Panna cotta is elegant, delicious, and easy to make. It can be served out of glasses (see photo) but also chilled and inverted from molds or even cut into slices. Click through to get step-by-step instructions and tips and tricks for making a great panna cotta.
All photos: Lauren Weisenthal
1. Prepare the molds
If you plan on unmolding the panna cotta and not serving it in the container, coat the bottom and sides of your molds with a thin layer of nonstick cooking spray (to facilitate easy removal), place the molds on a tray, and set aside.
2. Bloom the gelatin
The term "bloom" is used to describe the hydration of gelatin in a liquid. Best practices for blooming powdered gelatin include: using a cold liquid, sprinkling the gelatin over the liquid a little at a time in an even layer to ensure even hydration, and allowing the mixture to rest, away from heat, for a few minutes before using. This will ensure that the gelatin dissolves evenly when you add it to the panna cotta mixture.
4. Dissolve sugar and bring to a low boil
In a small saucepan, combine cream, sugar, salt, and any additional flavoring you may want to add (vanilla extract, for example). Stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves, then increase the heat to high and allow the mixture to come to a low boil (you will see bubbles rising at the sides of the pot). Immediately remove from the heat to avoid evaporating more liquid than necessary, which can result in a custard that is too firm.
5. Add the gelatin
Immediately after removing the mixture from the heat, stir in the bloomed gelatin. Return the mixture to low heat and stir constantly until the gelatin is dissolved. Do not allow the gelatin to boil, which can cause it to taste funky.
6. Add the remaining liquid
Many panna cotta recipes call for the addition of a reserved liquid at this point in the process, either additional cream, milk or buttermilk. Make sure that this liquid is chilled, which will help bring down the temperature of the mixture and reduce condensation on the side of the molds, which can make the sides of the finished product watery. Stir thoroughly to combine.
It's important to strain
As you can see!
8. Fill the prepared molds
Slowly pour the mixture into the molds, taking care to avoid spilling down the sides (this can create divots in the sides of the panna cotta when removing from the molds). If you do spill, use the corner of a paper towel to carefully clean the sides of the mold. Place the molds in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or until set.
9. Loosen the pudding
The next couple steps only apply if you are planning to unmold the panna cotta onto plates. Once the panna cotta has set (approximately 4 hours), run a small knife around the edge of each mold to loosen it.
Once the panna cotta drops onto the plate, you may want to center it with an offset spatula or gently scrape off any scraps.
Garnish with almost anything
One of the best things about panna cotta is that the vanilla and buttermilk flavors complement almost every other flavor. Here I've prepared buttermilk panna cotta with strawberries and balsamic reduction.