The perfect panna cotta (‘cooked cream’ in Italian) should be just set enough to hold together, but soft and creamy enough to melt in the mouth. Gelatine is the secret to this texture and it can be a tricky ingredient to handle – but follow these simple rules and you’ll have it mastered in no time.
How to make panna cotta at home
1. Golden ratio of gelatine
This can be a tricky balance to strike – too little gelatine and it won’t set, too much and the dessert will be rubbery. A ratio of 3½ sheets to 700ml of liquid ensures that the panna cottas set fully but still wobble and melt in the mouth.
2. Keep the gelatine cool
Putting the gelatine into ice-cold water ensures it’s very soft but will not dissolve into the soaking water. The cold water hydrates the gelatine’s protein network so it dissolves quickly and evenly. If you were to put a gelatine sheet straight into the hot liquid, it would lump together. Squeeze out as much water as possible from the gelatine when draining it – any excess water will affect the gelatine to liquid ratio. Using leaf gelatine, as opposed to powdered, gives a clearer-looking panna cotta.
3. How to dissolve the gelatine
Adding the softened gelatine to the hot cream ensures it dissolves evenly and reaches its full setting capability – make sure not to boil the cream because if the gelatine gets too hot this can stop it from working as well. Pouring the mixture through a fine sieve means you can check if the gelatine has fully dissolved – if there are any small lumps, tip these back into the pan with the cream and heat very gently to dissolve.
4. How to set the panna cotta
To ensure you have vanilla seeds all the way through the panna cottas, leave the mixture in the jug for 5-10 minutes – as it cools it will thicken slightly, meaning the seeds will be suspended throughout once poured into the moulds.
5. Create different flavours
Vanilla is just one flavour to try – as long as the cream, milk, sugar and gelatine ratios remain the same, feel free to infuse the cream with ginger, star anise or bay leaves.
6. Which moulds to use
The size and shape of dariole pudding basins are perfect for panna cottas because they taper at the top, meaning once turned out they will have a broad base to hold themselves up. You can use ramekins but, as they’re straight sided, they may sag slightly.
7. How to cleanly remove from the mould
Dipping the mould briefly in hot water is the easiest way to cleanly remove the panna cottas. The hot water will melt the gelatine in a very fine layer all the way around the mould, allowing it to slide out freely. Sometimes they stick because of suction – if so, don’t be tempted to cut around the edge with a small knife or you’ll ruin that beautiful, clean finish. Just use a finger to gently pull the panna the side of the mould and the pudding should free itself.