We’ve all heard the judges on the popular TV cooking shows – it's all about the ‘wobble’ when it comes to calling the perfect panna cotta, but how exactly do you take three modest ingredients (cream, gelatine and sugar) and turn out a dinner party-ready dessert?
Panna cotta, which literally means "cooked cream" in Italian, is a silky smooth and creamy dessert that looks and tastes impressive but is dead simple once a few basic techniques have been mastered.
As the gelatine absorbs the liquid, each granule becomes enlarged; this is known as “blooming". Firstly, 'bloom’ powdered gelatine in water for 3-5 minutes before using – this is the process of the gelatine absorbing the water. Make sure the bloomed gelatine is completely dissolved into the cream mixture before cooling, or the panna cotta will be lumpy.
If you are using sheet gelatine, soak it in cold water until soft, then remove and squeeze out the excess water.
Warm the cream with the sugar and any other ingredients slowly to infuse the flavours properly. Don’t boil - it's important not to walk away at this point. When mixing the bloomed gelatine into the warm mixture, avoid using a whisk, as this can damage the gelatine fibres and also result in a separation of ingredients.
Cool the mixture to room temperature before refrigerating to avoid separation - cooling over an ice bath while stirring can help speed this process along and avoid a skin forming.
Lastly, strain mixture to avoid lumps. Stir again before putting into moulds/glasses and strain the mixture just before you pour it to give your panna cotta the smoothest texture.
Cover each mould in cling wrap to help avoid skins forming. If you plan to unmould your dessert for presentation, be sure to chill it for about four hours before you try to release it. For perfectly-shaped panna cotta, oil each mould with a neutral, flavourless oil.
Dip each mould (for just a few seconds at a time) into a shallow container of hot water before turning out. If the panna cotta doesn’t release from the mould, you can turn the mould upside down, and gently using your finger, pull one side away from the edge of the mould and this will allow air to come between the mould and the panna cotta and release the suction.
Often, it is more the suction due to the texture that causes un-moulding challenges. (And if your panna cotta just won't release, what's the harm in eating it out of its mould?)
Not at all – consider mixing it up! Panna cotta can be made with milk, half and half milk/cream, buttermilk, and even low-fat options. It can also be made with dairy substitutes such as coconut milk or cream, soy milk or nut-based milk. The key is the ratio of fat content to gelatine – the lower the fat content, the more gelatine you’ll need to keep your ratios in check to achieve the desired ‘wobble’.
Gelatine based desserts are best eaten soon after they're cooked. Panna cotta will begin to develop a rubbery texture after about four days.
Once you’re confident, experiment with different flavours – vanilla is traditional but think about adding a splash of coffee, honey, almond or citrus to give it a twist! You need to test any additions, as the amount of gelatine required will often change with different additions, especially acidic ones!
If this sounds like you, check out our favourite panna cotta recipes, Strawberry Panna Cotta with Macadamia Crumble or Easter Bun Tea Infused Panna Cotta with Spiced Plums.