We love make-ahead desserts, and among easy, delicious, elegant make-ahead desserts, panna cotta reigns supreme. And yet we find that it's not as well-known as it should be. Why? Is there an impression of difficulty? If so, let us banish that immediately. Panna cotta is perhaps the easiest dessert we know. Read on, and allow us to lecture you further on the delights of this gelled Italian pudding.
What is panna cotta? It literally means "cooked cream" and that's really all it is. It's cooked cream (or yogurt) thickened and sweetened and chilled in the fridge.
Panna cotta is a pudding that, unlike traditional custards, has no eggs. It also has no flour, so it's completely gluten-free. It does usually include gelatin, though, so if you are vegetarian you'll have to find a substitute like agar agar.
But it's a snap to make — adaptable to any size of crowd, easily made ahead, and elegantly served in little cups, glasses, tumblers, ramekins, martini glasses — heck, even soup bowls if you're really a fan. It can be cooked up in just about five minutes then put into the fridge to chill.
Convinced yet? If not, let's talk about how it tastes. Without the flavor of eggs, panna cotta is the purest vehicle for really good cream, milk, or yogurt. It's light and creamy with all the sweetness of fresh cream and good vanilla or other flavorings. It's light on the tongue yet not as rich (or melty) as ice cream. It pairs perfectly with summer fruit: strawberries, blueberries, peaches and apricots.
This particular recipe we're about to share is a yogurt panna cotta, which gives it an extra tang, and also lessens (somewhat) the caloric weight. We added just a taste (a tiny taste) of rosewater for a faint, elusive scent of roses that enhances the yogurt's refreshing tang without overpowering. We added blueberries for a final touch of tannic sweetness. And again (are you tired of this yet?) it took us about four and a half minutes to put this whole little dessert together.
Panna cotta — it's the best elegant summer dessert we know. Give it a try!
Rosewater Yogurt Panna Cotta with Blueberries
2 tablespoons water
1 1/4 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
1 1/4 cups cream
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups whole-milk yogurt
1/2 teaspoon rosewater
1 cup blueberries, divided
Mint leaves, to garnish
Sprinkle the gelatin over the two tablespoons of water in a small bowl. Let sit to soften.
Put the cream in a small saucepan with the sugar over medium heat and heat until bubbles form around the edges. Whisk until all the sugar is dissolved. Take off the heat and whisk in the gelatin mixture until completely dissolved. Whisk in the yogurt, salt, and rosewater.
Rinse the blueberries and pick out any stems or bad berries. Pat dry. Divide about half of the berries between 4 6-8 ounce cups or bowls. Fill each one partway with the berries. Pour the warm panna cotta mixture over the berries and refrigerate. Chill until set — about 2 to 4 hours, depending on the size and depth of the cups.
When ready to serve, divide the remainder of the berries between the cups, piling them on top of the set custard. Garnish with a mint leaf and serve with coffee, fresh mint tea, or dessert wine.
Related: Recipe: Honey Lavender Panna Cotta
(Images: Faith Durand)