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What's Trending? Panna Cotta

By Luci

Don’t take my word for it. The Food section of the New York Times on Wednesday, January 24, 2024 discussed trendy offerings from their visits to hundreds of restaurants around the country. “Panna Cotta Prevails”, they say. They remark that it’s inexpensive, can be made in advance and doesn’t require a pastry chef to make.

I’ve loved panna cotta from my first mouthful and it has been my go-to dessert just as long. 

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


  1. 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. 

  2. 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.  

  3. 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


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