Home > Uncategorized > Post 8/13 – Caramel Panna Cotta

Post 8/13 – Caramel Panna Cotta

I made this for our anniversary dinner this week.  It received high marks from both of us.  Will make this again next week for the Italian Dinner we are hosting for a church fund-raiser.  We have some vegetarian guests and guests with pork allergies, so we’ll also serve another dessert.  If you are making this for vegetarians or people with pork allergies, please tell them about the gelatin.  There are sources for Kosher and fish-based gelatin that might be preferable.  There is also seaweed-based gelatin (agar-agar) that I would like to try one day. Then, I’d attempt a vegan version with soy or coconut milk.

The recipe seems long and complex, sorry about that.  Not sure how to simplify it.  In a nutshell, you are: heating sugar, making a caramel by adding cream, then adding softened gelatin, vanilla, and salt.  In my experience, panna cotta seems simple, but it can actually be a bit tricky.  So I tried to explain it with probably more details than I should.  Oh well, here goes…

Caramel Panna Cotta

2¼-2½ teaspoons powdered gelatin which is one envelope Knox gelatin (or 2½ gelatin sheets*)

¼ cup cold water

½ cup sugar

2 cups cream (if you warm it first, it is less likely to seize when added to the sugar)

1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste** (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1 vanilla bean)

pinch of salt***

In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water.  Let it sit for 5 minutes and then stir.  If you use half-anf-half, it will probably look clumpy, almost like cottage cheese, but it will be fine since the lumps will melt once added to the caramel mixture.

Spread the sugar in a HEAVY bottomed, large pot.  Make sure it is evenly distributed.  Heat on medium until it turns a light amber color.  Do not stir!  This is difficult for me, because I want to stir it, but know it is a bad idea (it can get clumpy)!  If it looks like the sugar is not melting evenly, you can tilt and swirl the pan.  Take care to keep it from burning; you might need to lower the heat.


Once the sugar is completely melted, slowly pour in the warm cream (be careful, it can bubble up and burn you).  Mix well, with a long-handled wooden spoon or long-handle whisk.  If the caramel happens to seize (turns into a big glob of caramel), don’t panic. Just stir it over low heat until the caramel melts. Then stir in the softened gelatin/water mixture, the vanilla bean paste, and a pinch of salt. 


Pour the panna cotta mixture through a sieve into a large glass pitcher or measuring cup.  Place this container in an ice water bath to help chill the mixture.  You might want to cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap so water doesn’t get in it.  Use a pitcher or container with a spout to makes\ it easier to pour the panna cotta into martini glasses or other individual-sized glasses.  You can also pour it into a regular serving dish (4-cup capacity) and serve it family style.  Refrigerate for about 3 hours or until set.  If you don’t use the water bath, it can take longer to set, up to 6 hours.


Optional Chocolate Sauce & Finishing Salt Garnish:

3½ ounces dark chocolate, chopped (or use milk chocolate if you prefer)

4 ounces cream or half-and-half

1 teaspoon espresso powder (or instant coffee), optional

pinch of finishing salt***


A traditional method is to heat the cream in a double boiler and then pour it over the chopped chocolate.  This messes up multiple dishes and take more time…so here’s the Katie Way:

Heat the cream in the microwave for 30-60 seconds.  Stir in the chopped chocolate and the espresso powder. Presto – chocolate sauce!

Drizzle the sauce over the panna cotta, sprinkle with a pinch of flake salt, and serve!


A few notes:

*Gelatin sheets:  Have been around for a long time, but I’ve never used them.  They are not easy to find in Alabama.  You can order them online, but I never felt the need to do so.  However, when I was at Dean and Deluca in NYC, I bought some.  I used them for the first time this week.  They are cool.  They are not a requirement in this recipe, powdered gelatin works fine. However, if you can find the gelatin sheets, I would use them.


If you are using gelatin sheets:  soak the gelatin sheets in cold water for 5 minutes and then squish out all the water before adding to the caramel mixture.  Everything else is the same.


**Vanilla bean paste:  is an awesome ingredient to have on hand.  In Huntsville, you can get it at Earth Fare, The Fresh Market, or Williams-Sonoma.  You can also order it online.  I use Nielsen-Massey brand.  It is a thick vanilla paste with lots of real vanilla seeds.  It is not cheap, but it is less expensive than whole vanilla beans.  For a recipe like this, it is perfect.  Gives the same nice taste with the pretty flecks of vanilla seeds. Regular vanilla extract works fine too.


***Salt:  I used Murray River Pink Flake Salt.  To me, it is not as salty as Maldon Sea Salt.  Regular Kosher salt also works.  Or, you can leave it out if you want to watch your sodium intake.  I like the salty-sweet combo.

  1. Cyndia
    January 13, 2012 at 10:55 am

    Sounds yummy! Why is it I immediately want to try out all your recipes? Steven is ever so grateful!
    Do you ever shop at that European market down near Drake, between L&N and the Parkway? Wondered if it’s worth my time….

    • January 13, 2012 at 11:06 am

      Glad you and Steven like the recipes! I haven’t been to the European Market in months. I used to like it, but now I can get many of the same things at Publix, Earth Fare, The Fresh Market, and Kroger. If you go, bring cash. I think they have a minimum to use a debit card. At least they used to.

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