Panna cotta may just be the perfect dessert: It’s easy, quick, practically foolproof and accommodating to many dietary adjustments, being naturally gluten-free and adaptable to dairy-free and vegan diets.
It also happens to be luscious and perfectly creamy, in a way that belies its utter simplicity. People think it’s some laborious restaurant dessert involving cheesecloth and a chinois, but it’s actually easier than making Jell-O out of a box.
But there I go again about how easy this is. Let’s get back to how it tastes, shall we?
It’s a very basic pudding that is made of dairy thickened with gelatin. It originated in Italy, and its name literally means “cooked cream,” since the earliest versions were made of thick cream, sometimes thickened with fish bones.
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You can eat it straight out of a cup, but it’s often unmolded onto a plate and drizzled with sweet sauce and garnished with fruit. A bite of panna cotta is remarkably creamy, melting in the mouth without a trace of grittiness or lumps.
The goal with panna cotta is to calibrate the amount of gelatin to the dairy and its fat so that you achieve a firm set that is still delicate and wobbly.
This recipe is my own idea of a very good basic panna cotta. It’s not too fatty and not too sweet, but still rich. I included a touch of extra gelatin to make it extra-foolproof, and so that you can unmold it onto a plate. But it shouldn’t be rubbery – it’s wobbly and velvety smooth.
What if you don’t eat gelatin? You can substitute agar agar or another vegetarian gelatin substitute. I don’t give precise substitutions because if you’re using a vegetarian gelatin you may also be switching up the milk and cream for an alternative dairy, and I haven’t tested the permutations of agar agar with soy, coconut or almond milk, or in all the various combinations.
Now, shall we make some pudding?
Faith Durand is executive editor of TheKitchn.com, a website for food and home cooking.