This coffee panna cotta is such a wonderfully flavored twist on the classic easy, make ahead dessert. It's creamy, with a great coffee flavor and just the right amount of sweetness. Perfect to enjoy any excuse.
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I'll admit, I'm not a huge sweet tooth in general, but there are a few things I will always find a little space for. I'm a big citrus fan, so that always helps, and less sweet desserts tend to win me over too. This might not be citrus, but it is on the less sweet side. And the fact you can make it ahead is always a bonus, too.
What is panna cotta?
Panna cotta is a traditional Italian dessert that is effectively a set cream. It's normally made with gelatin, cream, milk and sugar to give a gently sweet, creamy and just set dessert.
One of the great things about it is you make it ahead and then leave it to set, so it's the perfect dessert for entertaining. You can also add different flavors, either into the mixture itself like this and my mango panna cotta, or by adding a syrup or fruit coulis after.
Despite the fact it can look impressive, though, it's incredibly easy to make. And this coffee twist is the perfect way to end a meal.
Maximising the coffee flavor
Coffee is the perfect compliment to the creaminess of this dessert, but you kind of want to strike the right balance between the two. Using espresso means you get a stronger coffee flavor without diluting the creamy part of the dessert too much.
If you don't have espresso, then make very strong coffee instead. And if you don't want the dessert caffeinated, decaffeinated will also work well - just be sure to use a good quality decaf (as with any coffee, really) for the best flavor.
Vanilla is a great addition any time, but it also works well with the coffee. In addition, here I have used coconut sugar, rather than regular sugar, as it has a deeper caramel-like flavor, which again pairs really well. If you don't have any, then I suggest using dark brown or muscovado sugar instead.
What if the panna cotta separates?
Sometimes, you may find that you get a whiter layer form at the top and then the rest below is a darker color. When you eat it, the bottom is less creamy tasting as well. Essentially, it's due to the fact that cream is denser and so tends to rise to the top. You then can end up with a creamy layer on top (or bottom if you invert it) and the rest is more gelatinous and lighter.
To avoid separation, you want to cool the mixture down before putting it into individual dishes. This lets the gelatin get to work before the cream separates.
The easiest way is simply not warming everything too much. This is relatively easy to do if you make sure your gelatin has well bloomed before you add it to the cream mixture. Also, I find you don't need to warm coconut sugar as much as regular sugar to dissolve it, which is another bonus to using that - the cream mixture doesn't need to be as hot.
If your gelatin doesn't fully dissolve, you may need to reheat the whole mixture a little to dissolve it. If so, then let the mixture cool to almost room temperature, stirring now and then, before placing in the individual dishes. Even better, chill the dishes first as well.
Storing and serving
One of the great things about panna cotta, as I mention above, is that it's a make ahead dessert, making it perfect for entertaining. You place the dishes in the fridge as they set and chill, ready to serve when ready.
You can make these up to three days ahead and simply keep them stored in the fridge. If storing longer than a few hours, I'd recommend covering the dishes with a lid or cling wrap. This is just to try to avoid them picking up any smells or accidentally get something spilt on them.
This works perfectly just as it is, but you can also add a couple additions for serving. Some cream, whipped or otherwise, would work well. You could also make some coffee syrup to drizzle over to up the coffee flavor. Some nut brittle or candied nuts would also be a nice garnish, if you want to get fancy.
Tips for removing from the dish
You can serve these either in the dish that you place them in to set, or else you can invert them onto a plate. If you choose to serve on a plate, there are a couple things you can do to help it come out as smoothly as possible.
First, if you can remember, lightly oil the inside of the dishes before you add the liquid panna cotta. Then, you can place the dish in a bath of hot water for around 30 seconds or so. Just take care not to have it so deep it goes inside the dishes, of course (you can just hold it so the bottom sits in warm water). This should help loosen the sides to help it come out when you invert the dish onto a plate.
If these alone don't work, you can run a thin knife around the edge of the dish to ease the dessert away from the edge. Just be aware this one can mean you leave slight marks on the dessert, so it's probably your last option. You can also sometimes do just a little to help get it started, then gravity does the rest.
This coffee panna cotta is a delicious mix of creaminess and coffee flavor, in a wonderfully easy dessert. It's elegant and perfect to serve guests, especially since it's make ahead. So be sure to give it a try soon.
Try these other easy make ahead desserts:
- Strawberry mousse
- Crema Catalana (similar to crème brûlée)
- Rhubarb fool (a tasty British dessert with cream and gently stewed rhubarb)
- Passion fruit mousse (Brazilian mousse de maracuya, really easy and with no egg)
- Plus get more dessert recipes in the archives.
Coffee panna cotta
- ⅓ cup milk
- 1 teaspoon gelatin (powder)
- ½ cup heavy cream a little more if using cups - ½ cup + 1 tbsp, double cream
- 3 tablespoon coconut sugar
- 2 tablespoon espresso (or very strong coffee)
- ¼ teaspoon sugar
- 1 dash salt (very small amount)
- Gently warm the milk - you can do this on the stove but easiest is in the microwave for around 20 seconds in a small microwavable bowl/custard dish. Sprinkle the gelatin over the milk and leave for around 10 - 15 minutes to bloom. The gelatin will absorb liquid and become more of a wobbly solid.
- Gently warm the cream and coconut sugar in a small pan over a medium-low heat. You just want to warm the mixture enough to dissolve the sugar, but don't let the mixture boil. It should only really become warm.
- Remove the cream from the heat and add the milk-gelatin mixture, the espresso, vanilla and salt. Mix everything well to combine.
- Divide the mixture between two ramekins/custard dishes or glasses and chill for at least 2 hours.
- Once the panna cotta has set, you can serve either in the dishes or by investing onto a plate (see notes above on how to help it come out of the dish if inverting).
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