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How to Make the Perfect Panna Cotta


Panna Cotta
Panna cotta

Creamy, milky desserts are my weakness.

I choose, crispy-topped crème brulee, a wicked piece of custard tart, or a good, old-fashioned milk pudding, over “Death by chocolate” every time.

 A wobbly panna cotta though, beats them all.

 What is panna cotta, this delicious delight, which in recent years, seems to have taken the world by storm?

 Panna cotta, in Italian “Cooked cream”, has its roots in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy, and, consists of cream, or a mixture of cream and milk, sugar and gelatin.

 A pure and simple dessert, but wait, this sounds familiar!

 Isn’t this the “Shape” or blancmange, brought to the afternoon tea-table, by my grandmother, many moons ago?

Blancmange Panna Cotta with an Italian accent, Photo by SKopp
Blancmange
Panna cotta with an Italian accent,
Photo by SKopp

Yes, it is panna cotta, blancmange with an Italian accent!

 Moving further East, Greece and Cypress have their own panna cotta, called mahalepi, flavoured with rose or orange-water, drenched in rose-water syrup.

Mahlepi
Mahlepi

 Turkey, Lebanon and other Arab countries call it muhallebi, and top it with chopped pistachio nuts.

Muhallebi
Muhallebi

All variations on a theme.

Just to be trendy, I’ll call it panna cotta!

 Such a simple dessert, how can you go wrong, when making it?

With no trouble at all, apparently.

 Unless I have sampled it there before, I never order panna cotta in a restaurant.

 I have consumed some terrible “Fails”, even in Italy, home to panna cotta.

 I have been shocked, by “Rubbery lumps”, presented to me on a plate!

 So, when Master Chef, Theodoros Aletris, offered me panna cotta, I thought twice before answering;

“Oh, yes please”

Wow!

 This had to be the best panna cotta I had ever tasted, the flavour, the texture, (That's what makes or breaks a panna cotta) the strawberry sauce adorning it, everything was perfect!

I shouldn’t have doubted Theo, as he is an excellent chef, who, by the way, began his career in confectionery.


Theodoros Aletris Master Chef
Theodoros Aletris
Master Chef

 Anything Theo has cooked for me, has been “Heaven on a plate”

 I just had to pick Theo’s brains!

 Well, as great chefs tend to be, he was a bit cagey, guards his recipes with his life!

 He must like me, he caved in!

 So, clutching Theo’s secrets close to my heart, I hot-footed it home, to find out if I could create the perfect panna cotta.

 Yes, I could!

 Remembering Theo’s tips and secrets “Take it easy with the gelatin” and don’t be “Heavy-handed” with the sugar, I did it!

 I made the perfect panna cotta, well, alright then; maybe it was a notch below Theo’s!

 It was creamy, not rubbery, it wobbled, just as it was meant to wobble, and it was not too sweet, it was just right!

 The secret is in the amount of gelatin used, too much, and it loses its creaminess, too little and it’s a sloppy mess.


Gelatin soaking in cold water
Gelatin soaking in cold water

 In my opinion, if you can slice panna cotta, or, when turned out of a mold, it doesn’t “Spread” then, it’s a failure.


The perfect texture of panna cotta.
The perfect texture of panna cotta.

Here is the basic recipe I use, Theo tweaks it a bit, here and there, adds flavoured sugars, he experiments with diverse tastes, adds a soupcon of that “Je ne sais quoi”.


Ingredients for panna cotta
Ingredients for panna cotta

I use half cream and half milk.

1 litre double cream, or, 500 ml cream and 500 ml milk

100 gr sugar

10 gr gelatin

 (Sheets or powdered,  Gelatin Sheets  give a better result) 


If using gelatin leaves, soak in cold water for about 5 minutes.

If using powdered gelatin, add 2 or 3 tsp cold water, mix, leave 5 minutes

 Vanilla  pod


(Scrape out the seeds, and add them, together with the pod, to the milk, before boiling.


(Don’t forget to remove the pod afterwards!)

Method

Put the cream in a pan, add the sugar

Bring to just before boiling, stirring continuously.

Remove from heat, squeeze excess water from the gelatin, if using leaves, and add to pan, stir until dissolved.

Pour into molds, refrigerate for at least four hours, or, best I think, leave overnight.

Vanilla pods.
Vanilla pods.

Mold ideas for panna cotta
Mold ideas for panna cotta

To remove the panna cotta from the mold, run a sharp knife around the rim, immerse in very hot water for a few seconds, and turn out.

Some recipes suggest you lightly oil the molds, don’t!
Vegetable oil can affect the flavour of the panna cotta.

The list of toppings, which enhance the flavor of panna cotta, is endless.

 I have my favourites, any fruit coulis or purees, plus, what you see below.

I try my best to support the many young Greeks, bringing back tried and trusted, healthy Greek products, which along the road to "Progress", have been forgotten.

I admire their integrity, no cutting of corners, no use of chemicals and preservatives, using only good quality, fresh, local produce.


Panna cotta with homemade lemon cheese
Panna cotta with homemade lemon cheese

Lemon cheese made by me!


Panna cotta with pomegranate petimezi
Panna cotta with pomegranate petimezi

Petimezi is a sweet syrup, made from concentrated grape, or, pomegranate juice, this petimezi is made by Panagiotis.


Panagiotis Giannakainas Photo courtesy of http://www.tallisvacations.com/
Panagiotis Giannakainas
Photo courtesy of
http://www.tallisvacations.com/

Panna cotta with grape petimezi
Panna cotta with grape petimezi

This delicious grape petimezi is made by another Panagiotis


Panagiotis Mantzioros
Panagiotis Mantzioros


Panna cotta with black cherry spoon sweet
Panna cotta with black cherry spoon sweet
Mouth watering, black cherry spoon sweet, made by the company, To Filema Tis Lelas, run by Sophia  and Georgos.


Sophia Dimitriou and Georgos Tassinopoulos
Sophia Dimitriou and Georgos Tassinopoulos

And, thank you Mamatsita for introducing me to these mouth watering, balsamic creams, not only perfect on salads, but absolutely delicious drizzled over pannacotta or ice cream.

I tried the fig one on my yogurt this morning, mmmmm!


Flavoured, balsamic creams
Flavoured, balsamic creams


 Maybe panna cotta, (Or, rather the gourmet chefs who make it), is getting “A bit above itself" 

 It has such a simple, pure taste, it should be left alone, kept simple, not drowned in strong-flavoured sauces and syrups, such as 
  three-chocolate sauce with chilies, or, salted caramel with rum, which absolutely blot out the delicate flavor of panna cotta.

MGG (My Greek God) has got it right.

This is how he likes his panna cotta;


Panna cotta, no frills.
Panna cotta, no frills.

 Left alone, with no fancy frills.

As they say "If it's not broken, why fix it"

And

"Less is more"

Want to make more perfect Italian desserts?


With this fabulous book, chock full of beautiful illustrations, written by Lidia Bastianich, you will have success after success.

Learn the secret to perfect rice pudding, Italian-style, TV chef and storyteller, Lidia Bastianich, reveals tips and secrets handed down from her mother Ermina and her grandmother, Nonna Rosa.

"Lidia's Commonsense Italian Cooking" Lidia Bastianich
"Lidia's Commonsense Italian Cooking"
Lidia Bastianich.

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