Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Buttermilk Panna Cotta

Now here is something new and different -- a dessert recipe!

It's not that I don't like sweets. At 3800 feet though, my altitude is just high enough to wreak havoc with baking. Brownies, quick breads, cookies and tarts still turn out okay. But foolproof cake recipes like my mother's whipping cream pound cake, mastered by my son W at age 11 or so, rise up in volcanic fury and then crater into sludge, leaving lava-like crud in the bottom of the oven.

Over the last few years, I've seen panna cotta made on various chef-challenge shows. I gather that the dish is currently a ubiquitous item on the dessert menus of trendy restaurants. It didn't capture my interest though, and I had never tasted it until Josh Grogan of Crave made a really lovely ginger and green tea panna cotta for the first round of our local chef challenge, Fire on the Rock.

My sister is co-hosting a bridal shower for her niece in late May. While she was visiting this past weekend, we spent some time talking about a menu. I suggested making panna cotta in lieu of her go-to
crème brûlée. Panna cotta is Italian for cooked cream where crème brûlée is French for burnt cream. My sister had never tasted panna cotta (neither of us lives in an area which abounds with trendy restaurants) so we decided to make dessert. I'd looked at recipes a couple of weeks ago after the Fire on the Rock experience. We agreed on this Epicurious recipe for Buttermilk Panna Cotta and made very few changes.

Buttermilk Panna Cotta


  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2 cups buttermilk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • Assorted berries (such as blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries)
  • Mint for garnish
  1. Pour 2 tablespoons water into small bowl; sprinkle gelatin over. Let stand until gelatin softens, about 10 minutes. Lightly spray six 3/4-cup ramekins or custard cups with nonstick spray.
  2. Heat cream, lemon peel, and sugar in medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and bring just to low boil, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add gelatin mixture; remove from heat. Stir until gelatin dissolves.
  4. Cool mixture to lukewarm, stirring often. Stir in buttermilk and vanilla; divide mixture among prepared ramekins.
  5. Refrigerate panna cotta until set, about 4 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled.)
  6. Using small sharp knife, cut around panna cotta in each ramekin.
  7. Place plate atop each ramekin and invert, allowing panna cotta to settle onto plate.
  8. Top with berries, garnish with mint and serve chilled.
Yield: 6 portions
Prep time: 20 minutes + 4 hours refrigeration

The dessert was a perfect ending to a somewhat heavy dinner. I am excited about making panna cotta for future holiday meals. My dad is allergic to eggs so he often misses out on dessert at family gatherings -- there are only so many that can be made without eggs. But this one is elegant, light and egg-free. This buttermilk version is a great basic. I can't wait to try a chocolate panna cotta and experiment with some fancier toppings If you are nervous about plating, you can make the panna cotta in a white wine goblet or old fashioned champagne glass so you don't have to worry about it coming out of the ramekin.

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