There are few desserts as simple and satisfying as panna cotta. Not only are they perfect for preparing ahead of a dinner party, but somehow it seems like cheating as they are just so quick and easy.
Whenever I make them I always whip up a second batch to experiment with, adding different ingredients like fruit purees or infusing the milk with a range of additions. Some of my favourites include the Rare Tea Company’s aromatic and floral Jasmine tea (the best tea in the world, in my book) and lemon zest or a herb like lemon verbena.
The latest batch I made were during one of my ‘caramel phases’, when everything I make has a caramel lurking in it somewhere (including some rather exquisite cocktails). Essentially this is rather like a set butterscotch but a tad lighter. It’s devilishly delicious – and would be perfect served with some of the season’s poached rhubarb and a crushed amaretti biscuit for texture.
Caramel and vanilla panna cotta
Ingredients (serves 4)
• 100g sugar
• 1 vanilla pod
• 250ml whole milk
• 250ml double cream
• 2.5 sheets leaf gelatin
In a heavy based saucepan melt the sugar over a low heat. Do not stir. When the mixture is liquid add the seeds and the shell of the vanilla pod. Allow the mixture to cook for several minutes until it goes the colour of mahogany but don’t let it burn. As far as caramel is concerned, the darker it is – the more flavour you have,
Pour in the cream. The mixture will bubble furiously for a moment and the sugar may seize, but keep stirring and it will all go liquid again. Add the milk and cook for a further couple of minutes. Remove from the heat, strain and reserve.
Soften the gelatin in a bowl of cold water for five minutes. Take out of the bowl and squeeze the excess water from it. Add to the butterscotch mixture. Pour into four dariole molds or ramekins and refrigerate for at least four hours, but preferably overnight.
Either serve in the ramekins or if you want to turn them out, dip the molds or ramekins in boiling water for a few seconds before up-turning on a plate. They may need a little shake.