We’re always thrilled when one of our favorite bakers, Chrysta Wilson, author of Kiss My Bundt, shares one of her magical recipes with us. Chrysta has a way of transforming seemingly difficult desserts and explaining them into something anyone could make…flawlessly! In Kiss My Bundt, she demystified made-from-scratch cakes for the masses. (The book has consistently made the Amazon top 5 cake bestsellers since its release.) Here, she does it again with Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta.
What is panna cotta?
Panna cotta is a molded, chilled dessert popular throughout Italy. It is, essentially, an Italian version of pudding. When properly done, it has a smooth, seductively creamy, snuggle-up-to-your-tongue texture. According to Wikipedia, the dessert did not appear in Italian cookbooks until the 1960’s. However there are references to it as a traditional dessert of the Piedmont region. And although it is believed that some version of this dessert was served in Piedmont since the 1800’s, panna cotta did not gain popularity in the United States until the 1990’s.
The basic panna cotta recipe, a mixture of sweetened cream and gelatin, is essential a blank canvas for flavor. Popular flavorings include rum, coffee, vanilla and chocolate. Chrysta flavors hers with one of our favorite aphrodisiacs, vanilla. In this recipe she uses it in the form of vanilla bean paste. By the way, the mere scent of vanilla is said to drive some men wild.
How to garnish your panna cotta
Chrysta recommends serving the panna cotta with strawberries, (another legendary aphrodisiac), marinated in balsamic. But this simple, velvety Italian pudding welcomes a wide variety of flavors from a drizzle of chocolate to a pool of blackberry sauce to a simple addition of fresh berries–whatever variety is your pleasure–tossed with sugar and slivers of mint, (which is also an aphrodisiac).
This creamy panna cotta offers the essence of vanilla. Serve it "naked" or with your favorite berries for a simple and elegant dessert.
- 4 1/2 cup half and half
- 1 1/2 tbsp powdered gelatin
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla bean paste
- pinch salt
- 6 jars or ramekins
- paper towels
- cooking spray or melted butter
- 1 2-quart saucepan
- large bowl
- thin knife
- Lightly grease the ramekins: Spray the ramekins with cooking spray or melted butter, then use a paper towel to wipe out most of the oil, leaving only a light residue. This will help the panna cotta release if that’s how you choose to serve the dessert. If you’ll serve the dessert in the jars, then you don’t need to grease the jars.
- Bloom the gelatin: Pour the half and half into the saucepan and sprinkle the powdered gelatin evenly over top. Let soften for 5 minutes or until the surface of the milk is wrinkled and the gelatin grains look wet and slightly dissolved.
- Dissolve the gelatin over low heat: Set the saucepan over low heat and warm the milk gently, stirring or whisking frequently. The milk should never boil or simmer. If the mixture starts to steam, remove the pot from the stove and let it cool down. Milk should be hot, but not boiling. Gelatin melts at body temperature, so you don't need the half and half to boil to melt the gelatin.
- Check to make sure the gelatin is dissolved: The mixture should be smooth. Either touch the mixture and rub half and half between your fingers to see if it’s gritty, or dip a spoon in the half and half to see if you can detect grains/grit in the half and half.
- Dissolve the sugar: Stir the sugar into the half and half and continue warming until it dissolves. It should take about 3-5 minutes to dissolve the sugar. Remember not to boil the mixture, as it will break down the “gelling” ability of the gelatin.
- Whisk in Vanilla and the Salt: Remove the saucepan from the heat. Whisk in the vanilla bean paste and the salt.
- Pour half and half mixture into the ramekins or jars and chill: Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared ramekins or jars and put in the refrigerator to chill.
- It will take about 4 hours to set if you will invert the panna cotta. If you’ll serve from the jars, you only need to set the mixture for about 2 hours. They can be chilled over night.
- To serve “plated”, here’s what you to Fill a large bowl with warm water. Wipe a dessert plate with a damp paper towel. To release the panna cotta edge from the cup, run a thin knife carefully around the sides of a ramekin. Dip the ramekin in the warm water up to its rim, and hold it there for about 5 seconds.
- Invert the ramekin over the plate and shake gently to help the panna cotta fall out. It should fall out on the plate easily. (If it does not, return to the warm water bath in increments of 2 seconds.) Reposition on the plate if desired—because you wet the plate, it should be easy. Serve immediately,
- Or, serve in a clear jar! You can serve the panna cotta in jar for a rustic treat, topped with macerated strawberries.
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