Panna cotta is one of those magical foods. You know, the ones that start out with simple ingredients and a simple recipe, and then turn into something completely exquisite – something that finds your spoon clinking the bottom of an empty dessert bowl, your lips licking every morsel from the dish.
Perhaps my love of panna cotta began so fervently because my first experience with it was the best a girl can have. My husband and I were in Venice. We had splurged on this trip to Italy, so as we wandered through Rome and explored the Venetian canals we tended towards roadside food stalls that served cheap and rarely particularly delicious foods. But this night we decided to go somewhere special. A place where the menu changed every night according to what the chef had found in the market that day and where we would indulge in a slowly eaten, multi-course meal.
We arrived for an early dinner seating and wound our way through the tables and chairs in the darkened, nearly empty dining room to a small, vine-ensconced patio in the back. At the end of the meal we asked our server what the best dessert on the menu was. Without hesitation, she recommended the panna cotta.
Shivering on a plate of scorched caramel, the capitulation to our Venetian supper arrived. Each spoonful of the cool cream melted into the caramel sauce and I mourned the last taste on my plate.
So it was that in Venice there was burnt caramel panna cotta, in Tuscany a chocolate one served in a breezy vineyard pergola, and, upon returning home to scarf and red leaves weather, I set upon making a panna cotta inspired by the cooling air that welcomed me.
I had made a buttered rum sauce to accompany a gingerbread cake not long before we left on our vacation, and I thought this thick, aromatic topping would perfectly counterbalance a light, chilled cream. Served warm, the sauce melts the panna cotta on your spoon just a little, creating a ring of milky caramel around a mound of cold, sweet cream. The goal is for each bite to contain a bit of cream covered in still-warm rum sauce. This is best achieved by adding more sauce as you eat your way down into the pot of cream.
My panna cotta recipe has seen some adaptations over the years, while my buttered rum sauce remains standard. I was delighted to discover a lovely, unique take on panna cotta while at a cooking class with Alain Bosse, The Kilted Chef. This is my go-to recipe now.
This dessert is absolutely exquisite, and extremely impressive when served to guests yet very easy to make. My favourite kind!
- 1 1/2 tsp. gelatin
- 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
- 1/3 cup + 1 tbsp. granulated sugar
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
- 1 1/4 cups milk
- 1 cup sour cream
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ cup evaporated milk
- ½ cup margarine, melted
- 3 tbsps. rum
- Place 1/4 cup cold water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over top. Let stand 10 minutes.
- Heat the cream, sugar and salt in a small pot. Scrape the vanilla bean seeds into this mixture, and throw the pod in too. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
- Add the cream mixture to the gelatin and return to the stove until the gelatin is fully dissolved. Remove from the heat and let cool for about 5 minutes. Take the vanilla bean pod out of the cream mixture and whisk in the sour cream and milk.
- Pour into serving dishes and allow to set in the refrigerator at least 2 hours.
- Heat the sugar and milk to boiling. Whisk in the melted margarine and then add the rum. Cook until the sauce thickens to your desired consistency (if you’re patient you can get it to a nice thick syrupy consistency).