set in firmness. Make in advance and serve slightly chilled.
The Food Gelatin Wobble Effect: Think in advance of presentation while selecting the molds.
* If unmolding panna cotta, make the firmer version written below by adding just a little more gelatin.
* If not unmolding and leaving inside a beautiful mold, make the softer version written below using less gelatin.
* The worst versions produce panna cotta bouncing like rubbery jell-o because too much gelatin was added, so measure or weigh first.
* Use the amounts in this recipe as guidelines because gelatin, and its firming power, vary from country-to-country and brand-to-brand.
* Firm gelatin desserts should never be served ice cold straight from the refrigerator, producing the jell-o effect resulting in complaints.
Garner compliments with The Food Gelatin Wobble Effect by leaving the dessert at room temperature for a few minutes while plating and garnishing then serving.
Panna Cotta should quiver with excitement at being the star of the meal!
Cream: With few ingredients in this dessert, the quality of the cream is most important. Grocery store pasteurized run-of-the-mill brands make a dessert just as nondescript as the basic liquid tastes. Look for a good organic dairy or small artisanal dairy, often selling small glass bottles of their cream. Try their products and you shall be rewarded with some great panna cotta.
Buttermilk: The amount of gelatin used depends on the thickness or viscosity and acidity of the buttermilk. Therefore, for the chef who is serious about making outstanding Buttermilk Panna Cotta, test it one time and note the texture with the gelatin amount. Use the same type/brand of buttermilk when you make this dessert again. (I love testing…great reason for every lovin' spoonful for breakfast and snacks!)
Sweetener: Always, I keep a variety of granulated brown sugar on-hand, Muscovado, Turbinado, coconut, molasses, etc., because they are more nutritious than white sugar. Used in small amounts, it does not darken color substantially. They give a rounder, fuller taste than highly-processed white sugar with the same or similar sweetness level. Experiment with your favorite granulated or liquid sweetener. Expect to adjust gelatin amount for liquid sweetener.
Infusion: For deeper flavor, blend the cream mixture, cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 days.
Molds – Bowls, Cups, Glasses, Ramekins, or whatever appeals: Large individual molds, holding 4 ounces (118 ml) or more, are best served directly in the mold, with garnish. Small individual molds, holding 1 to 4 ounces (29.5 to 118 ml), can be unmolded.
It is not necessary to butter or oil the interior of the molds – ever.
To Unmold: Simply immerse the outside of the mold to near its top, in very warm water for seconds. Remove, quickly dry the outside with an absorbent towel. Or run a thin, narrow knife blade around the inside to release. Place a serving plate on top, invert.
Buttermilk Panna Cotta
Buttermilk is loved for its mild tart taste, melding flawlessly with heavy cream, so combine both for this recipe in equal proportions.
I know, lots of temperature degrees are written below. Don't be discouraged by these for they are included as guidelines. Keep ingredients warm, not cold or hot.
1. Infusion: For deeper flavor, blend the cream, sugar, vanilla bean pod and seeds, cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 days before heating.
2. Remove the buttermilk 1 hour before pouring into the warmed cream-gelatin mixture to warm to room temperature. If buttermilk is heated to 90 F/32 C or higher, it separates.
3. Heat the cream mixture until the sugar dissolves, about 120 F/49 C. Strain. Add the gelatin. Cool down to 80 to 90 F/27 to 32 C stirring occasionally to maintain gelatin in suspension.
4. Stir in room temperature buttermilk. Strain. Pour into molds. Cover and refrigerate.
4 to 8 servings depending on mold size. Makes 3 1/2 cups (828 ml) panna cotta. Cooking time is 3 minutes.
