- Active Time20 minutes
- Total Time20 minutes plus chilling
- Serves 8
Panna cotta is the kind of dessert recipe that looks complicated but is actually so easy that you can make the base in less than 30 minutes. Unlike its cousin, crème brûlée, this simple, elegant sweet is not even baked in a water bath—all you do is refrigerate the mixture until it sets and takes on a creamy, slightly jiggly texture. It’s the perfect make-ahead dessert for capping off a low-stress dinner party, whether you top it with fresh fruit or a sweet berry sauce.
Panna cotta means “cooked cream” in Italian, and that’s essentially what the base is—heated heavy cream (often with a little half-and-half or whole milk) mixed with gelatin powder and flavored with vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste. The mixture is then poured into ramekins or small molds and chilled. The unflavored gelatin that holds everything together and gives the dessert its smooth texture is easy to find in any supermarket; just look in the same section as the Jell-O mix. But you should be aware that gelatin is, technically, a meat product. If you want to make a vegan (or kosher) version of this treat, you’ll need to try out some of the many vegetable-based substitutes now on the market.
1 envelope unflavored gelatin (about 1 tablespoon)
2 tablespoons cold water
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup half and half
⅓ cup sugar
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
In a very small saucepan sprinkle gelatin over water and let stand about 1 minute to soften. Heat gelatin mixture over low heat until gelatin is dissolved and remove pan from heat.
In a large saucepan bring cream, half and half, and sugar just to a boil over moderately high heat, stirring. Remove pan from heat and stir in gelatin mixture and vanilla. Divide cream mixture among eight ½-cup ramekins and cool to room temperature. Chill ramekins, covered, at least 4 hours or overnight.
Dip ramekins, one at a time, into a bowl of hot water 3 seconds. Run a thin knife around edge of each ramekin and invert ramekin onto center of a small plate.