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Panna Cotta

This is an Italian dessert that translates as ‘cooked cream’. It is an eggless custard that is made in about 5 minutes, truly tastes sublime and would be suitable for a special Dinner i.e. Valentine dessert for you and your other half. It has a very rich flavor without being too rich or heavy to eat. Serve it alone or with a chocolate or raspberry sauce. It tastes like the best Ben and Jerry vanilla ice cream - without the freeze.

Ingredients - makes about 4 x ½ cup portions

  • ½ cup half and half
  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin (7g or ¼ oz weight – sold in bakery section by Knox in small, orange boxes of 5 or 6 envelopes)
  • 2 cups (1 pint carton) of heavy cream
  • 1-2 teaspoons real vanilla extract
  • 6 tablespoons sugar


1. Sprinkle the contents of the gelatin packet over the half cup of half and half in a small (approx. 1 quart) saucepan. Stir in.

The gelatin will look like a thick paste as it touches the liquid. Dry it looks like fine sand. Stand for 5 minutes. Then slowly heat the half and half over a low heat, stirring, until the gelatin totally dissolves. It is very important to ensure the gelatin totally dissolves otherwise you will not have a totally smooth custard. It will have chewy bits in it.

2. Add the 2 cups heavy cream, sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract to the saucepan containing the dissolved half and half and gelatin. Slowly heat until the sugar is dissolved. DO NOT BOIL, THERE IS NO NEED.

3. Taste a teaspoon of the mixture and decide if you want to add 1-2 tablespoons more sugar or the second teaspoon of vanilla extract.

4. Moisten a small piece of paper towel with canola or other tasteless oil (not olive, sesame, peanut oil etc) and wipe the oil around the inside of four ˝ cup ramekins, cocotte dishes or custard cups. You could even use regularly shaped tea cups as molds if you don’t own ramekins etc. Wal-Mart, Target and kitchen stores sell both custard cups and ramekins varying widely in prices depending on brand and what material they are made of. Stand the ramekins in a dish such as a 9-inch pie plate.

5. Use a half cup measure to carefully ladle custard into the ramekins. Leave to cool, then refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Once the custard is set firm like any gelatin mold, run around the inside edge with a thin knife to loose the custard and then invert onto individual small serving plates and shake to loosen. You can also stand the custards in hot water reaching about half way up the sides for 10 seconds to loosen the custard before turning out.

6. Serve as they are or finish with fresh fruit, fruit sauce or fresh (not Hershey) chocolate sauce. See my Decadent Chocolate Sauce recipe here.


Options; I have tried making these by adding 4 teaspoons of liqueur to the total custard quantity (that is 1 teaspoon per individual cup) but I really prefer the simple flavor of vanilla. You can try adding 1 teaspoon of liqueur to one ramekin and see what you like. I have tried Grand Marnier and Kahlua, as well as lemon zest but I still prefer plain vanilla. My husband wanted more than 1 teaspoon of Kahlua in his. You make the decision.

You can also use a vanilla bean instead of vanilla extract but at $6 for a single bean in the supermarket I didn’t think many people would buy one.


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Oonagh Williams, proprietor of Royal Temptations, has a Culinary Arts degree, offers catering from 6-60 people, teaches a variety of classes in International Cooking, and makes regular appearances on WMUR ABC Channel 9's Cooks' Corner. You can contact Oonagh at 603-424-6412.