Panna cotta is perhaps the simplest fancy dessert to make at home. This Italian "cooked cream" is just sweetened cream thickened with gelatin. Like sweet cream (fior di latte) gelato, it celebrates dairy in the purest form and involves very few ingredients. No eggs, no whipping, no simmering until things coat the back of a spoon. This is as easy to make as boxed jello. With a few small hacks for quick cooling, you can spend 2 minutes making it before dinner and have dessert ready after dinner!
I really prefer panna cotta made with pure cream and not milk or half & half. I make mine in 4oz mason jars. In addition to being great for portion control & easy to store, they also chill faster and set more quickly. I fill each jar up most of the way, to about 3oz, and each recipe will make 3 little jars. You have room for topping them with fruits/jam after they set, and they're easier to unmold if you prefer serving them on a plate. You'd think the serving size is tiny, but this stuff is quite rich & heavy, you wouldn't want to eat a cup of cream in a sitting.
To deviate from traditional method a little, I would actually avoid making the whole thing stove top. Gelatin's strength declines significantly when heated above boiling point. It also have a relatively low melting point - it starts melting below body temperature, which is why it has the melting mouth feel. So any lukewarm liquid is enough to dissolve bloomed gelatin sufficiently. The less you heat it up, the shorter time it takes to cool down.
I'm heating up 1/4 of my cream in the microwave, dissolving the gelatin & sugar in the very warm liquid, and adding cold cream in to cool the whole thing down faster. The vanilla paste is optional, and feel free to infuse this with any other flavoring - cinnamon, mint, orange zest, any spice/herb/citrus/tea that you like. I would recommend trying the plain at least once though.
- 1 cup cream
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp water
- 1 tsp gelatin
- 1/2 tsp vanilla paste (optional)
Sprinkle the gelatin on water and let it sit for a minute. Whisk the sugar with a quarter of the cream and heat in the microwave for 30~40 seconds, just until very warm but not too hot to touch. Add the bloomed gelatin to the warm cream, whisk until completely dissolved. Add the remaining cream and whisk well. Pour into 4oz mason jars & chill in the fridge until fully set. To test if the cream is fully set, lightly shake the jar, if the center jiggles, it needs more cooling time. To unmold (optional), dip the jar in hot water for 30~40 seconds, cover with a plate and flip. Serve with fruits/jam if desired, but these are good as-is! Enjoy!