Every time I sit down to write about a dessert, my inclination is to exclaim, “This is my favorite!” But I find that I’m saying that about every dessert. Ha! But I really do love, really LOVE, panna cotta. It’s an Italian dessert which translated means “cooked cream.” I’m not even sure when the first time was that I made panna cotta, but I do remember thinking to myself, “Okay, this is something special.”
It is a special kind of dessert, but it’s awfully simple to make. The thing that makes panna cotta exceptional is the texture. It should be light, creamy, and jiggly; but not too firm. Think: creme brulee without the eggs. It uses gelatin, but it should not be at all like jell-o. No. That would be a travesty. It’s silky and smooth, and practically melts on your tongue.
The ingredients are very simple as well: heavy cream, gelatin, and sugar. That’s it. Three ingredients. Then they can be flavored as desired. My very favorite variation uses part buttermilk and heavy cream, and is flavored with vanilla. The tang of the buttermilk with the creaminess of the heavy cream and the sweet vanilla essence is the stuff dreams are made of. This dessert is heavenly.
Panna cotta doesn’t need much of anything on top, but I think it’s splendid with fruit. Since I had some lovely peaches, I had to make a simple compote to pair with buttermilk panna cotta.
Fresh peaches are wonderful here, but if you can’t find any, you can substitute frozen and thawed peaches, or substitute your favorite fruit. Berries are magnificent with the tangy buttermilk. A little lemon juice helps brighten the flavors a bit and the brown sugar and cinnamon just kind of take it up another notch. To make the fruit a little more special, you could add a splash of bourbon or brandy, but that’s completely optional.
Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Peach Compote
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For fresh peach compote:
1 large ripe peach, peeled, pitted, and diced
1 tablespoon bourbon or brandy (optional)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch ground cinnamon
1. Place buttermilk in bowl or glass measuring cup. Sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Let stand for 5-10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, heat the 1/3 cup heavy cream and sugar together in a small pan until just boiling, or microwave for about 45 seconds until very, very hot. Add to the gelatin and buttermilk. Stir well until gelatin is completely dissolved. Stir in the vanilla extract.
3. Pour into two 6- to 8-ounce ramekins, custard cups, or jars. Cover and refrigerate until set, about 4 hours.
4. While the panna cottas are setting up, prepare the peach compote. Stir together all of the ingredients and let stand to allow flavors to blend. Chill until ready to serve.
5. To serve, unmold each panna cotta by dipping the ramekin in hot water for a few seconds and run the tip of a think knife around the edges and invert onto a platter. Or serve in the ramekin and top with the peaches. Serve chilled.
Variations and Substitutions
-Full-fat coconut milk can replace both the cream and buttermilk in this recipe
-If you’re not a fan of buttermilk, use all heavy cream or substitute whole milk for the buttermilk
-To infuse with other flavors, such as edible flowers (roses, lavender, violets, etc.), herbs, or spices, place a small amount of the flavoring agent (dried or fresh organic flowers, whole spices, fresh herbs) in the hot cream and allow to steep for at least 10-15 minutes, preferably 30 minutes. Reheat cream before proceeding with the recipe.
-Any other fruit can be substituted for the peaches. Fresh pineapple and papaya contain enzymes that will break down the gelatin, so don’t add until serving time.
Credits: Recipe and photos by Lindsey Rose Johnson for Design Mom.