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Suvir Saran

Panna Cotta: Recipes & Techniques

116 posts in this topic

This is one of my all time favorite desserts.

Have had several versions of this.

What should a novice home cook know about this dessert?

Is there a basic recipe that could be of help here?

Where should one go for the best of its kind in the US?

Where in the world could one get a sampling of some of the best panna cottas?

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I know that nightscotsman makes a mean Panna Cotta, perhaps he will drop in and enlighten us..

Also mamster wrote an article on the lovely stuff. Enjoy!

Ben


Gimme what cha got for a pork chop!

-Freakmaster

I have two words for America... Meat Crust.

-Mario

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Thanks Ben.. I want to learn from everyone that has a secret or a recipe...

And if it can be from someon that has local Italian lore and legend to share, even better...

How are you Ben?

When do we see more photographs of your cooking??? :smile:

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Cosa Bolle in Pentola

Here is a classic recipe from Cosa Bolle that I follow. Don't worry about the 'fish glue', gelatin works just fine.

For variations try omiting the caramel and using various fruit toppings. You can also add 3 or 4 tbls. dark rum, espresso or fruit brandy for variations.

Try a Moscato d'Asti with it - delicious.

The mamster version sounds wonderful - I will try it soon.

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Matt Kramer's A Passion for Piedmont cookbook has the authetic recipe, which is, strangely enough, 1 quart heavy cream to 1 1/4 cups sugar. He suggests that you soften 1 envelope of unflavored gelatin in 1/4 cup cold water, heat the cream over medium-low heat to a near-simmer, whisk in the gelatin and then the sugar, and cook until the sugar is fully dissolved, about 5 minutes. You first cool the mixture to room temperature, then refrigerate it until it sets. The gelatin is inauthentic, but presumably necessary because American cream lacks the thickness of Italian cream. If you can find a non-industrial cream that is locally produced and very thick, skip the gelatin and cook down the cream until you think it will hold its shape when cold. DO NOT boil the cream, or it will separate. I like it plain, or with a sauce of pureed strawberries with fresh berries on the side, or plain. Less is more with this dessert, but it depends entirely upon top-quality cream. For my taste, adding liquor, caramel, etc. does very little for something that can be so perfect in its simplicity that it doesn't even need vanilla.


Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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Bill, is gelatin not always used?

And thanks to both Craig and you for sharing these recipes. :smile:

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I believe Bripastryguy was looking ata panna cotta recipes earlier last week, you might want to drop him a PM. I recently made some coconut panna cotta, and found that you have to strain the thing to get the smooth taste. Also, I like them very wobbly so I ususally cut down on the gelatin, but that's personal taste.


Ya-Roo Yang aka "Bond Girl"

The Adventures of Bond Girl

I don't ask for much, but whatever you do give me, make it of the highest quality.

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Suvir: I read your post having just made my second batch of panna cotta! I use Alfred Portales' Gotham Bar & Grill recipe...the first time using five gelatine sheets and decided that next time I will use four. Today I used the called for amount of powdered gelatine which came out just imperceptibly less smooth as when using the sheets, but again, next time I will use a tad less for a slightly more wobbly end result.

First time: simply with rasp- and blueberries. This time with the barest drizzle of nicely bitter caramel sauce. Both were awesome. Can't wait to try variations for the acoutrements! How about an eGullet Panna Cotta bar?


kit

"I'm bringing pastry back"

Weebl

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Suvir: Gelatin is NEVER used in the Piemonte, simply because the cream (even the run-of-the-mill supermarket variety) is more of a solid than a liquid, and does not need the introduction of a clotting agent to set up. The slow cooking out of a little water, the body added by the sugar and the refrigeration does the trick. Panna cotta with gelatin is a wonderful thing, for sure, but the addition of any quantity of gelatin is noticeable in the texture. The no-gelatin version has a smoothness and mouthfeel (as Ben and Jerry used to say about ice cream) that adds immeasurably to the pleasure. Experiment, and try to use as little gelatin as you can get by with. If it sets up like Jello pudding and jiggles when you shake it, you have more gelatin than you need. If it is the slightest bit runny when you serve it due to low or no gelatin, it does not detract from the joy (ice cream melts, too!). Buona fortuna!


Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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Bill--I'm curious about your comment that the use of gelatin is inauthentic. Does that mean that historical sources you have read, written reference points like cookbooks and cooking texts, especially in Italian written for the Italian chef or cook, discuss this very issue and omit the gelatin?

Any chance you might be willing to share a little more, cite a few sources, or comment on the documentation (or lack of documentation) on this gelatin/panna cotta issue within Italy? From my own very limited "reading" only--and certainly not from direct first hand experience like yours--there seemed to be historical sourcing which cited gelatin use--in ways that led me to believe it was authentic within Italy--and not something added by the editor to set a more commercial cream.

Do you suspect gelatin was used historically and then omitted over time? Do you suspect gelatin was never used in the home or village?

