Panna cotta ranks very high on my list of favorite desserts. I love how it's both creamy and firm at the same time. In my opinion, a good panna cotta is almost as firm as a pot de creme and as far from the texture of flan (in contention for least favorite dessert) as possible.
Literally translated, panna cotta is cooked cream, but there are all sorts of variations and different ways to flavor it -- honey, greek yogurt, sheep's milk, chocolate hazelnut, and so on. I found this simple, plain but luscious version made with creme fraiche in David Tanis' A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes, a book I often page through and dream of making recipes from but never have... until now. For the most part the recipes in A Platter of Figs are simple and focus on seasonal ingredients. The serving suggestion for the panna cotta is fresh berries, but I have to admit one more thing: I love panna cotta best with chocolate sauce.
This dessert is simple enough to throw together any time -- just make sure you make it the day before you want to serve it -- and elegant enough to serve for a special occasion. We had it for our Valentine's Day dessert.
Creme Fraiche Panna Cotta (adapted from A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes)
1 1/2 cups half and half
1/2 cup creme fraiche
1 1-inch piece of a vanilla bean
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon powdered gelatin, softened in 1 tablespoon water
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine half and half, creme fraiche, vanilla bean, sugar, and salt, and warm over medium heat, stirring until sugar is dissolved.
Stir in the gelatin, and then remove the pan from the heat.
Fish out the vanilla bean (a slotted spoon works best), and scrape out the seeds and add them to the mixture. Cool to room temperature.
Ladle the cooled mixture into 4 ramekins or glasses. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
If you like, turn the ramekins over onto plates and wiggle them to unmold the panna cotta. I made mine in serving dishes and didn't unmold them.
Serve with chocolate sauce.
Note: I made three plain servings and then added 2 teaspoons of POM concentrate to 1/2 cup of the mixture and made one pomegranate serving.
Chocolate Sauce (adapted from Rose's Heavenly Cakes)
2 ounces 90% to 99% chocolate, broken in pieces
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut in smaller chunks
2 tablespoons Dutch cocoa powder
1/2 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
In top of double boiler set over simmering water, heat the chocolate and butter. Stir frequently with a rubber spatula until completely melted and combined. Whisk in the cocoa powder, and set aside.
In a small pot, whisk together the sugar and heavy cream. Bring the mixture to a boil, making sure the sugar is dissolved, and then whisk it into the chocolate mixture.
Cover the sauce and use it within 1 hour, or refrigerate it for up to 2 weeks. The sauce can be rewarmed in the microwave.
This wasn't my favorite panna cotta recipe because it didn't firm up as much as I would have liked. It was more silky and soft, but it had a tangy flavor that I enjoyed. And that chocolate sauce is my favorite for sure. I'm thinking of more things to make this week that I can pour it on!
How do you feel about desserts like panna cotta, creme brulee, and pot de creme?