August 15, 2012

In search of panna cotta with just the right jiggle

By Russ Parsons / McClatchy Newspapers

(Continued from page 1)

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At its base, panna cotta is just sweetened dairy held together with gelatin ... but some are better than others.

McClatchy Newspapers

What's really remarkable, though, is that a dish so delicious can be made so quickly and easily. Bring the cream and sugar to a simmer, stir in the gelatin, whisk to room temperature and pour into ramekins. It takes about 20 minutes before chilling.

The only thing easier would be going to a restaurant. But when you buy panna cotta, you've got dessert for a day; when you figure out how to make it, you've got dessert for life.



Recipes are lists of ingredients; technique is what turns good recipes into great dishes. And in the course of all of that panna cotta testing, I found a couple of little tricks that are really important, because there is little more disappointing than thinking you've perfected a recipe only to have it flop.

On two occasions, panna cotta recipes that had previously worked failed. I unmolded the ramekins to find that somehow the mixture had separated into a thin layer of clear gel at the bottom and a stiff custard on top. It's not an uncommon problem.

There are two easy steps to prevent it. First, before you take the pan from the heat, rub a little bit of the cream mixture between your fingers – there shouldn't be any grit from undissolved sugar or gelatin. Then whisk the mixture in an ice bath until it's lukewarm.



Total time: 40 minutes, plus chilling time

Servings: 8

2 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon powdered gelatin


2½ cups heavy cream

1½ cups whole milk

5 tablespoons sugar

1 (2-inch) section vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise, or ½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Place the water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Stir to distribute, and set aside to soften 2 to 3 minutes.

2. Wipe the insides of 8 (one-half-cup) ramekins with a light coating of neutral oil and set aside. Half-fill a large bowl with ice and add enough water to make an ice bath and set aside.

3. In a small saucepan, combine the cream, milk, sugar and split vanilla bean, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat, and whisk in the softened gelatin and the vanilla extract, if using. Scrape the vanilla seeds from the bean pod into the mixture, and discard the pod.

4. Set the saucepan in the ice bath (making sure the top of the saucepan is well above the surface of the water), and whisk until the mixture is lukewarm. Rub your fingers together: There should be no grit from undissolved sugar or gelatin.

5. Ladle the mixture into the oiled ramekins and chill at least 4 hours or overnight. If you're going to keep them longer than overnight, cover them with plastic wrap, pressing the wrap gently against the panna cotta to prevent a skin from forming. Be aware that preparing the panna cotta more than 24 hours in advance will result in a somewhat firmer set.

6. About 10 minutes before serving, run a thin-bladed knife around the inside of the ramekin. Dip the ramekin briefly in a bowl of hot tap water, and then carefully invert onto a serving plate. If the panna cotta doesn't unmold right away, tap the ramekin lightly on the countertop to loosen it. If it still doesn't unmold, return it to the hot water bath for another five seconds and repeat. Panna cotta can also be served without unmolding.

Each serving: 320 calories; 4 grams protein; 12 grams carbohydrates; 0 fiber; 29 grams fat; 18 grams saturated fat; 107 mg cholesterol; 10 grams sugar; 50 mg sodium.


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