And Craig--I linked to that Slow Food-approved recipe:

1 quart cream

1 1/8 cups granulated sugar

3 sheets fish glue (this thickens it; you can substitute some sort of flavorless gelatin if need be)

1 tablespoon all purpose flour

1 cup milk.

Warm the milk (don't let it boil), then dissolve the fish glue in it and stir in the flour. Meanwhile, bring the cream to a boil for a couple of minutes, with 1 cup of the sugar. Remove from the fire and gently stir in the milk mixture.

Have you made this--is it actually good, the best panna cotta you've ever had? Here's the thing--by boiling all of the cream you are definitely changing the flavor--inducing a kind of cooked flavor to it not unlike ultra-pasteurization and reducing the freshness, the inherent sweetness of the cream. (Not necessarily a bad thing--perhaps even desireable.) And I have my doubts about the flour--anyone else?

Another question for you locals--how often, if at all, is vanilla added to panna cotta? Is that perceived as blasphemous?


Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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This is essentially how my wife's grandmother makes it. Milk products are somewhat different in Italy so that could be the problem. Latte and panna fresca spoils very quickly and may need to be handled differently than American milk and cream which are more pasteurized. I made it once with her - which means she let me watch and hand her things. It was delicious but not the best - but don't tell anyone that! I have never made it in the USA.

The best panna cotta I ever had was at a restaurant in Piemonte - they used a mixed berry topping.

Many people use vanilla. In fact, you see many flavorings used based on the family's traditions.

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Steve klc: My statement re: gelatin is strictly experience-based (Piemontese ristoranti), and not the result of any research. I am not prepared to refute "fish glue", nor to make a big point of "authentic" versus "inauthentic". I will say simply that, for my taste, gelatin makes a real difference in texture. Good example: imagine how the best creme brulee you ever had would be changed by the addition of gelatin. It would hold its shape better, if you had reason to mold it, but at some cost to creaminess. That is my only point. Re: vanilla, it certainly would not be blasphemy, but I think that the Italians perceive it as unnecessary. The sin of American cooking is this: toast is good, buttered toast is better, buttered toast with cinnamon sugar is better still, and since we all love strawberry jam (or peanut butter, or bananas, or both), what could be better than slathering THAT on my cinnamon toast? You can't get too much of a good thing, right? Certainly, none of the flavors I mentioned are offensive, but at what point is the flavor of the bread, or the butter, or the cinnamon sugar, irrelevant? The Italians think otherwise. If you have wonderful, farm-fresh thick cream, which starts with a delightful taste and texture, why do anything other than showcase those qualities by the addition of a little sugar?


Edited by Bill Klapp (log)

Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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Then I have more research to do Bill--I was hoping you could save me the time! Keep on the lookout for anything you might find on this issue--I'd love to get a better handle on how panna cotta instructions and practice might vary from region to region, restaurant to home, historical to modern practice within Italy. Irrespective of gelatin--there's the cooking method. What's been transported over here to the US--among pastry chefs of my acquaintance--is cream, sometimes mixed with some other dairy element--buttermilk, some fresh or thickened dairy, yogurt--and most of them only heat a portion of the liquid to dissolve any added sugar, infuse the vanilla and dissolve the softened gelatin.

Yes the amount of gelatin is kept to the absolute minimum. But also the pro cooking practice here seems to keep more of the inherent flavor of the cream by not heating it all. Yet we're reading more of chefs, like Grant Achatz for instance using a kind of caramelized dairy in some dishes, I know Michael Laiskonis has used a reduced simmered milk jam and I'm doing something similar--a milk jam similar to manjar blanco in a reworked tres leches dessert. This takes the dairy reduction deeper to more flavorful territory--or, I should say deeper territory. (Notice I did not say better. I'm not falling into that trap with you Italian guys as others have.) I wonder, though, if all of us aren't in some way harkening back to the slowly cooked and reduced dairy of a panna cotta.


Steve Klc

Pastry chef-Restaurant Consultant

Oyamel : Zaytinya : Cafe Atlantico : Jaleo

chef@pastryarts.com

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I'm not prepared to refute "fish glue," either, or go near it for that matter.

Panna cotta you've enjoyed in the US, Suvir, definitely was made with gelatin. I find the difference between leaf gelatin and powdered to be insignificant in the finished product--leaf is just a little easier to dissolve and portion.

The keys to getting American restaurant-style panna cotta right are to use non-ultra-pasteurized cream, which tastes better, and to use as little gelatin as possible and still have it set up in a reasonable time. For my recipe I settled on 1.5 tsp of powdered gelatin for 3 cups of liquid (a mix of cream, coconut milk, and milk).

But the thing a novice cook should know about making panna cotta is that it's really, really easy, like making Jell-O.


Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"

Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

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Suvir --

The best two panna cottas I have had in NYC are at Il Buco and Tocqueville. Il Buco's is served plain (with no topping), but they will at the table add a few drops of very old Balsamic to the top -- perfect! The one at Tocqueville comes with a seasonal berry topping, and the spring version is more successful than the one served in fall.

