I first discovered the delights of creamy, light panna cotta when we lived in Milan for eight years. It is a traditional pudding dessert that is very popular in northern Italy and is often my dessert of choice when I am putting together a menu for a casual dinner with friends or family. It is easy to assemble and needs to be prepared ahead of time which is always a bonus when entertaining.
Personally, panna cotta has always been one of my favorite desserts since it finishes any meal with a light, sweet, creamy finish. Best of all, the flavor combinations you can play around with when making panna cotta are endless.
Traditionally, it is made with cream, or milk and cream combination, but I’ve also made it with buttermilk and yogurt which added a subtle tangy note. You can create a myriad of different flavors by adding some fruit puree in with the dairy, or by selecting unique seasonal toppings. See more of my favorite recipes for panna cotta!
The name panna cotta translates as cooked cream. Today panna cotta is simply made with a dairy product, sugar or honey to sweeten, and gelatin to set the pudding. A good panna cotta should be creamy smooth on the tongue with just a little wobble.
You don’t want the pudding set to the point where you can stand a spoon up in the pudding, but you do not want it so loose you can pour it from the ramekin either. A perfect panna cotta will slightly wobble when you gently shake the ramekin which is exactly how I tell when it is set.
For this recipe, I chose dark chocolate as my primary flavor and used a basic cream and milk combination as my base. You can use individual ramekins to make this recipe and simply remove the pudding once set onto individual plates to serve or you can use small clear glasses which is my personal preference.
I made this particular pudding to serve to guests after a casual dinner of homemade pizza so I wasn’t looking for an overly elegant dessert, but wanted a sweet, light finish to our meal. To serve my panna cotta I simply topped each with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream and a spoonful of cherries in red wine syrup that I had in my pantry.
In place of the cherries, you could instead drizzle the whipped cream with a spoonful of berry coulis or even some crumbled amaretti cookies would be a tasty garnish.
Another option that you could choose when making this panna cotta is to remove a fourth of the mixture before you pour it into the ramekins. Let the reserved mixture sit at room temperature for an hour or two until the top of the refrigerated puddings are just set.
Add some heavy cream (about 1/2 cup) to the reserved pudding mixture and beat with an electric hand mixture until light and airy. Pour this mixture over the ramekins in the refrigerator and let cool until set, about 6 to 7 hours. This will give you a lighter second layer that is very attractive.
- 1 Cup Whole Milk
- 1 Package (2 Teaspoons) Unflavored Gelatin
- 2 Cups Heavy Cream
- 1/4 Cup Honey
- 1 Pound Dark Chocolate, Finely Chopped
- 1 Teaspoon Almond or Vanilla Extract
Topping of Choice:
- Sweetened Whipped Cream (See Notes Above)
- Place 6 (8 ounce) ramekins or small clear glasses on a baking sheet.
- Pour the milk into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the milk and stir.
- Let the gelatin rest and soften for 5 minutes.
- In a small saucepan, heat the cream and honey over medium heat.
- When the cream just comes to a boil, remove from the heat and whisk in the gelatin mixture.
- Add the chocolate and extract, and whisk until the chocolate has completely melted.
- Pour the mixture through a strainer or sieve into a large spouted measuring container or bowl to remove any lumps.
- Pour the strained mixture into the ramekins, dividing it up evenly.
- Refrigerate for at least 6 hours.
- Serve topped with sweetened whipped cream or topping of choice.