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A Creamy Dessert That’ll Leave You Weak in the Knees

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Panna cotta, which is Italian for “cooked cream,” is one of those desserts that cooks either get so right you want to play kiss the chef or so wrong that you want to deliver a swift kick.

There is no in-between. I’ve had versions ruined with the likes of grana padano cheese, rosemary and pistachios, which destroyed both texture and flavor. I’ve also ruined one or two myself by using too much gelatin. The end result was more like Cream Jell-O rather than a dessert that can be a form of culinary seduction.

I was surprised to discover just how easy Thomas Keller’s version was in “Ad Hoc at Home.” The celebrated chef, who also owns the French Laundry, didn’t dress his panna cotta up, except by using sour cream, buttermilk and crème fraîche to give it a tangy taste.

His version doesn’t really “cook” too much, which is fine. Just don’t expect to up-end this version onto a serving plate. It’s better to use a martini glass or a special bowl for each serving.

As Keller says, “Panna cotta can be served plain or enhanced with a compote or a sauce.” And I’ve included my own at the end.

Panna Cotta

1 1/2 teaspoons powdered, unflavored gelatin
1 tablespoon water
2 cups sour cream
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon buttermilk or 1/4 cup buttermilk and 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon whole milk
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
2/3 cup sugar
1 cup crème fraîche or heavy cream

Put the gelatin in a small cup and add the water. Let stand for about 5 minutes to soften.

Meanwhile, whisk together the sour cream, buttermilk, vanilla and sugar in a medium bowl.

Spoon about 1/2 cup of the mixture into a small saucepan and heat over medium-low heat, stirring, just to warm. Add the softened gelatin, stirring to dissolve. Rub a bit of the mixture between your fingers; it should not feel gritty. Remove from the heat and let cool for 5 minutes; then stir the gelatin mixture into the sour cream mixture.

Whip the crème fraîche in a mixer until it thickens and holds a shape. Fold in the sour cream mixture, a little at a time, until fully incorporated. Spoon into six 4- to 5-ounce martini glasses, ramekins or bowls. Refrigerate for at least 5 hours or up to 2 days.

Top with your favorite sauce. For one variation, see below.

Makes 6 servings.

Adapted from “Ad Hoc at Home” by Thomas Keller

Blueberry Sauce

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup sweet wine, red or white
1/4 cup sugar
1/4-1/2 cup blueberries, fresh or frozen
About 1-2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
Pinch of salt
Freshly grated nutmeg, to taste

In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat, but don’t let it burn. Add white and sugar. Stir until sugar is dissolved, then reduce by half. Add blueberries, a generous squeeze of juice from a lemon, a pinch of salt and freshly grated nutmeg. Taste and adjust the seasonings.

From John Griffin

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2 Responses to “A Creamy Dessert That’ll Leave You Weak in the Knees”

  1. carol yeager says:

    And a HUMONGOUS thanks to John for making this very Panna Cotta for me for my birthday … the photos are the first batch, eagerly devoured and savoured with a yummy blueberry sauce. And then, a repeat with a minor variation on the next day. Today I ate the last of it with fresh blueberries for breakfast 😉

    I am still swooning … and will be back for more long before my next birthday!

  2. Judy Baum says:

    We had this dessert at Carol’s birthday party and it was to die for! The presentation was stunning. I licked the glass clean and ate all the leftover blueberries! Thank you, John!