I was watching the TV show Top Chef where one of the cheftestants was eliminated for making a terrible panna cotta. The comments from the judges was that it's a very easy dessert and difficult to foul up.
What is panna cotta and what makes it easy?
Looking up a couple recipes...
The Perfect Panna Cotta by David Lebovitz
Panna Cotta on the Joy of Baking website.
Panna cotta is a dessert that's basically cream, sugar, gelatin and vanilla. Hmmm... That's all? That is very straightforward. In fact, add almond extract you'll make "Almond Floats" which is that white almond flavored gelatin served with fruit cocktail... often found in Chinese restaurants.
Based upon the recipes above, I backed out a very basic Panna Cotta recipe.
1 C Heavy Cream... That's all I had.
1 C Half and Half
1/4 C (50 g) Sugar
1/2 t Vanilla Extract
1/4 C Water
1 Envelope Unflavored Gelatine, powdered.
1. Grease custard cups with a mild oil or unsalted butter. I used vegetable oil.
2. Heat the dairy and the sugar until the sugar dissolves.
3. Bloom the gelatine in the 1/4 C of water for about 5 to 10 minutes.
4. Add the vanilla to the hot dairy mixture or, as I did, add to the gelatine.
The hot dairy was poured in and stirred until the gelatine was completely dissolved.
5. Pour equal amounts into a custard cup or a glass.
The custard cups are for unmolding while the glasses are meant to be part of the service.
Chill... I chilled overnight.
Using a paring knife to trace the side of the custard cup, invert and unmold. Patience is required here. It's like trying to get a ketchup bottle started. Also, you can use hot water and heat the bottom of the cup. Eventually, the panna cotta will plop out.
The berries (1 C) were frozen... warmed in a small sauce pan with about (2 or 3 T sugar).
I also had some leftover ganache from my macaron making from a few days ago.
The panna cotta was very easy to make.
I wasn't sure what to expect... a firm milk jell-o like product or a smooth light custard?
Surprisingly, the panna cotta was light with a texture close to a custard, but a little firmer. However, it wasn't stiff like Jell-O.
The berries and chocolate overpowered the vanilla panna cotta. Without the sauce and chocolate, I would describe the panna cotta like a firm vanilla ice cream or a firmer creme burlee without the burnt sugar topping.
Based upon the firmness of the panna cotta, I was thinking I could have added another 1/2 C to 1 C of dairy. My goal is to still have a gelled dessert, but one that's soft like a custard... without having to go through the steps of making a custard.
Also, maybe just a touch more vanilla 3/4 t or using a vanilla pod in the heated dairy mixture.
Overall, a very simple dessert with lots of potential.