Panna cotta can seem daunting to make because it contains gelatin. Once you become familiar with the way the ingredient works, however, this dessert becomes one of the most simple and delicious things you can make. Gelatin needs reconstituting, or blooming, before use, which simply means it must be soaked in cold water for a couple of minutes before adding to any recipe. The other important thing to note about gelatin is that it only dissolves in warm/hot mixtures. Once you understand these two facets of gelatin use, you’ll be off into the wonderful world of panna cotta. This traditional Italian spoon dessert can be flavored with anything from herbs and spices, to chocolate and coffee, much like ice cream. It is basically just a sweetened and set cream, which I like to use as a backdrop to fresh, seasonal fruit. Here is a recipe for rose water panna cotta which goes so wonderfully with juicy red berries, my favorite being strawberries.
4 cups cream
½ cup sugar
1 vanilla bean
4 sheets gelatin
rose water to taste
Split vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out seeds. In a medium-sized pot, bring cream, sugar and vanilla up to a simmer. As soon as the mixture reaches a simmer, take it off the heat and leave to steep for an hour.
After an hour has passed, check to see if cream mixture is still warm. You want the temperature to be somewhere between warm and hot. Fill a large bowl with cold water, and submerge the gelatin sheets in the water one at a time. Leave the gelatin to bloom for a couple of minutes, until the sheets feel nice and soft. Once they are ready, squeeze the water out of them and put them into the warm/hot cream mixture and whisk until they are dissolved. At this stage, add rose water to taste. It is a strong flavor that seems to intensify over time, so I like to add just enough so you can barely taste it. You can strain the mixture if you would like and decant into individual serving dishes. I like to use jam jars or little coffee cups. Put the panna cotta into the refrigerator to set; this should take a couple of hours. Serve with any fresh seasonal red berry and a crunchy cookie.