Served with Aperol granita and seasonal berries, this delicious vanilla panna cotta recipe is sure to impress your guests.
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Panna cotta is an Italian dessert that appeared in cookbooks from the 1960s. It literally translates to “cooked cream” and is most well known for its distinctive wobble. This, and its incredibly creamy texture, make panna cotta a wonderful finishing dish and fun dessert to enjoy with friends and family.
As well as dairy products for creaminess and gelatine for setting, panna cotta is often made with ingredients such as vanilla or coffee, and it’s sometimes given a kick with a drizzle of liqueur. Panna cotta can be served on its own or with fruit, coulis, or a sauce like chocolate or caramel. This panna cotta recipe is teamed with a granita made from Aperol—a vibrant Italian aperitif with a bitter orange flavour.
Attention to detail is important when it comes to making the perfect panna cotta, especially since you’ll be working with dairy and gelatine. The first step is to make the Aperol granita. On medium-low heat, combine the sugar with 1-and-a-half cups of water in a saucepan and cook, stirring gently, until the sugar dissolves. Add the orange juice and Aperol (if not using Aperol, substitute for more orange juice—grapefruit also works well) and stir to incorporate. Carefully pour the mixture into a shallow pan or metal container. Freeze for 1hour or until the mixture is icy enough to scrape, then freeze again. Agitate every 30 minutes for another hour until the granita resembles flaky crystals. Transfer to an airtight container and return to the freezer to maintain texture.
Next, combine milk and cream in a medium saucepan over low heat and stir in the sugar. Cook for 4–5 minutes, stirring gently, until the sugar dissolves. When no sugar crystals remain, turn up the heat to medium-low and simmer without boiling. Continue cooking for another 5minutes or until the mixture thickens slightly, stirring constantly. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the vanilla, stirring again to combine.
Place the gelatine leaves into a bowl of cold water to soak. After a few minutes, squeeze excess water from the gelatine leaves before adding them to the dairy and sugar mixture. Stir continuously until the gelatine leaves dissolve. Set the mixture aside to cool to room temperature. Meanwhile, grease your panna cotta moulds using a paper towel and a neutral-flavoured oil like vegetable or canola. Pour the liquid panna cotta mixture evenly into the moulds and arrange on a baking tray. Chill for 5hours or until the panna cotta is set.
When you’re ready to serve, combine the strawberries and icing sugar in a small bowl. After 5minutes or so, the strawberries should have started to release their juices. The timing will depend on how large and ripe your strawberries are. Remove the granita from the freezer and scrape loose with a fork. Invert the panna cottas onto serving plates. If it doesn’t slip out immediately, try creating an air pocket by gently pulling the surface of the panna cotta away from one side. If they still don’t budge, dunk the lower half of the mould in warm water, and invert again. Work carefully, heating the mould a little at a time so that you loosen but not melt. Don’t tap the panna cotta; let it slide free with the plate directly under the mould—you don’t want to splatter your hard work!
Top the inverted panna cotta with the Aperol granita and strawberry mixture, and enjoy.
There are a number of things that could go wrong when making panna cotta. Fortunately, they are all easy to avoid provided you follow the steps outlined in the method above, and the tips below.
The panna cotta burns or curdles. Don’t boil the milk, cream, and sugar mixture; just bring it to a gentle simmer. Boiling the milk or bringing the heat up too rapidly may cause scorching or cause the milk to curdle.
You can’t taste the vanilla. Try to use high-quality vanilla extract, paste, or beans, and add to the mixture after it has been removed from the heat. Cooking vanilla, as with some other infusions like citrus, can burn off the flavour and leave you with little to no taste of it. The later you add the vanilla to the cooling mixture, the more intense the flavour will be.
Runny panna cottas. If your panna cottas remain runny and won’t set, it’s probably because the gelatine did not dissolve properly. When adding the gelatine, make sure the panna cotta mixture is still warm, as gelatine doesn’t dissolve in cold liquids. If your mixture is just off the stove, your gelatine should dissolve rapidly. Don’t add your gelatine to the mixture while it is still on the stove as cooking gelatine may affect its setting power.
Lumpy or grainy panna cotta. This is another result of undissolved gelatine. If you’re unsure if your gelatine leaves have completely dissolved, use a fine-mesh strainer while pouring into the moulds to filter any solid particles.
The panna cotta separates. The gelatine may separate from the cream mixture if you pour it into the moulds when it is too hot. It should be room temperature when you transfer it into the moulds. If you want to cool the panna cotta mixture down faster, transfer from a saucepan to a pourable jug, then set the jug in ice water (don’t add ice to the jug—just place the jug in a sink of ice water). Stir constantly until it has cooled to room temperature, then transfer to moulds. Don’t let the mixture get so cold that it begins to set or it will be difficult to pour—stirring will help with this.
Panna cotta is a delicious dairy dessert that is easy to make and impressive to serve. If you’re as obsessed as us, you have to try this panna cotta with roasted strawberries. For an extra-Italian panna cotta recipe, have a go of these affogato panna cotta cups. Be sure to check out our Desserts collection for more after-dinner inspiration and sweet-tooth satisfiers.
Energy: 1879kJ/450 Cals (22%)
Protein: 5g (10%)
Fat: 29g (41%)
Sat fat: 19g (79%)
Carb: 35g (11%)
Sugar: 35g (39%)
Fibre: 1g (3%)
Sodium: 49mg (2%)