Updated: May 10
Panna cotta is my absolute favorite party dessert. It’s a treasure for the palate, has stress-free prep, and lets your dinner party end with a BANG! Why?
It’s a foodie’s fantasy, being
sinfully rich - heavy with cream for fabulous mouth feel and opulent taste
scrumptious with plain vanilla flavoring; awesome made with a vanilla bean
amazing when smartened up with any of an almost infinite variety of flavors
melt-in-your-mouth smoothness that prolongs the joy of its taste
It’s the harried hostess’s best friend, being
easy to make - uses just one culinary technique, stirring
prep time is short – 15-20 minutes
can be made up to two days ahead or even frozen
near to never fail – just be sure the gelatin is thoroughly dissolved
It ensures a fabulous finale when
topped with decadent sauces such as a high-quality balsamic vinegar or brandied hot fudge
paired with a second dessert such as cake, brownies, pie or fruit
presented in stemmed martini or wide-mouthed champagne glasses
scooped like ice cream over or beside the second dessert
I use as a basic recipe the one in Lynne Rosetto Kaspar’s The Italian Country Table because her recipe includes that sure-fire brightener, sour cream. I add flavoring to match up with the dinner’s theme and, if I’m serving a second dessert, its tastes. Here are some of my favorite flavors for the panna cotta matched with a second dessert:
lemon verbena with orange or orange-glazed cake
vanilla bean with chocolate cake transformed with lavender and thyme
vanilla and toffee bits with dark chocolate brownie
anise with orange/pecan brownie
anise with apple pie
ginger or lavender/ginger with pear pie
vanilla topped with raspberries macerated in raspberry liqueur
cinnamon/vanilla topped with peaches and blueberries macerated in black currant liqueur
I have also used uncommon flavorings such as cardamom/clove/orange, basil/cinnamon, kaffir lime/coconut and durian. Feel free to use your favorite flavors.
This is the basic recipe which can be halved. As is, it serves 12 generously.
1½ teaspoons gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
3 cups heavy cream
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean, split
½ cup sugar
Pinch of salt
1 cup sour cream
If using vanilla extract, warm (do not boil) the cream in a medium-sized pot with the vanilla, sugar and salt. If using vanilla bean, follow the instructions below for infusing.
Thoroughly dissolve the gelatin in the cold water. Add it to the warm cream. Cook until thoroughly dissolved. Allow to cool a bit and then stir in the sour cream.
Pour into individual ramekins, stemmed glasses, a pretty mold, or, if serving in scoops like ice cream, a beautiful bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours.
If using flavorings that dissolve readily such as vanilla extract, simply stir them into the cream when you warm it. If using leaves or whole spices such as vanilla bean, infuse the cream with the flavoring before stirring in the gelatin. To infuse, bring cream just to boil, stir in the flavoring, take off flame, cover tightly and let sit for 30 minutes. Strain and then warm the cream with sugar, salt and, if using, additional flavoring. Continue with Steps 2 and 3.
Use these quantities in the basic recipe for the flavorings listed above:
Lemon verbena – Infuse 10 4-inch sprigs into cream
Vanilla and toffee bits – Stir in ¾ cup chopped toffee after the sour cream
Anise – Infuse 1 teaspoon ground; warm with ¾ teaspoon vanilla
Ginger – Infuse with 6 ¼-inch slices; warm with ¾ teaspoon vanilla
Lavender/ginger – Infuse with 2 teaspoons dried lavender buds and 4 ginger slices
Cinnamon – Infuse with two 3-inch sticks; warm with 1½ teaspoons vanilla
Cardamom/clove/orange – Infuse with 25 crushed green cardamom seeds, 4 cloves and the zest of 1 orange; warm with ¾ teaspoon vanilla
Basil/cinnamon – Infuse with ¼ cup basil leaves and two 3-inch sticks cinnamon
Kaffir lime/coconut – Infuse with 10 kaffir lime leaves; stir in 1 cup sweetened coconut after the sour cream
Durian – Blend 1½ cups durian flesh until smooth; stir in after the sour cream