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces or 355 ml) heavy cream
3 tablespoons (1.3 ounces or 37 g) granulated brown sugar or your preferred granulated sweetener, to taste
1/4 of vanilla bean pod, split, scrape seeds out, add pod and seeds to cream
Unflavored Sheet Food Gelatin:
5 thin sheets unflavored gelatin (0.29 ounce or 8.1 g) softened in 4 tablespoons (59 ml) warm water, drain, add only softened gelatin sheets not the water – firm texture, leave in mold or unmold
OR 4 1/2 thin sheets unflavored gelatin (0.25 ounce or 7 g) softened in 4 tablespoons (59 ml) warm water, drain, add only softened gelatin sheets not the water – soft texture, do not unmold
OR Unflavored Powdered Food Gelatin:
2 teaspoons (0.25 ounce or 7 g) powdered gelatin in 4 tablespoons (59 ml) water – firm texture, leave in mold or unmold
OR 1 1/2 teaspoons (0.19 ounce or 5.25 g) powdered gelatin in 4 tablespoons (59 ml) water – soft texture, do not unmold
1 1/2 cups (12 ounces or 355 ml) lowfat cultured buttermilk (1.5% milk fat)
Garnish: Fresh Berries and Vinegar
Selection of ripe fresh berries, rinse, clean, pat dry
Aged Balsamic Vinegar (10 years +)
Blackstrap Molasses Vinegar
Fresh basil leaves, rinse, pat dry
1. Make the Cream Mixture. Refrigerate for 1 to 2 days to blend ingredients: Mix together the cream, sugar, and seeds from the vanilla bean pod. Cover and refrigerate for 1 to 2 days to enrichen its flavor.
2. Remove the Buttermilk from Refrigeration. Prepare Molds. Heat the Cream Mixture and Gelatin: Remove the buttermilk from refrigeration 1 hour before pouring into the warmed cream-gelatin mixture. Release the chill and allow it to warm-up. Room temperature of 70 to 80 F/21 to 27 C is ideal but read #3 below and adapt as needed.
Meanwhile, prepare space in your refrigerator so the panna cotta lies on a FLAT surface. Place the molds on a flat plate or sheet with sides so they cannot slide off.
Remove the cream mixture from refrigeration, pour into a saucepan. Over low heat, slowly warm the cream mixture for a few minutes until it reaches 120 F/49 C and the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat. Immediately pour through a fine-mesh strainer into a bowl. Cool down to 85 F/29 C, stirring occasionally, then add gelatin as follows:
Sheet Gelatin: Pour warm water into a bowl. Immerse the stiff gelatin sheets in the warm water until softened, this takes only a few seconds. With your hands, scoop-up the softened sheets, drain off excess dripping water, and add only the softened sheets to the warm cream mixture. Stir slowly for several seconds until the gelatin is dissolved and evenly distributed, and the cream is smooth.
Powdered Gelatin: Sprinkle powdered gelatin on top of 4 tablespoons (59 ml) warm water in a non-stick pan. Warm over low heat for only a few seconds, stirring to blend until the gelatin dissolves and the mixture looks clear. Immediately pour the dissolved gelatin into the warm cream mixture and stir well to evenly distribute the gelatin.
Occasionally stir the cream-gelatin mixture to keep the gelatin suspended in the cream because gelatin tends to drop to the bottom of the bowl.
3. Add Buttermilk: When the cream-gelatin mixture cools down to 80 to 85 F/27 to 29 C, pour in the room temperature buttermilk and stir well to evenly distribute ingredients. Immediately pour through a fine mesh strainer into molds.
*If the buttermilk is too cold when poured into the warm cream, such as straight from refrigeration which is often 38 F/3 C, the cold buttermilk tends to separate and isolate the gelatin-infused cream. This affects how the panna cotta sets. So if you do add cold buttermilk, be sure to rapidly stir the mixture to evenly distribute the cold with the warm, and do not be surprised if it sets unevenly.
4. Refrigeration: Cover the buttermilk panna cotta mixture so it does not absorb refrigerator aromas. Place in the refrigerator, overnight or up to 3 days. Depending on the size and depth of the molds, it takes from 2 hours for very small individual molds up to 8 hours for large individual molds for the panna cotta to set. To check on how it sets, gently tap the surface with your finger tip and you will feel the slight firmness.
5. Serving Buttermilk Panna Cotta: It is very important to allow the chill to be released before serving so this gelatin dessert is not rubbery in texture. Remove the set buttermilk panna cotta from refrigeration. Leave in the molds or unmold onto plates at room temperature from 5 to 15 minutes before serving. During this time, garnish with fresh berries, drops of vinegar, and fresh basil leaves.
Note: Blackstrap Molasses Vinegar makes a fine addition to your culinary repertoire as well as a cherished gift. Purchase it here: