Rich, creamy Panna Cotta is a lovely Italian dessert that stands out proudly among complicated desserts. This easy and no-fuss dessert can, however, be jazzed up a little for your dinner table by layering it up with whatever color you wish to add to your table. There are endless number of combinations that would go well with a basic Vanilla Panna Cotta. I made use of the abundant oranges my city is famous for, but not before treating them for a sweeter tooth.
A basic Orange Jelly sounded too simple. Adding bits of caramelized orange segments to it makes it much more interesting. The caramelized oranges turn a shade darker and lend a beautiful color to the jelly. The reserved caramel poured upon the unmolded layers of Panna Cotta and Jelly makes for a great sauce for this beautiful winter dessert.
“Panna Cotta” simply means “cooked cream” if translated from Italian. A more exact way of describing it would be ‘gelled, cooked cream”. The simplest way to make Panna Cotta is to heat cream and sugar in the proportion of 1:8 and add a gelling agent like gelatin or agar-agar to it and allow to set. That’s all there really is to making the perfect Panna Cotta! Adding any flavor like a Vanilla bean is also equally easy as you will see in my recipe.
Cooking with Gelatin/Agar-Agar
The general rule of thumb when creating perfectly ‘set’ desserts is to use 1 envelope/sachet of the gelling agent for 500 ml (about 2 cups) of any liquid. Here, I used 1 sachet, divided, to set 250 ml of cream and 250 ml of orange juice. Any other additions to the above are completely optional and as long as you do this step correctly, you will end up with a good looking dessert every time.
There are many ways of caramelizing oranges, but the basics always remain that sugar is to be melted with a little liquid (water/juice/cream/milk) and the fruit is to be tossed into the caramel and coated evenly. Only the caramel differs in its thickness. You can make a thick caramel and pour it over the orange segments to make crunchy dessert oranges. But for the purpose of this recipe, adjust the liquid to make a thinner sauce that the oranges can cook in, for a while, and the remaining caramel can be retained for pouring on the dessert when served.
My Recipe for Vanilla Panna Cotta with Caramelized Orange Jelly
Time Taken: At least 6 hours to chill (3 hours for each layer). So, prepare in advance if you plan to serve it after a meal.
What You Will Need:
For Caramelized Oranges
- Sugar – 125 gms/5oz
- Orange Juice – 100 ml/4 oz
- Cream – 1 tbsp
- 1 Orange – Peeled and De-seeded Segments
For Orange Jelly
- Orange Juice – 250 ml/9 oz
- Agar-Agar – 1/2 sachet (about 1 tsp.). Reserve the other 1/2 for Panna Cotta
- Sugar – if needed
For Panna Cotta
- Cream (or Half and Half) – 250 ml/9 oz
- Sugar – 1 tbsp (or as desired)
- Agar-Agar – 1/2 sachet (about 1 tsp.)
1. Take Sugar and Orange Juice in a pan and melt it on low heat. Without stirring, let it simmer until the color begins to change.
2. Stir in cream and let simmer for another minute before adding in the oranges. Toss the oranges in the caramel to coat them completely and cook without stirring for another couple of minutes.
3. Remove from heat, spoon the caramelized oranges along with the caramel into a bowl and wipe your pan immediately with paper towels to clean it. Don’t immerse it in cold water immediately or the caramel will set. Wiping it off when hot is the quickest way to clean a pan used to make caramel.
4. Divide the oranges evenly among your molds and spoon them at the bottom of each oiled mold. Reserve the caramel for later use.
5. To make orange jelly, combine orange juice and sugar (if needed) and heat.
6. Meanwhile, mix agar-agar in 4 tbsp of cold water and let dissolve.
7. When the juice of heated, add the agar-agar (dissolved in water) and whisk into the juice.
8. Let cool for 5 minutes before pouring it into the molds containing the caramelized oranges, filling them to half of their capacity.
9. Let the jelly set completely at room temperature and chill it for 2 to 3 hours before adding the panna cotta.
10. Start making your Panna Cotta 20 minutes before your jelly is completely chilled. Heat cream and sugar along with the vanilla bean (slit). Turn off heat and cover the pan to let the vanilla get infused into the cream.
11. Dissolve the remaining (1/2 envelope) agar-agar in 4 tbsp cold water and keep ready.
12. Discard the vanilla bean and seeds from the cream. Heat the cream again and add the agar-agar mixture to it, mixing well.
13. Let stand 5 minutes to cool slightly (taking care that it does not start to set) before pouring it into the molds containing jelly. Pouring the Panna Cotta mixture when too hot can make the jelly melt which will result in mixing of the two layers.
14. Let is set at room temperature and then chill for 2-3 hours before serving them.
15. To serve, unmold by either immersing the bottoms of the molds in hot water or loosening up the Panna Cotta using a sharp knife. Pour the orange-flavored caramel over each serving and garnish with orange segments and a sprig of basil or mint.
There are truly few things as sinful as caramel flavored with oranges. Even if you skip layering your Panna Cotta with a jelly layer, you can simply serve plain Panna Cotta with a Caramel Sauce made using orange juice or with a few segments of oranges thrown in to caramelize along with the sugar.