Panna Cotta

“The secret lies in the love and the effort the maker puts into the creation. It really is a simple dessert to make. There’s nothing to it.”
Maria Olivas
Have finally found the time to post this lovely strawberry yogurt panna cotta which I made when my blogger friend Nachiketa was visiting. She came in to spend some time with me, & we did a whole lot of fun stuff that day , including cake & cupcake decoration. You can find the cake decoration post here. That day, we had a really hurried lunch, which we finished off with this simple, yet sublime, dessert which I made in a bit of a hurry. I randomly put in ingredients because I was really pressed for time the previous day, but made a note of them on a scrap of paper just in case it came out alright. I’m glad I did!! Panna cotta is traditionally a dessert. Born in the Piedmont dairy country of northeast Italy, panna cotta is a soft, creamy, eggless custard whose name translates as “cooked cream.” Despite its luxurious texture and elegant presentation, panna cotta is simple to prepare: heat some heavy cream, add sugar, softened gelatin, and flavorings, and then chill until set. And though the name means cooked cream, many recipes are reinterpreted with other dairy products, including plain milk, creme fraiche, buttermilk, yogurt, sour cream, cream cheese, and mascarpone cheese. Some recipes include panna cotta made with vegetable purees, such as Cauliflower Panna Cotta with Truffle Oil, and panna cotta made with a variety. Panna Cotta has to be part of my current strawberry overdrive, as we’ve been surprised with the extended availability of the passionate berry this Spring. It’s been a bonanza since the market is still flooded with them, & I’m making the most of this rare opportunity. The weather has been fabulous so far as the summer heat is yet to set in, & it thundered & rained for a larger part of today. Todays soccer league finals were carried out in slushy wet ‘fun-for-the-kids’ fields! This panna cotta came out beautifully. Vera @ Baking Obsession rightly said on her Yogurt Panna Cotta post, the amount of gelatin is the deciding factor. Too much & you can be chewing elastic, too little & it won’t set. I find my panna cotta tends to set better after an overnight rest, so that’s one thing I always do. It also helps to get one thing done in advance & out of the way, if you have company visiting the next day.
1 cup curd cheese – 1 cup (made by hanging yogurt for 24-48 hours in the fridge)
200ml low fat cream (25% fat)
1/2 cup sugar
200gms strawberries; hulled & quartered (save a couple for garnishing if you like)
1 tsp gelatin
1/4 cup milk (at room temperature)


Sprinkle the gelatin over the milk in a small bowl, & leave to soften.

  • Whip the hung curd well 1/2 cup a cup of sugar. Add the strawberries & blend with the immersion blender.
  • Simmer cream for 5-7 minutes till it comes to a boil. Take off heat & stir in the gel till completely dissolved.
  • Strain into a big bowl & blend in the yogurt strawberry mixture. Cool to room temperature & pour into serving glasses / bowls.
  • I added a tsp of a mixture of coulis & strawberry jam an hour into setting, which found it’s way to the centre of the panna cotta. This is optional, but does give each spoonful a delicious kick!
  • Leave to set in the fridge for 4 hours, or better still overnight. Top with either some strawberry coulis or a sprig of mint leave & strawberry slices.
  • This makes 6-8 goblets.
  • “All work and no blog makes a blogger a dull worker.”

    A few days ago I had a visitor. She called one day to say that it was high time we met since we lived in the same city, & she was landing up that weekend! Her name is Nachiketa, she blogs from Delhi, & is quite the crazy baker! She is one get up & go girl, with an infectious level of enthusiasm & energy. I think I was like that a decade ago. She’s been following my blog for a while, is passionate about baking, & equally passionate about learning. She works as a senior product manager, is full of beans, and blogs @ The Variableis as variable as the name suggests. A finger in every pie, & time for everything … for family, for friends, for acting in theatre, for entertaining her little 2 1/2 year old niece, for baking cakes after getting back home at 9pm, for visiting Chandni Chowk in Old Delhi on a Sunday, for lovingly taking care of her car… & of course for pursuing her baking hobby!She arrived with baskets of things, bits & bobs related to baking, silicon ware her brother had got from Melbourne, decorating sets her aunt had sent … she had a ‘plan’!! And here I was thinking we would just sit & chat, but what arrived the previous night by email was an ‘agenda’!! Yes, you heard right, here was a lady with a mission & she meant business! We set the ball rolling quite as soon as she arrived, & did manage to achieve a load that day. Somehow threw together a low scale lunch as well…
    So what did we do? She wanted to learn how to bake bread which didn’t happen because there was no electricity most of the morning. Thankfully I had baked an artisan loaf earlier in the morning, so we sat & looked at it, discussed it, looked at the dough in the fridge etc. Then we immersed ourselves into cookbooks & more cookbooks. I shared with her the little I know about taking pictures, the light box, editing in Picasa, making collages etc.

