Okay, I’m not playing around when I come up with these long-arse titles! If you want an impressive and satisfying dessert that requires no culinary school degree to make, then you’ve come to the right place! Whether it be an ending to a memorable dinner with special guests, or a date night with the family, panna cotta is a sure pleaser. And best of all — it’s so easy, even a 9-year-old can make panna cotta! I kid you not. How do I know this? Because my second oldest daughter’s favorite dessert is panna cotta, and after dozens of requests to make it for her, I got so sick of it that I taught her how to make her own. She was 9 years old at the time. See?
Panna cotta is an Italian dessert which translates to “cooked cream” because it’s made of sweetened cream thickened with gelatin. The cream can be infused with flavors such as coffee, vanilla, citrus, or other essences. It is then poured into molds. Panna cotta reminds me of a mix between flan, crème brulee, and creamy Jello, but oh so much better!
In this recipe, I use vanilla extract to infuse flavor into my cream. Be sure to use a good quality vanilla for optimal aroma and flavor. I wanted to keep the panna cotta simple in order to be a wonderful backdrop for the red berries simmered in Chambord liqueur! If you don’t want to use alcohol or don’t have any Chambord on hand, you can opt to skip the liqueur altogether and just simmer the berries in sugar water or juice until a nice syrup forms. And yes, the alcohol does cook off as the sauce simmers, so 9-year-olds don’t get tipsy eating this. However, if you want to refrain from adding alcohol to your dessert because you will be serving minors, the berry sauce will taste delicious without it, too!
As for sauces to top your panna cotta, I used berries here because…it’s what I had in the fridge, and they were looking sad and about to go bad. The Chambord really helped them along with its decadent black raspberry fragrance and sweetness. You can use berries (preferably fresher and perkier berries than mine), but you can also pour over melted chocolate, or simmer fruits in Grand Marnier, if that’s your thing. Definitely be creative!
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Panna Cotta with Red Berries Simmered in Chambord
- Unflavored gelatin, 1 envelope or 1 tbsp ( I use Knox brand gelatin)
- 2 tablespoons cold water
- 1 cup Half and Half (or 3/4 cup whole milk mixed with 1/4 cup heavy cream)
- 2 cups Heavy Cream
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons Vanilla extract ( I like Nielson-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract or Rodelle Pure Vanilla Extract)
- For the Berry Sauce:
- 8 ounces, or 1 cup, fresh (or frozen) raspberries, strawberries, or both
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup Chambord liqueur (**If not using liqueur, you can substitute with 1/3 cup fruit juice or water)
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon water
- Helpful Equipment and Materials:
- Ceramic or glass ramekins (6), measuring cups, measuring spoons, wire whisk, small saucepan
1. Measure and pour 2 tablespoons cold water into a very small saucepan. If you don’t have a very small saucepan, you can also add the water to a small microwave-safe bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and wait about 1 minute for the gelatin to soften. Heat the gelatin mixture in the saucepan over low heat until the gelatin dissolves completely. Remove from heat. If using the microwave to dissolve the gelatin, place the small bowl with the gelatin mixture into the microwave and (depending on the power of your microwave), heat the mixture up for about 30 seconds and add increments of 10 seconds if needed, until gelatin dissolves.
2. Combine the cream, half & half, and sugar in a large saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add the dissolved gelatin mixture and vanilla extract. Stir well.
3. Pour the warm cream mixture in equal parts among the 6 ramekins. When the ramekins have cooled to room temperature, cover each one with wrap, place them in the refrigerator, and chill for at least 4 hours or overnight. When they are thoroughly chilled, the panna cottas will be firm to the touch, similar to the consistency of flan or jello.
4. As you are waiting for the panna cottas to chill, you can make the berry Chambord sauce ahead of time, or wait before serving time to prepare the sauce. In a heavy saucepan, combine the raspberries, strawberries, sugar, and Chambord liqueur. Bring the saucepan to a slow boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for about 7 minutes. At this point, you can opt to make a smooth sauce by breaking up the berries with a wooden spoon. I prefer chunky berries in my sauce and don’t mind the seeds, so I keep them sliced in large pieces or whole. For a smooth seedless sauce, after cooking is finished, run the mixture through a sieve to remove the seeds.
5. In a small bowl, dissolve the cornstarch in 1 teaspoon of cold water. Return the berry mixture to the stove and bring to a simmer. Whisk the cornstarch mixture into the simmering raspberry sauce until the sauce thickens, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat. You can refrigerate the sauce at this point and warm it up slightly before spooning over the panna cotta.
6. To remove and plate the panna cottas for serving, dip each ramekin into a bowl of hot water for 5 seconds. Take a thin knife or small metal spatula and run it around the edge between the panna cotta and the ramekin to loosen the dessert. Invert the ramekin onto the plate of your choice. Spoon a generous amount of berry sauce over the panna cottas and serve.