Panna cotta that ethereal puddle of cream originating in Piemonte should be an essential part of everyone’s world. Perfectly prepared panna cotta, or “cooked cream”, an elixir of gently warmed lightly sweetened milk and/or cream, subtly flavored, chilled and held together with just enough gelatin to create a faint wobble when touched with a spoon. Saffron Panna Cotta, a staple at Babbo New York City was Gina De Palma’s flavor rif on the classic dolce and remains a signature dessert on the menu to this day.
It really isn’t difficult to prepare panna cotta so why do so many renditions sadly fall short? Texture is the key with mastering the perfect panna cotta; the results should be milky, silken and smooth. It’s all about the gelatin, too much and you will be serving your guests a rubbery mass of cream alla Jello circa 1970; to little and the scented cream is nothing more than a thickened dessert broth of sorts.
Saffron Panna Cotta takes it’s flavor from just a touch of saffron and some orange rind, steeped in warm cream to provide a delicate perfume. Maintaining a balance when using saffron is essential, too much leaves an unpleasant metallic aftertaste on the tongue. Orange rind rounds out the flavor of the saffron giving the panna cotta a bit of a Sicilian touch.
The Babbo recipe is undeniably a classic, yet over the years I have made a few adjustments to satisfy my personal preferences. The amount of gelatin has been increased, while the saffron and sugar have been reduced.
Don’t be timid, use the recipe for Saffron Panna Cotta as a learning template to master a technique for this simple to prepare dessert. When using granulated package gelatin, always measure the precise amount rather than relying on what you expect to be in the package. There are different schools of through regarding oiling of the molds; I prefer not to oil and have never had any difficulty in releasing the panna cotta. Even a thin coat of a natural oil may affect the flavor of this delicate cream. Saffron Panna Cotta or any panna cotta for that matter, should be made the day you are planning to serve it, as it only requires about 4 hours to rest. The longer the panna cotta sits in the refrigerator, the more solid it becomes.
Either set the Saffron Panna Cotta in individual molds to be turned out onto a dessert plate or in a champagne or cocktail style glass. Garnish with a bit of crushed pistachio and perhaps some dried organic rose petals to compliment the Sicilian flavors of this classic dessert.
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- 3½ cups of heavy cream,
- 5 Tbs. granulated sugar
- Grated zest of one orange
- ½ tsp. of saffron threads
- 1 measured tablespoon of granulated gelatin
- 1 cup of cold whole milk
- Crushed pistachio and organic rose petals to garnish the finished dish
- Place 8 serving molds or serving glasses into the refrigerator on a tray.
- Heat the heavy cream, sugar, orange rind and saffron threads in a medium-sized saucepan over medium heat until until tiny bubbles form around the edge of the pan. Turn off the heat, cover the pan and allow the flavors to steep for 10 minutes.
- In the meantime, sprinkle the 1 tablespoon of granulated gelatin over the cold whole milk and allow the gelatin to soften, this should take about 5 minutes. Once the gelatin seems to have expanded in size and becomes softened stir it carefully to combine it more evenly with the milk.
- Set up an ice bath in a bowl large enough to accommodate the medium-sized saucepan.
- After 10 minutes strain the heated heavy cream to remove the orange rind, saffron and any milky solids that may have resulted from the heating process. I recommend using a fine mesh strainer. With the back of a spoon, press out the orange rind and saffron against the fine mesh strainer to be certain that the maximum flavor has been extracted.
- Wipe out the medium-sized saucepan and return the strained warm cream mixture along with the milk-gelatin. Place the pan over medium heat and warm the contents until it is hot but not boiling, stirring the entire time - about 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the saucepan to the ice bath and stir until the contents are lukewarm.
- Remove the tray with the chilled molds and/or glasses and fill them with the Saffron Panna Cotta mixture. Place in the refrigerator and allow to set for 4 hours.
- To unmold the panna cotta run a sharp knife around the rim of the mold and turn onto a serving tray. If the panna cotta does not easily release, set the mold into warm water for a few seconds, wipe the water from the sides of the mold and try again. Either presentation should be garnished with the crushed pistachio and rose petals before serving.