If you’re in the market for a panna cotta recipe, you’re in luck!  Close your eyes and flail your arms around on the internet and you’ll probably hit one. There are recipes aplenty, and they’re fairly similar: panna cotta translates to “cooked cream.”  So it’s cream. Plus sugar. Thickened with gelatin. And all the recipes are going to be variations on this formula.

So why this particular panna cotta? Well, we think it’s perfectly a-little-bit-sweet and exactly the right amount of buttermilk-tangy. Also, we like the yield. A lot of recipes make panna cotta for 6 or 8, but with such a simple recipe, we can’t think of any reason it shouldn’t be enjoyed with just your little family or a few close friends, so our recipe serves just 4.

A word of caution: making a batch this small presents certain challenges. It took batches and batches of panna cotta to get it right: a quarter teaspoon less here, a tablespoon added there. A panna cotta should be silky and just set, creamy and fresh. One and a quarter teaspoons of gelatin is simply not very much--if that teaspoon is carelessly heaped rather than skimmed flat, it will make a noticeable difference. A soft set is a lovely, delicate thing to achieve; panna cotta should not be jello-jiggler sturdy.  

So pay close attention to your teaspoons and tablespoons, set aside 15 minutes to throw this together, and knock everyone’s socks off. It’s a good one.  


Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Molasses Caramel and Walnuts

Molasses Caramel:

1/4 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons maple syrup
2 tablespoons molasses
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup toasted walnut halves and pieces, very roughly chopped

In a small pot over medium heat, mix the sugar, maple syrup, molasses, and salt. Heat, stirring occasionally, until all the sugar is melted and the mixture is bubbling and boiling. Remove from heat and stir in the heavy cream, mixing until smooth. The caramel will seem very thin, but it will thicken somewhat as it cools. Stir in the walnuts and set aside to cool. Note: this caramel can be made ahead of time and refrigerated. Allow to come up to room temperature before serving.  

Buttermilk Panna Cotta:

1 1/4 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons water
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 cup + 1 tablespoon buttermilk

Lightly grease 4 4-oz. ramekins with a neutral-flavored oil. In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the water and set aside to hydrate.

In a small saucepan, heat the sugar, cream, salt, and vanilla over medium heat until all the sugar is dissolved and the mixture is bubbling around the edges.  Remove the pan from the heat, scrape in the gelatin, and stir until all the gelatin is melted into the cream mixture and there are no lumps remaining.  Add the buttermilk and stir gently until well-combined. Divide the mixture evenly between the four prepared ramekins and refrigerate until set, about 4-5 hours.  

To serve, unmold each panna cotta by running a thin knife around the edge of the ramekin and turning it out onto a small plate.  If you are having trouble getting the panna cotta out of the ramekin, flip the ramekin upside down, hold it firmly against the plate, and give everything a good shake.  This should dislodge the panna cotta. Top each panna cotta with molasses caramel and serve immediately.  

Sarah Derer

Sarah Derer