Classic Panna Cotta

Creamy, smooth, and almost ridiculously easy to make, panna cotta is one of my favorite comfort food desserts. Recipes with all sorts of embellishments and variations abound. My favorite, though, remains the simplest of all: scented with vanilla, tasting purely of cream (panna cotta means, after all, cooked cream).

You can swap in almond extract for the vanilla if you’re feeling experimental, or add a few crushed amaretto cookies for texture just before spooning the panna cotta mixture into the ramekins. Whatever you do, be sure to let the cream come to a full boil before pouring it over the softened gelatin, or else the gelatin may not dissolve properly, resulting in an improperly set panna cotta; and allow at least 6 hours for thorough chilling, so it is creamy and set all the way through.

For a jolt of color and contrasting acidity, you can cook a cup of fresh berries with a few spoonfuls of sugar into a jammy coulis, about 10 minutes over medium heat; cool thoroughly, then spoon over the chilled panna cotta upon serving.

Serves 4

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 vanilla pod, scraped
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1 package unflavored gelatin

Combine 1 and ½ cups of the cream with the vanilla and sugar in a small pot over a medium flame. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture comes to a full boil and the sugar dissolves. The cream has to come to a boil, or the gelatin may not dissolve later.

Meanwhile, sprinkle the gelatin over the remaining ½ cup of cold cream in a medium bowl and whisk thoroughly to combine. Let stand 2 minutes. Pour in the boiling cream and whisk constantly to dissolve the gelatin. If needed, strain through a fine mesh strainer to remove any undissolved gelatin particles.

Pour into 4 individual 3-ounce ramekins and cover each ramekin with plastic wrap. Refrigerate about 6 hours (or up to 1 day). Serve chilled.