A panna cotta is an Italian dessert made with cream and set with gelatin. It has typically subtle flavors enhanced with fruity sauces. I first took an interest in panna cotta after I’ve had a very creamy one at a downtown bistro. It was so good that other desserts that I have tasted for weeks after that did not diminish my pining to have that same panna cotta. I have seen several recipes for this dessert but have never had the opportunity to make it until this weekend. The making thereof appears very easy since there is no oven baking time but you have to be careful about measuring out the gelatin because you might end up with Jell-o instead of an exquisite mold of creamy confection.
The first recipe I tested was the Crème Fraiche Panna Cotta, which I cut out from a Food and Wine Magazine more than a year a go. I have a weakness for anything crème fraiche and it looked so simple except I did not have the pomegrenate molasses that it called for. I figured any fruit that has a sour note to it would do, so I decided to make a simple strawberry compote for it. The second one is a Cocoa Nib Panna Cotta from Alice Medrich book “Bittersweet”. The infusion of cocoa nibs as usual gives the dessert an elegant finish.
I do regret that I was not able to unmold the dessert onto a plate for the picture. The first one I tried was a disaster as I tried to wiggle it out; it ended up very “splatty” as it has not yet set completely from what I can see. I could not risk losing another, as I would then be short of one for a dinner I was having the following evening. Even the ramekin I have sprayed with vegetable oil did not seem to want to “unmold” as both recipes indicated; later though it did unmold quite easily. I think the important thing is to let it set to its maximum potential and take it out from the refrigerator 10 minutes before dessert time (or like the cocoa nib recipe, wrap in a warm towel).
Now for the taste test: The cocoa nib panna cotta was hands down the better tasting one. It was infinitely creamier with no sign of it being set with gelatin. The process for it was a bit more involved too as you have to cool it in an ice bath. The crème fraiche one was not bad either, but it was bordering on being Jell-o like but I think that was largely my fault since I did not measure out the gelatin like a miser. I would probably reduce the gelatin next time I make it and incorporate some of the procedures from the cocoa nib recipe.
Crème Fraiche Panna Cotta with Pomegranate Molasses
2 tbs plus 4 tsp water (30ml plus 10ml)
1 envelope unflavored gelatin
2 ¼ cups whipping cream (533ml)
2/3 cup plus 2 tbs sugar (134g plus 25g)
1 ¾ cup crème fraiche (414ml)
Nonstick vegetable spray
1/3 cup pomegranate molasses (79ml)
fresh pomegranate seeds
Place 2 tablespoons water in small bowl. Sprinkle gelatin over and let stand 5 minutes for gelatin to soften.
Bring cream and 2/3 cup sugar just to boil in heavy medium saucepan over medium- high heat stirring until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat. Add gelatin mixture and stir until gelatin dissolves, then whisk in crème fraiche.
Lightly spray six ¾ cup ramekins or custard cups with vegetable spray. Divide crème fraiche mixture among ramekins. Cover and refrigerate until set, about 6 hours.
Mix pomegranate molasses with remaining 4 teaspoons water and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, stirring until sugar has dissolves. (Panna cottas and pomegranate sauce can be prepared up to 2 days ahead. Cover panna cotta and sauce separately and keep refrigerated.)
Unmold 1 panna cotta onto each of 6 plates. Drizzle with sauce, sprinkle with seeds, and serve.
Cocoa Nib Panna Cotta
½ cup cocoa nibs, coarsely chopped into smaller bits (100g)
3 ¼ cups heavy cream (770ml)
2 ¾ tsp unflavored gelatin (11.5g)
1 cup whole milk (237ml)
¼ cup plus 2 tbs sugar (50g plus 25g)
Pinch of salt
Fresh blackberries or blackberry puree, well sugared
Bring the nibs and cream to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Remove from the heat, cover, and let steep for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold milk in a small bowl and set aside to let the gelatin soften.
Strain the cream, pressing lightly on the nibs to extract all the liquid. Discard the nibs. Return the cream to the saucepan, add the sugar, and bring to a simmer. Pour into a heatproof bowl of ice cubes and water and stir frequently until the mixture thickens and registers 50 F on an instant read thermometer.
Divide evenly among the margarita glasses (or ramekins). Cover with plastic wrap and chill overnight.
Serve the panna cotta in their glasses or ramekins. Or, wrap each ramekin in a hot wrung-out wet towel and unmold onto dessert plates. Accompany with well-sugared berries or berry puree.
This was a very delightful dessert to make and eat! It would be something different to serve since it is not as common as a crème caramel or its ubiquitous cousin, the crème brulee. This is one of those no-bake desserts that you could whip up a day ahead. A word of caution again as a I have mentioned throughout this post : careful with the gelatin !