Here is one of my favorite recipes for a light dessert. Panna cotta is such an easy dessert that even a 10 year old with a microwave could make this.
The panna cotta is barely sweetened to allow the flavors of the cream and vanilla to really shine through. Sweetness in this dish comes mostly from the ripe bananas and caramel sauce. Freshly toasted coconut shavings provide crunchy contrast to the silky smooth panna cotta.
The one step where you will want to be careful is when you prepare the gelatin. Unlike making jello, we are not using a large amount of water so the gelatin powder can stick together in large clumps if you are not careful. The trick is to slowly sprinkle the gelatin in a light layer over cold water.
Once the gelatin has soaked up all the water on the surface and formed a film you’ll want to swish the water around or use a spoon to expose more fresh water before you add any more gelatin. You’ll want to let the gelatin bloom for 5 minutes before adding hot liquid so make this before you heat up your cream.
This is a lesson I learned in making many many pans of marshmallows for Fusion Sweets. In any case, you’ll want to avoid dumping in the gelatin too quickly, like in the picture below.
This is the biggest cause of hard lumpy gelatin.
In this case the easiest fix is to spend a couple minutes gently heating the mixture and smashing the clump of hardened gelatin with a spoon to get rid of any chunks in your panna cotta.
Do not let the mixture boil. This will weaken the gelatin. And absolutely do not proceed with the recipe until all the gelatin chunks are gone!
Since the ingredients in this recipe are so simple, the flavors of each will really shine through. Quality definitely matters.
Many supermarket brands of gelatin have an overwhelming porcine odor, especially Knox. My favorite brand of powdered gelatin is this unflavored Kosher beef gelatin by Great Lakes.
Knox not only blooms easily but it also gives a stronger gel per gram of powder and is absolutely odorless when used at normal amounts in recipes. We have used Great Lakes gelatin in Fusion Sweets marshmallows since 2010 and we have noticed an improvement in texture and mouth feel since changing gelatin brands.
Serving tips: Since panna cotta is a ‘wet’ dessert, the toasted coconut will get soggy if you sprinkle them on too far in advance. While the vanilla panna cotta and the caramel sauce may be made days in advance, the bananas and coconut should be prepared at the very last minute.
The trickiest part of this dessert may be the unmolding of the panna cotta. You have to be quick since you don’t want to melt too much of the panna cotta. At most 10-15 seconds in the warm water bath are needed before the gelatin loosens from the sides of the molds.
A bit of warning if you do plan to use a microwave. Make sure you heat things up in 15 second pulses and stir the ingredients in between. Do not walk away or take your eyes off the mixture unless you want to spend the next half hour scrubbing out your microwave. Liquids containing caramel and gelatin can bubble up and boil over in under 30 seconds. Dried coconut will burn faster than you can say toasted.
- Heavy whipping cream or whole milk – 500 mL (2 cups)
- Vanilla bean infused sugar – 50 g (1/4 cup)
- Powdered gelatin – 7 g (1 packet)
- Cold water – 50 mL (about 3 Tbsp.)
- Dried coarsely shredded coconut (for the topping) – 25 g (5 Tbsp.)
- Very ripe banana, sliced (for the topping) – 1 Banana
- Salted vanilla caramel (for the caramel sauce) – 57 g (1/2 bag)
- Milk (for the caramel sauce) – 40 mL (3 Tbsp.)
- In a bowl large enough to hold your 500mL of cream/milk, dissolve the gelatin in cold water. Sprinkle the gelatin in gently and evenly to avoid clumps.
- Over low heat, so you don’t scald the milk, mix the milk/cream with the vanilla sugar. Bring the mixture to a simmer and turn off the heat. Do not boil the milk.
- Pour the hot milk over the softened gelatin and mix evenly until all the gelatin has dissolved.
- Divide the mixture into your ramekins, cups, or molds. Let the mixture come to room temperature then chill in the refrigerator for a few hours until the gelatin has set.
- Make the caramel sauce by heating up the caramel with milk and stirring. Cook over low heat so you don’t scald the milk and caramel.
For such a small amount I find it easier to make this in the microwave.
- Toast the dried coconut either in the microwave or on the stove over medium heat. Coconut burns very quickly! Stir swiftly and often and turn off the heat before you think the coconut is done. The residual heat from the pan will continue to cook the coconut.
- Sprinkle the toasted coconut on your plates and unmold the panna cotta by gently warming the molds in a warm water bath. Once you notice the panna cotta loosen from the sides of the mold, flip the mold over and turn the panna cotta onto your plate. Top with slices of banana and drizzle with caramel sauce.
Prep time: Cook time: Yield: 6 ramekins/cups