I knew one of the first things I was going to make once the weather turned warm was a panna cotta. I discovered it last year and fell in love with the smooth, silky texture. Panna cotta, or cooked cream, is an old treat from the mountains of northern Italy, where the cream is so spectacular it’s been eaten as a dessert all by itself for generations. This lemon version is super tangy with the zest and juice of 2 lemons. It’s the perfect backdrop for a cluster of fresh fruit and an edible blossom or two, and therefore the perfect dessert for an occasion like Mother’s Day, a spring shower, or a just because romantic dinner.
I dug out my mini cookie and fondant cutters for this, and the thinly sliced pieces of papaya, below, made beautiful little flowers and butterflies to scatter among the berries. Use slices of melon, mango, kiwi, banana, whatever you like. You can find these cute little sets in cooking stores, discount department stores, or HERE online.
But even though I lavished attention on the fruit garnish, the flavor of this panna cotta stands on its own. I would be totally happy with a little pot of it all by itself. You know me, I’m not happy unless I’m going all the way with whatever flavor I’m playing with, so there’s nothing wishy-washy about the lemon presence here. The zest of 2 lemons begins the process as it infuses the essence of lemon into the cream and milk. Then the juice of both lemons goes in, followed by a dose of lemon extract.
The panna cotta can be made ahead of time so all you have to do is assemble the fruit at the last minute. This could be made into a beautiful tart with a graham cracker crust, and I also like it poured into small jam jars and garnished with a simple wedge of lemon and a sprig of mint. It can be rustic, or elegant, depending on how you present it.
Panna Cotta is a no bake dessert, and it’s one of the easiest there is. It basically consists of heating cream and milk, and adding gelatin. That’s about the extent of it. Once it sets up in the refrigerator, it’s done.
For vegan panna cotta, substitute full fat coconut milk for the dairy cream and milk. You can use agar-agar, a seaweed derived gelatin substitute, in place of the gelatin. Don’t try to go with a low fat version of this, though, because the lemon juice can curdle regular milk.
- the zest and juice of 2 lemons
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 envelope powdered gelatin
- 1/4 tsp lemon extract
- Wash the lemons well. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the rinds from the lemons. You only want the yellow part, not the bitter white.
- Pour the cream and the milk into a saucepan and stir in the sugar until it is dissolved. Add the lemon rinds to it and heat it just until it almost comes to a boil. Turn off the heat and let sit for 30 minutes.
- Strain the cream mixture and put back in the pan. Stir in the juice from both lemons, you'll notice that the cream will thicken.
- Pour 1/4 cup of cold water in a small cup and sprinkle on the gelatin. Let sit for 5 minutes to soften and then stir.
- Meanwhile, reheat the cream mixture to just below a simmer. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the gelatin, stirring until it is completely dissolved. Stir in the extract.
- Pour the cream mixture into small jars, bowls, or cups. Refrigerate until completely firm. Depending on the size of your cups, this may take 2-3 hours. You can do this ahead of time, and let it sit there.
- When you are ready to serve, garnish with berries, fruit cut outs, and a few edible blossoms.
- Serve cold.
If you cover it well, this can sit in the fridge for a couple of days before you serve it. Don’t add the fruit until you are ready to serve, and be sure to serve it cold, because gelatin will soften as it comes to room temperature. If you haven’t had panna cotta, I highly recommend it, not only for the ease of preparation, but because it has a unique cool silky texture and can be flavored in a million ways. It makes a very elegant presentation with hardly any effort!