Look, one dancing orange panna cotta!

Wow, a dancing panna cotta!!

Greetings from Eat Dessert First Greece!

Even though this year’s Easter was different from the others, we did celebrate at home… We roasted meats in the fireplace, set a festive table at the balcony, listened to music and of course ate dessert.

Our Easter table with a variety of meats roasted in the fireplace, salads and sweets!

Except for the egg-truffles we talked about in our previous article, we chose to have a light and healthy dessert, a caramel-orange panna cotta, at the end of our festive lunch. As the weather gets warmer we crave for lighter and more refreshing sweets. Since we always want to learn the stories behind the desserts we are making, we had to learn some things about panna cotta’s origin.

Light and healthy caramel-orange panna cotta

Panna cotta is one of the basic custards used in pastry and a favourite dessert worldwide. It is in fact a “cooked cream”, as means its name in Italian. It is prepared with heavy cream, milk, sugar and gelatin, so it is kind of a dairy jello.

Panna cotta is an extremely versatile dessert, since it can be enriched with a variety of ingredients, from vanilla or chocolate to more exquisite stuff, such as saffron, Matcha tea and much more. It is often drizzled with fruit, chocolate or caramel sauce. In gourmet restaurant dishes one will also find savory panna cotta flavors. It can also be vegan, if using coconut milk and cream, and agar agar instead of gelatin.

Panna cotta with nasturtium, peas and strawberries by Italian chef with one Michelin star, Aurora Mazzucchelli (source)
Parmesan panna cotta from a restaurant in the Canary Islands (source)
Vegan pumpkin pie panna cotta (source)

Even though its origin is unknown, it is believed that it comes from Piedmont, an area in Northern Italy, and specifically Langhe area. The recipe is said to have been invented by a lady of Hungarian origin at the beginning of the 20th century. Panna cotta is officially one of Piedmont’s traditional local products, established in a decree of the area’s government. However, it is also popular in the neighbouring area of Valle d’Aosta.

Piedmont area in Northern Italy

The authentic panna cotta recipe is flavoured only with vanilla. However, the recipe published in Piedmont’s decree contains also rum or Marsala wine. Panna cotta traditionally has a simple appearance and is garnished with berries or other small sized fruit.

According to another version of this italian dessert’s origin, panna cotta may be the evolution of Sicilian Biancomangiare, which came to the island when it was occupated by Arabs (9th-10th century).

Sicilian Biancomangiare, a custard made of milk, heavy cream, sugar, gelatin and almonds (source)

Elsewhere we read that Piedmont area is considered the motherland of panna cotta because it was known for the heavy cream that was being produced there. The area was unsuitable for cultivating olive trees, so its residents used butter and lard instead of oil. In order to produce those, they would raise cattle, and therefore milk and heavy cream abounded there.

Italian chef Giovanna Marson mentions that a recipe for panna cotta without gelatin or fish glue, an ingredient that was used is the past, possibly exists. This kind of panna cotta is made with whipped egg whites. The chef notes that she hasn’t found any written sources mentioning this technique, but she has one such recipe from a very old aunt of hers.

Whichever the real origin of panna cotta, one is for sure: it is one of the most versatile desserts and can be the base for endless experimentation. The reason for that is its simplicity, which offers huge opportunities for expressing our creativity.

Panna cotta inspired by painter Matisse, by Enrico Crippa, Italian chef with three Michelin stars (source)

The mixture for making panna cotta is liquid and it takes the form of the mould it sets in. This way it can get infinite shapes and designs, depending on the mould we will use. This is another panna cotta’s quality that intrigues contemporary pastry!

The most important thing when making panna cotta is to attain the right texture! At the website of the Virtual Group of Italian Chefs we read that, as cook and writer Nigel Slater recently noted, panna cotta is possibly the most delicate dessert of all.

Our delicate panna cotta!

Panna cotta is the kind of dessert you might consider if angels were coming to dinner.

Nigel Slater

Piedmont’s decree defines panna cotta as a “spoon dessert”, a delicate sweet pudding. For chef Rosario Scarpato, panna cotta must look fragile, having just the strength to keep its shape when unmoulded.

Heart-shaped panna cotta, from Eat Dessert First Greece with love!

According to journalist and writer Roberta Schira, the secret for the perfect panna cotta lies in its stability. It must tremble with grace! If panna cotta “wobbles like a little girl perched on high-heeled shoes”, then too much gelatin has been used and its texture will be rubbery and sticky. The challenge is for panna cotta to set with as less gelatin as possible, keeping its structure and creaminess. For Roberta Schira the right ratio is maximum 8gr of gelatin per 500ml of liquid.

Panna cotta is perfect for experimenting with various designs!

The conclusion is that panna cotta is the ultimate dessert to express our creativity and experiment with its flavor and appearance. However, chef Rosario Scarpato highlights that today’s panna cotta technique has little to do with its authentic form. When there is nothing left of the traditional confection, then the preparation must cease being named panna cotta. He mentions as examples industrial products available on the market, as well as a recipe found on the web for a panna cotta with vegan eggnog, brown sugar, agar-agar, soy yogurt and vanilla extract, which means none of the original recipe’s ingredients!

Having learned all that about Italian panna cotta, we of course wanted to make our own version. Since it was destined for our Easter lunch, we wanted our dessert to be healthy, so we chose to make a healthy caramel-orange panna cotta.

Caramel-orange panna cotta

Ingredients for the caramel-orange panna cotta

Milk light500 ml
Heavy cream light500 ml
Gelatin sheets8
Sugar150 gr
Orange zestfrom 1 orange
Caramel extract5-6 drops

Method for the caramel-orange panna cotta

Soak the gelatin sheets in cold water with ice cubes for a few minutes.
In a saucepan combine and heat the milk, heavy cream and sugar and take them off just before starting to boil.
Wring the silicon sheets (they will have obtained a membrane texture) and drop them into the liquids. Stir well to dissolve the gelatin.
Add the orange zest and caramel extract and stir well.
Fill your moulds. We used glasses and mini cake moulds to get two different looks of our panna cotta.
All ready for the refrigerator. They must be left several hours to set.
When it set, we unmolded our heart-shaped panna cotta.

Greetings and enjoy everyone!

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