Prov JNL: Panna cotta: A great, creamy Italian dessert
- Panna cotta: A great, creamy Italian dessert
The Providence Journal
BY CYNTHIA SALVATO
Special to The Journal
Move over, tiramisu; there's another Italian dessert in town. Panna cotta,
the luscious, satiny dessert from the Piedmont area of Italy, is easy to
make and gaining in popularity.
Panna cotta is made with heavy cream, vanilla beans and gelatin. Panna cotta
(cooked cream) began in Piedmont, when a Hungarian woman living in the
Langhe district made a coffee-flavored cream dessert and served it with
caramelized sugar. Its popularity spread throughout Italy and now the world.
On a recent visit to Italy, I sampled panna cotta from Sienna to the Amalfi
coast. Each chef added a personal touch. Some prepared it with a caramel
sauce. Others served it in wine glasses or unmolded onto a plate with
seasonal fruits and grappa (a colorless Italian distilled liquor) poured
over the top.
Modern versions of panna cotta are flavored with basil or lavender, and the
heavy cream is partially replaced with other dairy products like yogurt,
buttermilk or creme fraiche. Creme fraiche is a thick, rich cream with a
custard consistency. It has more body and complex flavors than fresh sweet
cream, including a slight hint of hazelnut. Creme fraiche is France's
favorite form of cream for cooking and a nice choice for panna cotta.
The secret to creating the perfect panna cotta is in the gelatin. There are
two types of gelatin to choose from -- unflavored powdered gelatin and sheet
gelatin. Whichever you choose, it is important to use the amount listed in
the recipe. Too much gelatin will create a texture similar to a rubber ball;
too little will not stabilize the cream. Powdered gelatin is dehydrated and
must be melted before blending into the rest of the ingredients.
The first step in preparing powdered gelatin is rehydration. This is done by
mixing the gelatin with a portion of the liquid in the recipe, a process
called "blooming." The granulated gelatin absorbs the liquid, and it
"blooms" or swells; after five minutes you can melt the gelatin by adding it
to a hot mixture or microwaving it for 30 seconds or until all the gelatin
Sheet gelatin, although not often used for home cooking, is by far the best
and easiest of the two to use. This special gelatin is already bloomed and
just needs to be softened in cold water. Once the sheets of gelatin are
soft, squeeze out all the water and stir it into the hot cream.
-- In Rhode Island, sheet gelatin can be purchased at The Food Chalet, 874
Post Rd., Warwick. 467-9169.
-- If you can't find gelatin sheets, replace each sheet with one teaspoon of
powdered gelatin. Divide the cream and bloom the granulated gelatin in 1/2
cup while cooking the remaining 1 1/2 cups of cream. Whisk the two together
in the pan and continue with the directions in the recipe.
-- Panna cotta can be made the night before serving, and can be kept frozen
for up to one month.
-- Ready-made creme fraiche is available at specialty markets.
-- Any flavor of yogurt can be substituted for the creme fraiche.
CREME FRAICHE PANNA COTTA WITH PEACH COMPOTE
2 1/2 gelatin sheets
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons grated lime zest
1 (8-ounce) container creme fraichec
1/4 cup sugar
3 large fresh peaches, skinned and thinly sliced.
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier (optional)
In a medium-size bowl, submerge the gelatin sheets in cold water and set
aside. In a heavy saucepan lightly simmer the heavy cream, sugar, vanilla
(bean or extract) and lime zest for five minutes. Remove gelatin from water
and squeeze out excess water. Whisk softened sheets into hot cream mixture.
Transfer the cream mixture to a clean bowl, cover and refrigerate. Once the
cream mixture is cool to the touch, remove the vanilla bean and whisk in the
Pour panna cotta into wine or martini glasses, filling them halfway. Cover
each glass with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least three hours before
While the panna cotta is chilling, prepare the peaches. In a large mixing
bowl mix together the sugar, peaches and Grand Marnier, cover and set aside.
Spoon the peaches over the top of the panna cotta before serving.
HOMEMADE CREME FRAICHE
2 tablespoons cultured buttermilk
2 cups heavy cream (pasteurized, not ultra-pasteurized)
Whisk together the buttermilk and cream in a saucepan and heat only to
approximately 85 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. Pour the mixture
into a clean glass jar. Cover partially and let stand at room temperature 8
to 24 hours, or until thickened. Stir and refrigerate at least 24 hours
before using. The creme fraiche will keep about 2 weeks in the refrigerator.