the first time i tried panna cotta i was well into adulthood. out for a long, late-afternoon brunch with new friends in new york, someone at the table suggested we end our meal by sharing something sweet, and so our server brought out a beautifully molded, berry-topped treat.
the slightly wobbly, creamy italian pudding wasn't something anyone in my irish/polish/southern/midwestern family ever made, but the first time i tasted it i was totally blown away. how could a dessert be so creamy and rich-tasting, yet so light in texture at the same time? why had i never eaten this before? and of course - how could i replicate this at home?
when i finally started searching for recipes and attempting to make panna cotta myself, i realized how insanely easy it is! this pretty little molded dessert tastes incredible and looks and so impressive, but (aside from the time it takes to set up in the fridge) it will take you all over 10 minutes to make. you can (and should) make it advance, so it's basically the best dinner party dessert ever. make it the night before, bring it out when you have friends or a special someone over to impress, and come off looking like some sort of gourmet goddess.
what i'm telling you, more or less, is that there is absolutely no reason not to give this a try.
while most of the panna cotta i've enjoyed out at restaurants has been a classic vanilla flavor, often topped with bright, fresh berries and/or a sprig of mint, i thought i'd get a little crazy with the flavor combo here. it's almost valentine's day, which means chocolate is a must (obvi), and i have pretty much been throwing cardamom in everything lately - i'm obsessed! and the two actually work together really, really well here, especially with the subtle, nutty flavor from the coconut milk.
(makes 4-6 panna cotta, depending on ramekin size)
1 cup whole milk
2 cups coconut milk
2 packets (each about ¼ ounce) plain, unflavored gelatin
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons honey
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
¾ cup sweetened coconut flakes, for garnish
how to do it:
- put the cup of whole milk, still cold, into a medium saucepan. sprinkle the gelatin over the top of the milk to soften and let it sit about 5 minutes.
- meanwhile, toast the coconut flakes. spread them out on an ungreased sheet pan and toast at 325°F for about 8 minutes, until coconut is light golden brown. make sure to stir the coconut around in the pan several times during cooking to prevent it from burning or toasting unevenly. set aside.
- when the gelatin has softened, place the saucepan on the stove and turn the heat to medium-low. whisk gelatin-milk mixture over the heat until gelatin has fully dissolved.
- add the remaining ingredients to the saucepan: coconut milk, sugar, honey, salt, cardamom, cocoa, and vanilla. whisk until mixture is warmed through and all ingredients are well combined, about 2-3 minutes.
- grease 4-6 small ramekins with coconut oil. i prefer the flavor of coconut oil here, since it goes so well with everything else going on in this dessert, but if you don't have coconut oil, you can use plain old vegetable oil or nonstick cooking spray. just make sure to grease each dish with something, so that the panna cottas will easily release from their molds later.
- pour the panna cotta mixture into the prepared ramekins, dividing it evenly amongst your dishes. refrigerate the panna cottas until set, at least 4 hours or up to overnight.
- when you're ready to serve, the panna cotta should be set and firmed up enough to turn out onto a plate - about the texture of a flan. to release the panna cottas from their ramekins, just run a butter knife carefully around the edge of each ramekin and flip onto a plate. top each panna cotta with a generous sprinkling of the reserved toasted coconut.