This dessert really couldn’t be any easier. Panna cotta takes very little effort but offers more than a satisfying return. This is especially true if you’re looking for a delicious dessert that isn't overly rich. There are no egg yolks, butter or heavy cream involved. If you love creamy custards and crème brulee, this is their lightweight cousin.
The basic premise to panna cotta is to heat the milk or cream with the sugar to dissolve it thoroughly. It’s typically not very sweet and most often served in a plain vanilla but can also be flavored in a number of ways. Liquefied gelatin is added to set it and then it’s chilled. It can be served plain or with fruit or a sauce.
This panna cotta is made primarily with plain yogurt for a slight tang. The same method is used for the base and then the yogurt and flavoring are whisked in at the end. Super easy and care free.
For color and an extra element of tartness, I’ve garnished this dessert with tangerine segments and pomegranate seeds. It makes a colorful and festive presentation on the table as the rain clouds roll in.
- Substitute 1/2 vanilla bean for a richer flavor. Split, seed and add to milk as it simmers. Steep for about 20 minutes then remove the pod.
- To bloom gelatin, always sprinkle it slowly into cold water rather then pouring cold water directly on the powder, which makes it clump. I use a small pyrex cup for this.
- I used Greek yogurt but any plain variety will do.
- Adjust the sugar, lemon juice, vanilla and salt to your own taste. I kept the sugar on the low end because the fruit is moistened with a simple syrup.
- Salt is very important for enhancing the flavor of desserts made with dairy products. We’re not looking for a salty taste, just a brightened and heightened flavor. Keep adding a few grains at a time until the flavor pops. You’ll know when you get there.
- The gelatin in this panna cotta is kept at a minimum, just enough to give it a little body but not enough to interfere with the texture of the yogurt.
- Some people liquefy gelatin in a microwave but I find it's just too easy to overheat and ruin it. It can't be boiled or it loses its thickening properties.
- If you find yourself in the mood for a sublime custard, try Vanilla Pudding.
Yogurt Panna Cotta with Tangerine & Pomegranate
based on an idea from Williams-Sonoma
Makes 6 servings
1 1/2 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon powdered gelatin
1 cup (8 oz) milk
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons (2 3/4 oz) sugar
2 cups (16 oz) plain yogurt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup (2.6 oz) water
1/3 cup (66 grams) sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 large (about 1 1/4 lbs) tangerines or 2 large oranges
1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds
For the panna cotta, place the cold water in a small heatproof dish. Bloom the gelatin by sprinkling it slowly over the cold water. Do not stir. Let it sit for 5 minutes until the gelatin fully absorbs the water.
Place the milk, sugar and a pinch of salt in a saucepan. Bring it to a slow simmer and heat until the sugar is fully dissolved. Take off the heat. Liquefy the gelatin by placing the bottom of the dish in a pan with about an inch of low-simmering water. The gelatin will melt in a minute or so. Add the liquefied gelatin to the milk mixture and blend thoroughly. Whisk in the yogurt, lemon juice and vanilla. Taste and adjust for salt. Pour into six ramekins or cups and chill until set, about 2 hours.
For the fruit, place 1/3 cup water and 1/3 cup sugar in a saucepan and bring to a boil until the sugar is fully dissolved. Remove from the heat and whisk in the lemon juice.
Using a very sharp knife, slice off both ends of the tangerines or oranges. Then slice off the peel and white pith, following the contour of the fruit to maintain its shape. Cut on either side of each segment to extract the fruit. Do this over a bowl to catch the juices. When ready to serve, combine the tangerine or orange segments and pomegranate seeds with some or all of the sugar lemon syrup. Top each panna cotta with spoonfuls of fruit.