I have made Panna Cotta many times. Let’s face it, it’s not rocket science; cream, milk, sugar, vanilla, heat, gelatine, done. But I have often anguished over the correct proportions for each ingredient, especially the gelatine.
Another vexing problem is how to get vanilla seeds evenly distributed throughout. The first time I tried to use real vanilla, I ended up with some rather unappealing blobs that looked as if they had been topped off in a generously filled ashtray.
To be honest, I rather drifted away from Panna Cotta as a dessert choice after that. But a few weeks ago two things happened, which caused me to revisit this old favourite.
The first was that I made some, on a whim, for a family tea.
Oh dear, rubber pudding. Clearly, my prion protein raddled excuse for a brain had forgotten something. I swear if I had dropped one it would have bounced higher than the Laws of Physics normally permit; like those “super balls” from my playground years.
The second was that I attended a class given by Geoffrey Smeddle of Peat Inn fame and he revealed to me the dark secrets of vanilla pod distribution; wait ’til the stuff is just beginning to set then give it a damn good whisking before decanting it into moulds. Simples.
So in keeping with the April experimentation theme, I tried several different recipe variations, and in particular, gelatine levels. Fortunately Lovely Wife likes Panna Cotta (OK, well, not so much now, but…)
Anyway, I will spare you the details, except for the gelatine.
My first discovery was that if you actually read the instructions on the packet (I am a man, so this was a challenging break from tradition) you will find that different brands and different qualities have different setting strengths, so when a recipe says “4 sheets of gelatine” that’s as precisely unhelpful as saying “take 1 potato”. What you would really like a recipe to say is “4 sheets of brand X type Y gelatine, and by the way I mean the sheets that are W cm x Z cm, not the twice-as-big-ones that professional caterers use”.
My second discovery was that if you do a calculation such as 4 sheets of this brand of gelatine will set 570 ml of liquid so I need 3.5 sheets to set my 500 ml of liquid, you will still end up with unpleasantly bouncy dessert.
My third discovery was how to mould the Panna Cotta so you don’t end up with something that looks like it just had a rough day at the forensics lab after you have finally teased it onto the plate. Take a 70 mm diameter x 35 mm high mousse ring mould (which conveniently holds more or less exactly 125 ml of fluid) and seal one end by stretching cling film over it. As long as you don’t have any wrinkles in the cling film (for a smooth surface), spread the cling film up the outside of the mould (for a good grip), trim off the excess cling film with scissors so it (to avoid it getting in the way when later pouring), and sit it cling film side down in a baking tray (so the cling film isn’t carrying any weight) then you can create little 125 ml “pots” for your Panna Cotta mix. When the mix has set, peel off the cling film, hold the ring mould with the presentation side of the dessert upwards (the formerly cling filmed side) and shake it gently but firmly out of the mould onto the plate.
Now for the moment you’ve all been waiting for… my recipe for a rather good panna cotta (if I say so myself).
Recipe For Vanilla Panna Cotta
Two and one half leaves of Supercook / Dr Oetker Platinum Grade gelatine
125 ml whole milk
375 ml double cream
50 g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod (split, seeds removed)
1 tsp vanilla extract
- Soak the gelatine leaves in a little cold water until soft.
- Place the milk, cream, vanilla pod and seeds, vanilla extract and sugar into a pan and bring to a simmer. Pass though a coarse sieve into a glass bowl to remove the vanilla pod (but not the seeds). Discard the pod.
- Squeeze the water out of the gelatine leaves and add to the mixture. Stir until the gelatine has dissolved.
- Put the mixture in the fridge to cool to a yoghurt-like consistency, but not set (in my fridge this takes 85 minutes). When the mixture reaches this consistency, whisk thoroughly to disperse the vanilla pods evenly through the mixture, then divide among four 125 ml mousse ring moulds sealed at one end with cling film and set on a baking tray. Bang the tray gently to remove air bubbles.
- Return to the fridge for at least 1 hour to set.
- To serve, remove the cling film and gently but firmly shake the panna cotta out of the mould onto a plate.
I hope you enjoy the results of my experiments.