Published July 1, 2000.
What makes this simple chilled Italian cream great? Balanced proportions, sound technique, and a light hand with the gelatin.
Though its name is lyrical, the literal translation of panna cotta, "cooked cream," does nothing to suggest its ethereal qualities. In fact, panna cotta is not cooked at all. Neither is it complicated with eggs, as is a custard. Instead, sugar and gelatin are melted in cream and milk, and the whole is then turned into individual ramekins and chilled. Some versions we tried were slippery and translucent, their flavor elusive and flat.
Panna cotta is about nothing if not texture. The cream must be robust enough to unmold but delicate enough to shiver on the plate. It is a virginal dessert, a jellied cream of pure alabaster. Our mission, therefore, was to find correct proportions for four simple ingredients and the most effective way to deal with the gelatin.
Because cream gave the panna cotta a rich mouthfeel and a creamier, more rounded flavor, we concurred with those recipes that favored a heavier proportion of cream to milk . The amount of sugar called for was straightforward—enough to sweeten our concoction without making it too sweet. For a flavor accent, we added vanilla, and found that a vanilla bean contributed a richer flavor than did vanilla extract.list of recipes