Lest you think I’m getting too big for my britches, let me reassure you that I’m still the same pajama-wearing bum I’ve always been. In fact, I just ate a midnight snack of slightly stale cheerios from an old chipped mug. (But I did it with my pinky held high. Classy.)
And this vanilla bean panna cotta, despite its Italian heritage, is dead simple to make and not at all hoity-toity.
Panna cotta is basically flavored cream thickened with gelatin. When done right, it’s satiny smooth, with a texture like a firm custard (but without any eggy flavor!) It takes about five minutes to pull together, although it does require an extensive chilling time to get the gelatin to set. It can be served straight from the ramekins or unmolded for fancy-pants plating purposes.
This recipe calls for a vanilla bean, although you can substitute vanilla paste with good results. (Vanilla extract might not be strong enough to produce a really vibrant vanilla flavor.) It also calls for buttermilk, which nicely balances the sugar and gives the panna cotta a complex sweet-tart flavor. My favorite way to enjoy this dessert is with fresh berries or a berry puree—but you can top it with a chocolate or caramel sauce too.
Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta
yield: 3 cups (about 6 servings)
Note: if you want a very soft panna cotta, you can reduce the gelatin by up to 1 tsp. If you do reduce the gelatin, I recommend not unmolding the panna cottas and just serving them from the ramekins. If you want to unmold them, the higher amount of gelatin is preferable.
2-1/2 tsp unflavored gelatin
2 tbsp cold water
1-1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean
1-3/4 cup buttermilk
Combine the gelatin and cold water in a small bowl and whisk them together. Set aside to allow the gelatin to absorb the water, for about 5 minutes. Once absorbed, microwave the bowl for 15-20 seconds, until the gelatin is liquid.
Whisk together the cream and sugar in a small saucepan. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean and add them to the cream. Heat the cream mixture over medium heat just until it starts to simmer, then remove it from the heat and add the gelatin, whisking well.
Pour the buttermilk into the cream saucepan and stir until everything is blended. Pour the panna cotta mixture into six half-cup ramekins and refrigerate them overnight until they are set. Serve directly from the ramekins, or unmold them onto individual plates. To easily unmold them, briefly dip the bottoms of the ramekins in hot water before inverting them onto the plates.