Here’s a great dessert that requires no oven, which is key as the weather heats up. It’s from my book SALT: The Essential Guide to Cooking with the Most Important Ingredient in Your Kitchen. (You can buy it here – B&N – and here Amazon ). This is one of those recipes that make you feel powerful. It is super-fancy, but super-easy. If vanilla is just too plain for you, see the Variations for more flavor ideas than you can shake a stick at—or a bean, as it were.
2 tablespoons water
2 ½ teaspoons (¼ ounce envelope) unflavored gelatin, (or 4 sheets gelatin)
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup half and half
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 vanilla bean, scraped
½ teaspoon unrefined salt – try Maldon, French fleur de sel, Italian fiores de sel, or a salt infused with rose, citrus, vanilla, chocolate, espresso, lavender, sesame, anise, or cognac
- Place the water in a small bowl, and sprinkle the gelatin on top. Let it sit for 5 minutes, until absorbed and solidified. (If using sheet gelatin, increase the water and soak the sheets, submerged, for 1-2 minutes.) Prepare individual molds with a light coating of pan spray. (I usually spray, then wipe out the excess, so nothing but a thin film remains.)
- Combine the heavy cream, half and half, sugar, vanilla bean, and salt in a medium saucepan. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Stir until sugar is dissolved, then remove from heat. Add solidified gelatin (or squeezed limp sheets) to warm cream and stir until completely dissolved. Pour into prepared molds, and chill for 1 hour, or until firm. (Overnight is fine, too.)
- To unmold, wet your thumb and run it around the top of the custard, where it attaches to the mold. Press down to let some air into the bottom, which will release the vacuum. Unmold onto serving plates and serve with fresh seasonal fruit and a final sprinkle of salt.
Infused Cream – As you may have guessed, the flavor best enters the panna cotta via infusion with the cream. When added this way, the ingredients will not alter the preferred, creamy texture of the finished product. For this reason, the best flavors to use include toasted nuts, coffee, tea (matcha, hoji-cha, chai, earl grey), spices (cinnamon stick, star anise, crushed cardamom pods), herbs (lavender, thyme, mint, basil) or citrus zest (try lemon with rosemary). All of these can be added to the warm cream, steeped for several hours, or overnight, then strained out. Potent extracts work too, but be careful, as their flavors are usually obviously artificial. For best results, consider mixing them with a natural flavor. Try almond and orange flower water, or saffron and rose water.
Puree Additions – For flavors that have some texture, like pumpkin puree, strawberry jam, or goat cheese, some adjustment will need to be made. Add no more than a cup, and increase the gelatin by half again as much (for a total of 3 ¾ teaspoons, 1 ½ packets, or 6 sheets).
Savory – Omit the sugar and make a savory cream for an amazing appetizer or side dish. Try corn, chunky shrimp, roasted chiles, dried mushrooms, or foie gras.