Simple But Spectacular Panna Cotta

 Simple But Spectacular Panna Cotta

 

 

Ask a great chef what he thinks is the most challenging food to cook. Chances are, it won’t be a dish with a list of ingredients as long as your arm. It is more likely to be a panna cotta

very simple dish that requires a very simple mixing or cooking technique. Do not confuse simple with easy, however. Each pleat in a chef’s hat represents a different way to cook an egg-not a different eight course menu.

To illustrate this principle, I give you panna cotta.
While Italian for “cooked cream,” the dairy component is heated, but the dish itself is set with gelatin rather than baked in an oven as with egg based custards.

At its simplest, panna cotta is sweetened cream set with gelatin. Simple, yes. Easy, no. There is a very specific technique you should follow to ensure that your panna cotta is creamy rather than slick, homogenous rather than layered, and with flecks of vanilla suspended throughout rather than all at the bottom.

2 teaspoons powdered gelatin

3 cups milk, divided

pinch of salt, to taste

2 1/2 cups heavy cream

1/2 cup sugar, more or less to taste

1 vanilla bean or 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

Bloom the gelatin in about 1/2 cup of milk. When softened, add another cup of milk, half of the sugar, the vanilla bean (if using) and the salt to a saucepan. To dissolve sugar and gelatin, heat until very hot, but do not bring to a boil. (Boiling gelatin reduces its setting power). If using a vanilla bean, let the bean steep for about half an hour. Then, strain this mixture into the other 1 1/2 cups of cold milk.

In a stainless steel bowl, whip heavy cream, the other half of the sugar, and the vanilla extract (if you didn’t use a vanilla bean) until thickened and the whisk leaves tracks in the cream. You don’t even have to get it to soft peaks, but do make sure it is thickened. Whisk everything together thoroughly and strain again. At this point your mixture should be pretty thick, which is what we’re going for. This method will yield a very creamy, rather than slick, panna cotta. The mixture will also be thick enough that any vanilla bean specks will be suspended and won’t sink to the bottom. If a spoon doesn’t leave a track when pulled through your panna cotta mixture, whisk it over an ice bath until it thickens enough to suspend the vanilla specks.

 

 

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