If I could pick just one dessert to eat every day for the rest of my life, it would be this. Bold statement, I know, but it's worthy of it. This is the dessert I turn to 365 days a year, whether I'm inviting a couple of friends over for dinner or it's simply Monday and I feel like something sweet.
I top it with berries in the summer, honey and chopped nuts in the winter, and a dollop of jam or caramel sauce in-between. It's the epitome of fast and fancy, and something that needs to be in your repertoire.
Yogurt Is the Key to This Italian-Inspired Dessert
I am always in the mood to make this panna cotta. How could I not be when it barely requires any cooking, can be made ahead, and whisks me away to my days in Italy every time I take a spoon to the wobbly goodness?
I first discovered yogurt panna cotta when I was living in Italy. I was inviting friends over for dinner and wanted to make a dessert that required little from me, seeing as my tiny kitchen wasn't exactly well-equipped. I stumbled upon this recipe on Smitten Kitchen and was intrigued by the use of Greek yogurt. Plus, I already had some on hand, since I always keep a tub of it in my refrigerator for breakfast. I was hooked after my first encounter. I loved how the yogurt lightened up the classic Italian dessert with its brightness and tang.
Soon, I was making it weekly, either for friends or just myself, and brought the recipe home with me to continue the tradition Stateside. Slowly I began tinkering with the original, coming up with my own recipe that incorporated elements of classic panna cotta I missed, like the fragrance of vanilla and a slightly more wobbly texture.
The Magic of Vanilla Bean Paste
This recipe calls for either vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract. While vanilla extract is sure to already be in your pantry, I encourage you to splurge and add vanilla bean paste to your arsenal.
Vanilla bean paste is similar to extract, but it's filled with the extra-aromatic vanilla bean seeds, so you get an even deeper vanilla flavor and those lovely-looking little black specks dappled throughout the panna cotta. (Plus, it's way easier than scraping the beans out of vanilla bean pods). While it's a bit more expensive that vanilla extract, a little goes a long way, and a bottle lasts for years.
Buy: Vanilla Bean Paste, $28
There's no one way to top panna cotta. Since it's such a light dessert, I find it's a wonderful vessel for featuring the season's best fruit, whether that's tiny strawberries in June, juicy peaches in August, or colorful citrus in January. When great fruit doesn't feel like an option, a drizzle of honey or shaved chocolate will do the trick. You really can't go wrong.
I love to serve each panna cotta right in their ramekin, which to me is the most fuss-free serving suggestion that still feels fancy. But if you want to make things a little fancier, you can turn them out onto individual serving plates.
Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta
Prep time: 10 minutes ; cooking time: 3 minutes
- For the panna cotta:
powdered unflavored gelatin
Vegetable oil, if unmolding the panna cotta
whole-milk plain Greek yogurt
heavy cream, divided
vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
- For the macerated berry topping: (optional)
Place the water in a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over water and set aside to soften.
If you plan to unmold the panna cotta onto plates, lightly coat the inside of 4 (6-ounce) ramekins or glasses with vegetable oil. Otherwise, you can leave them uncoated.
Place the yogurt and 1/2 cup of the cream in a medium bowl and whisk to combine; set aside. Place the sugar and remaining 1/2 cup of cream in a small saucepan over low heat and bring to a simmer, stirring once or twice to dissolve the sugar, about 3 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Add the gelatin mixture and whisk to dissolve into the warm cream. Pour this mixture into the bowl of Greek yogurt and whisk until smooth.
Divide the mixture evenly among the ramekins or glasses. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.
If serving with the macerated berries, place the raspberries, strawberries, and sugar in a small bowl and toss to combine. Let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or up to 3 hours, stirring occasionally.
Serve the panna cotta straight from the ramekins or, if you planned to unmold them, bring a small saucepan of water to a simmer and dip the bottom of one of the ramekins or glasses into the water for 5 seconds. Place a serving plate on top of the ramekin and invert it, shaking gently to help the panna cotta fall out. If it does not fall out easily, return to the warm water bath for another 2 seconds. Repeat with remaining ramekins.
Top each panna cotta with the macerated berries or other topping (see suggestions below), and serve immediately.
Make ahead: The panna cotta can be made up to a day ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator.
Storage: Leftover panna cotta can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
Other ways to serve: The best thing about panna cotta is how infinitely adaptable it is. Beyond macerated berries, try topping it with macerated stone fruit, supremed citrus, a dollop of jam, a drizzle of caramel sauce, grated dark chocolate, a bit of lemon curd, maple syrup or honey, or toasted nuts.