I’m a big fan of dinner parties. I like to go to them and I to like to accommodate them. It’s a chance to get together with the people you love and share stories and all that warm and fuzzy stuff, and that’s great, but mostly it’s a chance to show off. If you perfected Beef Wellington at homebeen making puff pastry for six months, then heck Yes it’s time to present it officially as if it were not serious.
Properly Fish Compliments Your Way dinner (or someone else’s) calls for an equally fancy dessert. For the savvy baker, a seven-layer cake, cream puffs, or a stone fruit pavlova would do the trick. But for those not inclined to cook, finding the ‘right’ recipe means hours of searching online for ‘easy’ recipes, with the search stopping at ‘preheating your oven’. Well, non-bakers, look no further: Panna cotta is the best no-bake fancy dessert for your dinner.
Pana cotta is inherently impressive. Just by saying his Italian name–Panna cotta– will elicit at least one, “Ooh, what’s that?” This is your cue to dazzle your audience. Panna cotta translates from Italian as “cooked cream”, but it’s much more than that. The flavor is extremely creamy, smooth and subtly sweet, with a texture between a velvety crème brûlée and a relaxed flan. You can evenin add flavor notes to this incredibly versatile dessert to help it adapt to the flavor profile of the meal.
As if all that weren’t enough, it’s easy to make individual servings, and because panna cotta is a molded, refrigerated dessert, you can make it up to 48 hours in advance. For oven phobics – hold on to your hats – the best part is that the four or so ingredients are all cooked on the stovetop. Frankly, even cooked is an exaggeration; they are warmed up on the stovetop, making it a great option for keeping your kitchen cool in the summer.
The panna cotta is served simply, highlighting the quality of the cream used. You can also add a broadcast vanilla bean, or incorporate flavors such as coffee, chocolate, cinnamon, or tea. This dessert contains a small amount of gelatin to give it just enough structure to hold its shape on a plate, so wWhen considering flavor additions, make sure the liquid-at-the gelatin ratio stays close to the same as the direct instructions.
Try my cookie dough panna cotta recipe for a fun spin on a childhood favorite. “Milk and cookies” is as classic a pairing as “bread and butter,” and this recipe is a great way to showcase the creme fraiche flavor of panna cotta while adding a little texture. Remember that if the preparation of the recipe is fast, the panna cotta needs four hours to set At least.
Panna Cotta cookie dough (yield: four 4 ounce servings)
- 2 cups half and half
- 1 ½ teaspoons Knox gelatin powder
- 2 tablespoons demerara sugar (or dark brown sugar)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 crunchy chocolate chip cookies, crumbled (I used Trader Joe’s Way More Chocolate Chip Cookies)
Crumble the cookies completely. I used a small food processor, but you can use your hands. Put aside.
Prepare your molds, or ramekins, by wiping a thin layer of flavorless oil from the inside. A light coat is enough, you don’t want it to build up.
Pour half and half into a medium saucepan. Sprinkle the gelatin over the half and half and let it swell for about five minutes.
Over medium-low heat, whisk the mixture until the gelatin dissolves and you can’t see any bits of gelatin floating around. If the mixture starts to bubble around the edges, lower the heat. You don’t want to boil the mixture. According fine dining, high heat will weaken gelatin’s gelling abilities. After about five minutes of whipping, the gelatin should be dissolved.
Turn off the heat and whisk the sugar and vanilla extract into the milk mixture. Stir until the sugar is completely dissolved, or for about two minutes.
Just before pouring the mixture into molds, stir in a teaspoon of cookie crumbs. They will sink a little, that’s good. Divide the panna cotta mixture into the prepared pans. Sprinkle another teaspoon of cookie crumbs over all four pans.
Leave to set in the refrigerator for four hours, or overnight.
The panna cotta can be served straight out of the ramekins or unmoulded. If serving in pans, top with remaining cookie crumbs or a whole cookie. If you want to unmold the panna cotta, gently pass a sharp paring knife the edges as you tilt the mold towards you, who will allow gravity to gently pull the dessert down and away from your knife as you loosen the edge. Dip the ramekin in a shallow bowl of warm water for about 30 seconds, pat the ramekin dry and slowly invert onto a plate. Be gentle and patient, the dessert will slowly unmold. Garnish with cookie crumbs and serve cold.