Panna cotta or, literally translated, cooked cream is one of those culinary surprises, you know, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
When Italian panna cotta is done properly it should be delicate, sexy, and have just enough strength to hold its shape. The Italians really do know a thing or two about food.
If you've never tasted it I am sad for you, but now you can make it, yay!
Ingredients for panna cotta: milk, sugar, lemon zest, gelatin sheets, and cream.
Though you can barely make out the sheets they are soaking in water.
Combine the milk, sugar, and lemon zest.
Combine the milk, sugar and lemon zest in a 1 liter / 1 quart saucepan. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally to dissolve the sugar. When the sugar is completely dissolved remove from heat and set aside. Allow the mixture to infuse for 20 minutes.
Add the gelatin sheets to
the milk mixture and whisk to thoroughly dissolve. Place
the small mixing bowl into the bowl with the ice. Add enough water so
that the ice bath comes up to the level of the mixture in the small
Stir the mixture until it begins to set. Whisk the mixture again to smooth it out.
Fold the whipped cream
into the milk mixture, in batches - one-third at a time.
Transfer the mixture to 6 ounce serving bowls or cups and place in refrigerator until completely set.
Edible gelatin is an odorless, tasteless thickening agent that forms a gel when combined with liquid and heated. It regains a jelly-like consistency when chilled.
Sheet Gelatin, or Leaf Gelatin, works like granular gelatin, or gelatin powder, the kinds in your local grocery store.
Rather than a powder, it is produced in sheets or leaves of gelatin film. The sheets dissolve more slowly than the granulated form, but produce a clearer gel.
Chefs and professional cooks use sheet gelatin because it makes a clearer gelatin with a purer flavor. As well, they also prefer sheets for their ease of use. The sheets can be counted rather than weighing out powder and there is no chance of undissolved granules.
Soak sheets of gelatin in a bowl of cold or iced water for 5 to 10
minutes. (Use about a cup / 250ml of cold water per sheet.) Once soft,
lift sheets from the cold water. Wring gently to remove excess water.
Add sheets to liquid called for in the recipe. Heat the mixture, stirring until the gelatin is dissolved. Do not boil, boiling, breaks down the gelatin and it will not set.
One sheet Gelatin to 1/2 cup / 125ml Liquid.
You can successfully substitute powdered, granular or sheet gelatin in any recipe by using the following formula:
The original recette panna cotta, or panna cotta recipes did not contain gelatin, at all. they had milk, cream, sugar, and egg whites as well as some flavorings like vanilla or cinnamon. They were literally cooked cream recipes that were soft set with egg whites.
Over time gelatin became the standard thickener and it moved from being a cooked cream dessert to being a dessert set with gelatin.
When you look over the ingredients list for the panna cotta recipe, it doesn't seem like much until you take a bite. In that instant, the taste-bud epiphany hits your brain like a freight train and the 'aha' settles over your soul. That is when you realize why Nigel Slater said, "this is the dessert you might consider if angels were coming to dinner."