Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta

 Dessert First

We’re starting the new year with dessert.  Why not?   Oli’s vanilla bean panna cotta is divine.  It’s a creamy, light, luxurious yet delicately silky custard that’s not too sweet.  And because his recipe makes half cup servings, it’s relatively guilt free.

Panna cotta is Italian for cooked cream and that’s just what you do.  Scrape some vanilla seeds into cream, milk and some sugar, boil it up then whisk it over an ice water bath,  pour it into serving cups, refrigerate and that’s it.  Really, panna cotta is a snap to make.

Oli’s panna cotta recipe calls for gelatin sheets.  I’m most familiar with the gelatin in packets, so I once again learned something from chef Oli.  European cooks use the sheets and professional chefs prefer the sheets because they are easy to use (just count the sheets) and there is no concern for undissolved gelatin.  Some say the sheets also produce a clearer gelled product.  There is a “bloom” strength that indicates gelatin firmness.  Sheets are usually Silver grade (160 Bloom) and Gold grade (200 Bloom).  The gelatin packets we buy in the grocery store are 225 Bloom and weigh about 1/4 ounce each.  We estimated that one packet equals about 3 1/2 sheets that measure 3-inches x 5-inches each.

This being said, it’s worth a trip to your local cake decorating supply store to pick up some gelatin sheets.  They should run about $5 for a 10-sheet pack.  You can always click on over to Amazon if it’s too cold to go outside.

He said that bloom can also refer to softening the gelatin.  (Aka soaking it in water.)  There is an added step of wringing out the gelatin sheet when ready to use it, but it’s no big deal.

Enough of the technicalities.  Panna Cotta is a classic Italian dessert.  It’s is easy to make, elegant and quite frankly a great starting place to let your culinary imagination take flight.  I can envision serving it with just a drizzle of fudge or caramel sauce, or a dusting of cinnamon or (my favorite) cardamom.  Maybe with fresh raspberries or passion fruit? How about a little espresso to go with it?

Speaking of passion fruit:  Hey guys, it’s not too early to be thinking about a Valentine’s Day dessert.

Buon anno e buon appetite!

 Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta

Have a bowl of ice water that will accommodate the sauce pan you use for making the panna cotta on your work station.  Whisking the panna cotta in an ice bath helps to set the gelatin faster.

After removing the vanilla bean from the cream, clean it off and stash it in a bowl of sugar.  Use vanilla sugar as you would regular sugar.  To enhance the flavor, add used vanilla beans whenever you have them.

Make this either a day before or at least 6 hours before serving so that the gelatin sets.

Makes 6  1/2-cup servings

4 gelatin sheets (160 bloom)
1 vanilla bean (about 6-7 inches long)
1 3/4 cups cream
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar

For serving:
Grated chocolate
Fresh fruit and berries of your choice


  1. Drip one or two drops of vegetable oil into each serving cup and use a paper towel to coat the interior of the cup.
  2. Soak the gelatin sheets in a bowl of cold water.

1 a

  1. Split vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Reserve bean and seeds.

4.  Pour cream and milk into a medium saucepan. Evenly sprinkle sugar over the top.
b c

5.  Drop in the split vanilla bean and vanilla seeds. Bring to a boil without stirring.  The sugar covers the bottom of the pan and prevents the cream mixture from burning.

As soon as it boils, give it a good whisk to blend everything and remove pan from the heat.
d e

7. Lift the gelatin sheets from the cold water and wring them gently to remove excess water. Drop them into the vanilla cream mixture and whisk until gelatin has dissolved.

i j

8.  Remove the vanilla bean.

9. Now bring the sauce pan to the coolest spot in the kitchen or better yet,  put it into an ice water bath and whisk or stir until panna cotta has thickened and it covers the back of a spoon (60F or 15C).  The constant whisking/stirring until the panna cotta is thickened distributes the vanilla seeds and keeps them from falling to the bottom of the pan.
g h

10.  Evenly divide the panna cotta into the prepared cups and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or until set


Just before serving unmold the panna cotta by dipping each cup into hot water for few seconds . Be careful not to let any water get into the panna cotta. Carefully run a small, thin knife around the inside edge of each cup.  Place a desert plate on top of the cup.  Hold the cup and plate together, turn them over and gently shake the panna cotta to release it from the cup onto the plate.


Crown with shaved chocolate and garnish with fresh fruits.


Panna Cotta


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