Panna Cotta – A Deceptively Simple Dessert for Valentine’s Day

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My Valentine loves Panna Cotta with a drizzle of bright raspberry coulis and a dusting of quality cocoa powder – I make this all the time. “Such a lucky girl” you might say. “Yes, I agree” would be my immediate and confident response but this is only partially true. I have been playing up the complexity of the recipe for some time (she’s no fool, she just couldn’t care less about cooking). “The cream has to be warmed to a very precise temperature…. Infusing cream with quality vanilla beans is a process that requires painstaking observation…” But panna cotta is in fact extremely simple to make.

A man does not need dessert (or need to make desert) every night of the week, after all.

Minimalism is this food’s strength. Rich cream and aromatic vanilla bean melt slowly on your tongue and the texture of a gelatin dessert is undeniably sensual. If your guests do not cook for themselves, this recipe will be sure to impress. But you have a seasoned chef coming to dinner? They’ll absolutely applaud you for the elegant choice that you’ve made, something you should definitely play up! “What can I say? I just love the simplicity of Tuscan desserts.” It’s a no-fail situation (unless your guests are lactose intolerant or your chef friend asks you to name a second “Tuscan Dessert”!).

You should definitely make this dessert on Valentine’s Day. Pair it with a thin raspberry sauce and a bit of chocolate as I do or perhaps with some fresh fruit, some honey, or a couple of tablespoons of strong espresso. (See the photo gallery at the end of this post for visuals!)

Panna Cotta for Valentine’s Day
Adapted from Joy of Cooking – Makes 4 large servings

Ingredients

1 envelope of gelatin (2 teaspoons) – vegetarians can substitute agar
A few tablespoons of warm water from the tap
2 ½ cups heavy cream (half and half or even whole milk can also be used)
¼ – 1/3 cup sugar (I like mine less sweet)
1 vanilla bean split lengthwise (or 1 tablespoon quality vanilla extract)

Directions

Pour the gelatin into a small bowl and sprinkle a few drops of warm water over the surface. Roughly stir to combine. Allow the gelatin to “bloom” while you prepare the rest of the recipe. It will absorb water and form a semi-translucent solid in the bowl.

Combine cream, sugar, and vanilla bean in a saucepan and warm until the mixture just begins to steam. Though it is nontraditional, I like to heat it further until the cream is scorched – just before it boils. You will know when the cream has scorched when it begins to smell sweet and a film develops on the unstirred surface.

Turn off the heat and remove the vanilla bean. Use a tip of a paring knife to scrape any remaining seeds from the inside of the vanilla bean and return them to the warm cream.
Ladle a few tablespoons of the warm cream mixture into the bowl containing the gelatin and stir to dissolve gelatin.

Pour dissolved gelatin into the saucepan and stir to combine.

Ladle the mixture into lightly oiled ramekins or wide-mouth mason jars and cover with plastic wrap.

Place covered panna cotta in the fridge until set – approximately 3 – 5 hours. If you are hoping to eat it the same night that you make it pre-chilling the jars in the freezer should help speed things along. You can also portion into smaller dishes to increase surface area and speed cooling. The very desperate can use an ice water bath before the freezer.

You can eat panna cotta directly from the ramekin or jar or you can unmold it onto a plate. To unmold, place jars in a shallow pan of hot water for approximately 1 minute. Overturn the warmed jars onto a plate, shaking vigourously if needed.

A little sauce, chocolate, or fresh fruit and you’re all set.

Good Luck and Happy Valentine’s Day

~Jonathan Duffy Davis

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