I should preface this by saying that I am not terribly fond of Panna Cotta. In Italy, it’s a ubiquitous dessert found in every second rate pizzeria, where it tends to be too dense and the vanilla flavouring too fake. It became popular in the ‘80s although it has been around for centuries, in one form or another.
I haven’t been able to trace an agreed upon birthplace but Panna Cotta (which translates to “cooked cream”) seems to have originated in Piedmont. Cows that fed on the hillsides of the region no doubt produced outstanding cream that was probably cooked and flavored, although not with sugar and vanilla as they didn’t enter the picture until recently – sugar was a scarce and extremely expensive commodity until the 1800s.
Boiled fish bones were most likely used as a thickener, before the advent of gelatin, as they produced a glue like substance that was still used when I was a child (please, no comments on my age).
So I never quite understood the craze over panna cotta in the US where it did become popular a few years ago and still persists on many menus. But I do enjoy the creaminess and tanginess of this particular recipe, compliments of the Pastry Chef who trained me, Mama Erin. The amount of gelatin is just right so not to render the cream too jello-like and the acidity of the lemon prevents it from becoming a generic sweet custard. It’s lovely served with fresh berries or a berry compote. When in season, the delicate flavor of Meyer Lemons really shines in this dessert. And if you have guests, no standing at the stove or baking custard in the oven which, in today’s LA heat, seems like a really good idea.
MEYER LEMON PANNA COTTA RECIPE
1 3/4 C Buttermilk
2 T Meyer Lemon Juice (or regular lemons if Meyer are not in season)
1 1/4 C Heavy Cream
2 Lemon Peels
1 C Sugar
2 Gelatin Sheets, bloomed in cold water
(Sheet gelatin can be found in specialty stores – otherwise use 2 1/3 ts powder gelatin)
1. Combine buttermilk and lemon juice. Set aside.
2. Heat cream and sugar with lemon peel to a simmer – do not boil. Remove from heat and allow the lemon to steep about 20 mins (and cool slightly).
3. While mixture is cooling, bloom gelatin by submerging sheets in ice cold water until very soft. With powder gelatin, pour just enough cold water over it in order to saturate the granules and allow them to plump and soften.
4. Strain and add bloomed gelatin by squeezing the water out with your hands and add it to the lemon cream, stirring gently using a rubber spatula until completely dissolved. Avoid incorporating air by over stirring.
5. Cool mixture over an ice bath until it reaches room temperature, stirring occasionally.
6. Stir in buttermilk and lemon juice. Continue to chill over the ice bath until completely cool to the touch.
7. Pour liquid in 4 oz ceramic ramekins or glass cups – if you are planning to unmold it, spray the ramekins well.
8. Allow to set overnight or at least 8 hours.
9. If you wish to unmold, dip the ramekins in hot water for a few seconds and gently pull the sides of the panna cotta away and invert over a plate. Otherwise, serve in the containers.
10. Pair it with a berry or citrus compote or fresh berries.