Panna cotta is an Italian dessert which means cooked cream. Because panna cotta is sweet cream that has been thickened it can be classified as a pudding. Panna Cotta is made very similar to classic pudding, except it is made without eggs, and does not require a long cook time over the stop top.
Panna cotta is served chilled and often presented with fresh berries or a sauce of honey, caramel or chocolate. Some choose to top panna cotta with flavored liqueurs. Panna cotta is similar to a bavarian cream, however, unlike panna cotta, bavarian cream does include eggs.
This recipe is for a vanilla flavored panna cotta. I have found that the best panna cotta is made using the insides of vanilla beans, also known as vanilla bean caviar. Vanilla bean caviar gives the best vanilla flavor and compliments the delicate nature of the panna cotta. Apart from vanilla, any flavor panna cotta can be made by swapping out the vanilla extract for a different extract flavor. Some of the more popular panna cotta flavors are almond, rum, coffee and caramel.
As mentioned above, panna cotta differs from other puddings. Panna cotta does not include eggs. Panna cotta also uses gelatin instead of cornstarch to thicken the creamy mixture. In regards to gelatin, there are a lot of gelatin brands on the market. Selecting a good gelatin is actually pretty important. Over the years I have used several brands of gelatin and they are all not created equally. When it comes to gelatin, quality and purity matter. I have found the best gelatin to be Great Lake Beef Gelatin. If you read how they prepare and extract their gelatin then you will see why the quality of their gelatin is held in such high regards by many.
1/3 cup skim milk
1 (.25 ounce) envelope or 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin (I prefer Great Lake Beef Gelatin)
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup sugar (I prefer cane sugar)
Pure vanilla bean scrapes (about 1″) or 1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
In a small bowl, add milk and stir in the gelatin powder. Mix together to ensure the gelatin is well combined. In a saucepan, stir together the heavy cream and sugar. Heat the mixture over medium heat. Bring to a full boil then pour the cream into the gelatin mixture, stirring until completely dissolved. Stir in the vanilla and then pour into 6 ramekin dishes or into 4 glass mason jars. Cool the panna cotta uncovered at room temperature. When the panna cotta has cool, cover with plastic wrap or top with mason jar lid and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.