    We had a hurried lunch of grilled chicken, penne in a mushroom sauce, a corn salad in buttermilk ranch dressing, & garlic artisan bread. Dessert was a delicious strawberry yogurt panna cotta which surprisingly set very well. I was unsure because I had eyeballed amounts due to the lack of time, but it was ‘goblet– licking’ good!

    Post lunch we hit the kitchen. She really wanted to get a window on decorating cakes & cupcakes. I had made a batch of vanilla cupcakes the previous evening to give us a platform for practice! The good girl had baked her version of a Zebra cake & brought it for my kids, but she wanted to frost it first. Here’s what I taught her to do…like it?

    Made a ganache to top the cake with. I eyeball amounts of cream & chocolate for ganache now. Threw in about 200gms of dark chocolate & about 150ml of 25% low fat cream into a saucepan, melted everything over low heat, strained it & then let it cool. We covered the cake with the ganache once cooled & of good spreading consistency. Too thin & it will just flow off, too thick & it’ll be lumpy, & sometimes take crumbs off. We did the sides first & then the top, smoothed it out with an offset spatula & voila … we had a platform to decorate! I thought I’d teach her the easiest & quickest way I know to decorate a cake in literally five minutes. I took a bar of dark chocolate at room temperature & grated some chocolate curls out of the medium slots. Put them in the fridge to harden up. Next put about a tbsp of thick whipped cream in a baggie, snipped off a corner, started off making a spiral from the centre outwards, & them marbled it. (You can see step-by-step pictures in a much earlier post here). Once that was done, we sprinkled the edges with the grated chocolate. The lady wanted a strawberry on top. So I sliced it fine, left it attached at the base, fanned it out, & placed it in the centre! The cake looked so good when it was ready, & tasted fab too. Nachiketa had added some coffee & cinnamon to spice up the flavours & extra chocolate too … all in all, it was YUM!! The kids had seconds, & tried, without luck, for 3rds!!

    Next we attacked the cupcakes as the day was rapidly coming to an end. We used the left-over ganache, after softening it in the microwave for 10 seconds, & inaugurated her new decorating set to frost these. Take a look!It was fun!! We did a cut-out butterfly on one, piped zizzags on another etc, & then used sprinkles to top them off. Another 5 minute excercise because we were short on time.
    I had some batter left over after making a dozen cupcakes, some cream from making the ganache, some ganache, & some strawberry coulis + jam from the panna cotta. I baked the left-over batter in a square baking pan, & made a layered trifle pudding the next day. I cut out flowers with small flower cookie cutters that Nachiketa sweetly had given me, & layered the trifle.

    Will post the trifle & yogurt panna cotta recipe soon … both part of my strawberry overdrive! Oh yes, and there’s some frozen strawberry yogurt coming up too!! Sweet dreams!

    “Ask not what your Pumpkin can do for you,
    ask what you can do for your pumpkin!”

