Panna Cotta is a perfect dessert. It’s not too sweet or heavy. It looks and tastes elegant, and it’s surprisingly simple to make. I’ve experimented with several different panna cotta recipes and found that getting it perfect simply comes down to nailing the gelatin to dairy ratio.
The consistency of panna cotta is important. You don’t want it to be too firm, like a flan. You also don’t want it to collapse into a swamp of thick milkiness (although it will still taste great, but this dish is also about looks). Personally, I like to get it just ever so slightly above the threshold where it devolves into a puddle - barely holding its structure and jiggily enough such that a gust of wind will get it grooving on your plate. This is the Mendoza line of panna cotta. Rather than wax too much more poetically on this, I’ll show you what I mean.
If you agree that this is the ideal consistency, follow the recipe exactly. If a firmer panna cotta is more your thing, add 10% more gelatin. Any less and you’re swimming.
If you look at 10 different recipes, you’ll find 10 different dairy combinations. I’ve played with a bunch and found that you don’t need to go too heavy on the fat. I prefer a mixture of Half and Half and whole milk, with a ratio of 1:0.75. Of course, if you want to use full cream, the math works out to 0.5:1.25 cream to whole milk (recall that Half and Half is simply half cream and half milk, so factor that into the first ratio). This keeps the dessert light on the palate. This isn’t me watching my fat intake - I just think it comes out best this way.
This is the key to the dish. I’ll use 1 package of unflavored, powdered Knox Gelatin, which comes out to 1 tablespoon and combine it with 3.5 cups of dairy. That’s the ratio.
The rest of the recipe is pretty straightforward.
Makes 8 panna cottas
If you want to plate your panna cotta like in the gif above * 8 4oz Ramekins * Canola oil
If plating, lightly oil your ramekins (otherwise they’ll be difficult to remove).
Pour water in a shallow bowl and sprinkle powdered gelatin. Set aside.
Mix dairy in a saucepan, and bring to stove on medium heat. Stir in sugar and pinch of salt. Stirring constantly, allow mixture to heat up but not boil. When mixture is steaming and starting to froth, remove from heat. Your gelatin will have stiffened at this point. Add gelatin and vanilla.
Cool mixture. I fill a large bowl with ice and water, place the saucepan with the hot mixture in the bowl, and stir until it’s close to room temperature. Carefully fill each ramekin and put in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours.
To plate, run a thin paring knife along the ramekin’s circumference. Place plate on top of ramekin, holding the two against each other, and rotate over so plate is on bottom. Give a medium “slap” to the top of the ramekin, and the panna cotta should slip out. Gently lift the ramekin off.
Feel free to experiment with different panna cotta flavors. Some people like flavoring with lemon, chocolate, or coffee. I personally like to keep it simple. Sometimes I will make a fresh berry sauce, where I’ll add a handful of raspberries or blackberries to a shallow saucepan and heat on low until they release their juices. Then I’ll just strain out the seeds and, if it’s needed, add a small sprinkle of sugar. I’ll do this right after I make the panna cotta, and the sauce will thicken as it cools. Adding a sauce is another way to make this elegant dish even more impressive looking.