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Good posts, guys! You appear to be pros, and I'm only an amateur! Let me suggest this, on the issue of cooking-like anything else, the flavor of cream will be changed by cooking. However, I think what you are looking for in panna cotta is the concentration of the flavor of the cream, as well as the setting, as is the case in almost any reduction of a liquid. I'm guessing that, if there were not added sugar, the most noticeable effect on the cream would be concentration of naturally occuring sugars. I can't say for sure, because, due to the fact that the thing must be refrigerated in order to set it, and given that it is served chilled or at room temperature, you have to add more sugar than would otherwise seem necessary, since sugar loses its effectiveness when cold (as in ice cream).


Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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Bill,

I'm a professional cook from Piedmont and I must contradict your statement about gelatin being banned in authentic Piedmontese cooking.

Actually, I've never even heard of panna cotta being prepared without any gelatin -- it just wouldn't hold together unless you put it in the freezer!


In vino veritas

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Scarpetta, I defer to you and withdraw the assertion. I can, however, get it to hang together without gelatin in Piemonte, but not using typical U.S. cream. The author of the cookbook I cited above has had the same experience. Likewise, there is little evidence of gelatin in the best examples I have eaten in Italy, without being able to say that there is none. I think where this is coming out is use only as much gelatin as you need to get the desired setting. Where do you come from in the Piemonte?


Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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The best Panna Cotta I have ever eaten was made by chef Heather Carlucci.

Hers did have gelatin, but very little.

It was amazing.

I know I have her recipe somewhere... now I need to find out where she is preparing her pastries these days... she is a Goddess of pastry..

Thanks all for these wonderful posts...

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Bill, I live in Alessandria. Yes, of course panna cotta must use as little gelatin as possible to be really good, though you've simply got to use some...

To make excellent panna cotta it's necessary to get hold of "panna di affioramento" i.e. the cream that freely floats on top of fresh milk (most of the cream sold in cartons is centrifugated). This cream is often over 40% in fat content -- and that's what makes it so good! And, yes, you must barely let it reach a simmer to keep the flavor intact.


In vino veritas

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I've made panna cotta several times, usually with the proportions that mamster used in his article. Some of the combos that worked for me were:

Vanilla panna cotta with candied vegetables (celery, red pepper and fennel - from Michel Bras)

Vanilla panna cotta with dried cherries and lavender syrup

Black pepper panna cotta with strawberry sauce and a chocolate cookie.

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Suvir;Pannacotta means cooked cream in Italian.Fish glue would most likely translate to sheet gelatin.I used to make pannacotta with cream,and a little milk to cut the richness.You can also incorporate yogurt,buttermilk,creme fraiche into the mix.You can infuse the cream with any flavor you like,and it is important to use as little gelatin as possible.The Indian techniques of reducing milk might marry very well with a pannacotta.

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Suvir;Pannacotta means cooked cream in Italian.Fish glue would most likely translate to sheet gelatin.I used to make pannacotta with cream,and a little milk to cut the richness.You can also incorporate yogurt,buttermilk,creme fraiche into the mix.You can infuse the cream with any flavor you like,and it is important to use as little gelatin as possible.The Indian techniques of reducing milk might marry very well with a pannacotta.

Thanks Wingding! :smile:

Now that this is in the past, I can come out and tell you where my romance of pannnacotta actually began.

I was with a well respected NYC food critic and dining at Esca, where a certain pastry chef that is known to these boards was creating simple but wonderful desserts.

Our first time at Esca, we ordered several of the desserts. The critic was well aware of my famous and legendary sweet tooth. The pannacotta was served with maceratd fruit. It was sensational. The pannacotta was shaking more than it has since at any restaurant I have had it in.. and it was that very light and non-gelatinous (or rather, light in gelatin) texture that we all really loved.

I have not forgotten that Pannacotta since that night. And I hope someday I can get the chef to share with me that great recipe.

The only other pannacotta that I have had which was in the same league was the one prepared by Heather Carlucci. She would serve it with Armagnac marinated figs. Again, sensational and memorable and will be celebrated by my memory for a lifetime.

Thanks for your post. And thanks for making the comparison with the Indian reduced milk desserts. I think a firni can come close in texture to pannacotta. But a good firni is just as hard to find as a good Pannacotta. Even in India, few make it as wonderfully as the one I must always eat when I travel to India at Karims. Firni is stabelized with rice flour (replacing gelatin) and most people add too much rice flour, and that changes the magic of the dish.

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Suvir;When I mention reduced milk,I was thinking of the flavor it has,and how that could make a tasty pannacotta.I suspect that some Italian pannacotta recipes,which call for simmering the cream for a few minutes,might also use this for flavor,and possibly a thicker texture with less gelatin.I had wonderful pannacotta in Bologna this past December.Very similar-a plain pannacotta served with some macerated figs,wonderful texture and flavor.

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