I love creating dishes that have a certain “wow!” factor. I have found that Panna Cotta-based options lend themselves to a seemingly-infinite variety of flavors and presentations. Many of them quite impressive!
This particular version marries a creamy vanilla layer with a fresh and bright strawberry coulis. The thing that is fun about how I built this is that I used wine glasses, set at an angle, to create the unique layered presentation. While it appears that the dessert is defying gravity, it’s actually easier to put together than you think.
Panna Cotta, of course, is a wonderfully creamy concoction that depends on gelatin to hold its shape and texture. If you haven’t had it, think of it as a cross between a pudding and a jello, but MUCH better than a jello!
Panna Cotta can be served in a variety of ways, molded and unmolded, whether in a simple form such as a ramekin or in a fancy presentation using a silicone mold.
To create the tipped version, shown here, I used stemless wineglasses and angled them in a muffin tin lined with paper towels to keep the glasses in position. Carefully pour the creamy layer into the glasses while they remain in the tipped position (otherwise you’ll get unpleasant drips or smears on your glass that you can’t get rid of easily). Chill the creamy layer in its tipped position at least 4 hours or, better yet, overnight.
Once that layer is set, create the strawberry coulis layer, and, once its cooled, pour it over the creamy layer at the same angle. For another variation, you can set the wineglasses upright and then, when you pour the strawberry layer, it will set at a level layer, which is an interesting contrast to the white layer. Below is an example of that kind of styling.
Once the strawberry layer is set, you can either unmold it, if you are using ramekins as I describe in the recipe, or just garnish and serve. For this fruity Panna Cotta, I used a mix of berries and a sprig of fresh mint, both for color, texture and, naturally, flavor!
You can make any number of variations on the theme. I’ll share a few others with you in the coming weeks, including a Coconut Panna Cotta with Kiwi Sauce and Mixed Nut Brittle as garnish. I also have created mango varieties, Key Lime versions and, even one based on Avocado! It may sound strange, but you’d be surprised at how lovely it is.
And, don’t forget…Panna Cotta does NOT have to be only sweet; savory versions can be created as well. For example, the avocado one can be made savory and topped with a crab or lobster salad for a truly impressive start to a meal.
Anyway, stay tuned. I can’t wait to share more with you! And, of course, I’d love it if you’d let me know what you thought of this recipe, especially if you tried it yourself!
Panna Cotta with Strawberry Coulis
- 6 8oz ramekins (optional)
For Panna Cotta
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1 1/4 oz. packet of unflavored gelatin powder, or 1 Tbsp
- 6 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean split open, seeds scraped
- 2 1/2 cups heavy cream
For Strawberry Coulis
- 3/4 cup water
- 1 1/4 oz. packet of unflavored gelatin powder, or 1 Tbsp
- 1 1/2-2 lbs fresh strawberries
- 2/3 cup of sugar
- neutral oil for greasing up ramekins (if using)
- fresh berries and mint, for garnish
For the Panna Cotta Mixture
- Place the milk in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Stir well, and set aside to allow gelatin to soften for 10 minutes.
- If using ramekins, brush the insides of 6 4 ounce ramekins with a coating of neutral oil and set aside.
- Fill a large bowl half-way with ice and add enough water to make an ice bath and set aside.
- In a small saucepan, combine the cream, sugar and vanilla extract or split vanilla bean, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat, and whisk in the softened gelatin/milk mixture. Remove the vanilla bean pod and discard; and add the scraped beans to the cooling milk mixture.
- Set the saucepan in the ice bath (making sure the top of the saucepan is well above the surface of the water), and whisk until the milk mixture is lukewarm. To make sure there is no undissolved gelatin or sugar, rub a little of the milk mixture through your fingers. There should be no gritty feeling.
To Mold the Panna Cotta Layer
- If using ramekins: Pour the mixture into oiled ramekins and chill for at least 4 hours or overnight. If you’re going to keep them overnight, cover them with a piece plastic wrap, pressing the wrap gently against the panna cotta to prevent a skin from forming. Note that preparing the Panna Cotta more than 24 hours in advance will result in a firmer set.
- If using clear glasses: This presentation (shown) uses clear glasses, set at an angle to create a dramatic dessert. Using a favorite shaped glass such as a stemless wine glass or round highball, take a muffin pan, and put a paper towel in each muffin slot to steady the glasses. Nestle a glass on top of each paper towel and set each glass on a diagonal. The paper towels keep the glasses in the desired position, without slipping.
- Pour the mixture into the angled glasses, leaving about 1 inch from the upper rim of the glasses (you will fill up this space with the strawberry coulis that you prepare next).
- Chill the Panna Cotta for a minimum of 4 hours or even better, overnight. If chilling overnight, cover each glass with a piece of plastic wrap to prevent drying out.
For the Strawberry Coulis
- Puree the strawberries in either a blender or a food processor until smooth. Press the pureed strawberries through a mesh strainer to separate the seeds. Pour the strained strawberry liquid into a glass measuring cup with a pouring spout.
- In a small bowl, add 3/4 cup water, sprinkle the gelatin on top and stir well. Set aside for 10 minutes to allow the gelatin to soften.
- Heat the gelatin/water mixture slowly in a microwave or on a stovetop. DO NOT allow it to boil. Stir well again and then add it to the strawberry puree.
- Add the sugar. Stir well again and allow it to cool.
- Remove the glasses or ramekins with the Panna Cotta from the refrigerator. Pour the cooled strawberry coulis on top of the Panna Cotta layer. If using clear, angled glasses, leave the glasses in the muffin tray, and pour the strawberry mixture into the glasses, keeping them at the same angle. A small pitcher works well for this process. Return the glasses or ramekins to the refrigerator and chill for another 4 hours or more, covering again with plastic if chilling for longer periods of time to prevent drying out.
To Finish & Serve
- If using the ramekins only: About 10 minutes before serving, run a thin-bladed knife around the inside of the ramekin. Dip each ramekin briefly in a bowl of hot tap water, and then top the ramekin with a serving plate and carefully flip plate and ramekin over. If the Panna Cotta doesn’t unmold right away, tap the ramekin lightly on the countertop to loosen it. If it still doesn’t unmold, return it to the hot water bath for another five seconds and repeat. Wipe serving plate between "warm and flip" iterations to keep it clean for serving.
- When ready to serve, garnish Panna Cotta dessert with fresh mixed berries and mint.