    I walked into the bazaar the other morning to come face to face with a very excited vegetable vendor. He knows my glee at any new veggie or fruit that shows up locally, & always picks a few good ones & saves them for me. He was waiting with something new which he called Chinese ‘kaddu’ or Chinese pumpkin. It’s strange, but most new veggies that appear seem to bear a generic China name. The large garlic we use is referred to as China garlic & now this pumpkin too. I think it’s a local way of increasing sales of something new…it works on me! I loved the idea of these little pumpkins, cute & pretty. With the West leaving fall way behind, the leaves are falling here in our part of the world, & spring is kind of here. Our seasons are different from other countries, & so is our fresh produce. We get the best of the seasons tomatoes, strawberries etc in the winter here, & it is indeed a season we in North India can’t wait for. So I hurried home with my pumpkin booty, googled, got to a Washington Times post on pumpkin puree. Easy-peasy & ready in about 30 minutes, scooped out & all. How cool is that? The other thing demanding my attention was a box of pumpkin pie spice that my sis sent for me from Houston. YAY…a chance to use that too, thanks to the precious pumpkin!! Pie wasn’t on my mind; strangely I was thinking pumpkin panna cotta. Was also wondering how the kids would take to pumpkin… Thought I’d check out the net, set out hesitatingly. Yes, something like a pumpkin panna cotta did exist! That decided, I set off to make the puree. Here’s the recipe for making puree from scratch, taken from this Washington Post feature here.

    “Making puree has only one real hurdle: Ideally, the pumpkin must be cut in half. I don’t expect to accomplish that in a single stroke. Using a large, heavy knife, I make one cut into the pumpkin. If I’m lucky, that cut will gain me enough leverage to pry the squash in two. (Sometimes I have to make a second cut to get a longer opening. I then use the knife to begin to split the pumpkin in half, and I finish the break using my hands.) If the split of the pumpkin isn’t perfect, you can trim the halves so they will sit flat in the pan. If the pumpkin has broken into several pieces, that’s okay. Next, use a big spoon to remove the seeds from the pumpkin halves. Line a large roasting pan with aluminum foil. Place the halves or pieces, flat side down, in the pan; add just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. Transfer to a 350-degree oven and bake until the flesh is easily pierced with a fork. Depending on the size of the pumpkin, that can take anywhere from 45 to 75 minutes. Let the pumpkin cool, then flip the halves over and scrape the flesh away from the skin. Puree the flesh in a food processor until smooth.”

    recipe adapted from The New York Times
    1/2 cup milk
    1 envelope unflavored gelatin (1 tbsp)
    2 cups light 25% cream
    1 cup pureed pumpkin, (you can use squash or sweet potato)
    1/2 cup sugar (increase if required)
    2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice (or cinnamon powder)
    • Put 1/2 cup of the milk in a 6- or 8-cup saucepan, and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Let sit for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, blend together the cream, pumpkin, sugar and pumpkin pie spice. The mixture should be perfectly smooth, so it is best to use a blender.
    • Turn the heat under the saucepan to low, and cook the milk, stirring occasionally, until the gelatin dissolves. Pour in the cream mixture, and turn the heat to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until steam rises. Turn off the heat, and ladle or pour the mixture into 8 4-ounce ramekins or other containers.
    • Chill the panna cotta until firm, and serve, with creme fraiche or whipped cream if you like.
    • I topped the chilled panna cotta with a thinned chocolate ganache & caramel mixture, a dusting of pumpkin pie spice & vanilla sugar.
    • YIELD 8 servings

    Pumpkin pairings Pumpkin is a good companion with many flavors including apples, bourbon and rum, caramel, cinnamon, cloves, raisins, coconut, honey, maple syrup, pecans and vanilla. Pumpkin Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce teams the winter gourd with several of those tastes.
    Caramel sauce is sold in jars but making it from scratch requires just three ingredients and only a few more minutes to put together. Butter, dark brown sugar and cream mingle in a sauce pan until the sugar melts and a rich sauce develops. If you are thinking of cooking a fresh pumpkin for a dessert recipe, don’t. It takes quite a bit of time (chopping, seeding, boiling, scraping) and you’re likely to be unhappy with the results. The cooked pumpkin probably will be watery and less flavorful than its concentrated canned counterpart. Pumpkins, just like all nature’s bounty, are not created equal.

    The result was deliciously wicked, creamy & SATISFYING! Am so glad I tried it. The kids loved it too. So it’s being shared at “the huge tables set under twisting grapevines, Italian food and drink from one end to the other, laughing, singing, and dancing, while the sound of mandolins playing in the background, of course without a doubt Sinatra and Dino too” that Marie @ Proud Italian Cook & Maryann @ Finding La Dolce Vita are promising at their 2nd annual Festa Italiana!! Will you be there??

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