Panna Cotta

Panna cotta – "cooked cream" – typifies the essence of Italian cooking by elevating the clean, fresh flavor of simple ingredients – here, rich cream – without fuss or clutter. Nearly all recipes for this classic molded dessert use gelatin to set the lightly sweetened cream, resulting in an airy mousse that's a perfect foil for fresh berries or fruits. This is not that recipe. This panna cotta is an Italian flan or creme brulee, dense and creamy, each mouthful the condensed essence of fresh cream, with just enough almost-bitter caramel to cut any cloying sweetness. Instead of gelatin, this unusual recipe uses unbeaten egg whites for thickening. Unlike flan, which uses egg yolks, this panna cotta is only the palest yellow because of the butterfat in the cream. The flavor is not eggy, but rich and luxurious, almost like a full-cream cheese. Cream is the star here (there's no vanilla to overpower its delicate flavor), so if you happen to have a source for fresh heavy cream, use it. Otherwise, look for organic heavy cream with high butterfat content. You must make this recipe one day in advance of serving. The source of this recipe is as Italian as it gets: Valeria and Margherita Simili, two sisters who ran a cooking school in Bologna after growing up in the family bakery business. Promoted by Italian cooking writer Marcella Hazan at her classes, the Simili sisters specialized in classes for pasta and bread baking, but were happy to share recipes for any Italian dishes.
By | January 02, 2017


Preheat oven to 290 degrees.

Combine cream, sugar and salt in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, then simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Cool completely.

Make caramel: Have two loaf pans ready. In a heavy saucepan, put 3 tablespoons sugar. Make a well in the middle and add 1 tablespoon water. Don't stir. Cook over medium heat without stirring, only shaking the pan occasionally. When it is well caramelized – a deep amber color – immediately pour into pans. Tilt pans to cover bottom with caramel. Be careful while working with hot caramel.

Beat egg whites gently with a wooden spoon just to break up – you don't want to whip any air into them. Add cold cream and combine. Pour into molds. Place pans in bain-marie, a larger pan filled to 1" with hot water. Bake 1 to 1 and a half hours, or until slightly firm – middle will still be jiggly, but it will firm up when chilled. Remove from oven but leave in water to cool. When cold, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

To serve, carefully run a knife between the panna cotta and the pan. Place serving plate on top and invert. If the panna cotta does not come out, soak a dishtowel in hot water and wring out, and place on top of pan for a few seconds until the panna cotta comes out of the pan. Garnish with fresh strawberries. To serve, cut in slices and top with a spoonful of caramel syrup.

Note: If you don't want the caramel, you could bake these individually in ramekins. Serve directly in ramekins.


  • 4 cups heavy cream
  • Pinch salt
  • 10 oz sugar
  • 9 egg whites
For Caramel
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon water
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