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Panna Cotta – Under Construction! {a little help over here…please!}

Okay readers.  Clearly, I am in need of your help, your collective knowledge and wisdom, your trial and error experience with the seemingly simple (any-idiot-should-be-able-to-make-it) Italian dessert – panna cotta.

Don’t get excited…I did not make this one…


I made this one.  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that a perfect panna cotta is not supposed to look like this…

Seriously…I’ve searched and searched for clues as to why it separated…and I can find none.  I repeat…NONE!  I followed the recipe exactly.

Okay not e-x-a-c-t-l-y…but very close.  Instead of using vanilla, I used Meyer lemons as the flavoring, the juice and some of the zest.  I bloomed the gelatin and heated the milk, stirred it altogether to make sure it was good and mixed…I poured it into little ramekins and let it cool a bit and then put them in the fridge.

(and what’s worse…I served them to my in-laws who were visiting…who were more than polite and delved right in as if eating gelatinized milk with a weird-looking yellowish layer on top was nothing other than sheer delight – luckily they are good-humored individuals!)

It tasted fine as well…but the bi-level layering and the yellowish top layer was a bit hard to get past.

So what happened, huh?

Attempt number two is happening this afternoon…but, if that one doesn’t turn out.  I may have to throw in the panna cotta towel.

{I’m counting on you, readers, to pull me out of panna cotta hell and tell me what went wrong!  Puh-lease!}

oh…and Happy Mother’s Day!


I made a second batch yesterday afternoon using a Mark Bittman recipe for Vanilla Buttermilk Panna Cotta.  The process varied quite a bit, and I was sure it would work out this time.  Many have thought that my issue may have been caused by the acid in the lemon juice – but yesterday’s recipe contained no lemon at all!  I was feeling very confident and pulled one out of the fridge after dinner and dug my spoon in…only to find that once again…full separation.

At this point, panna cotta and I are in a fight…a big one, and currently, I’m holding a big grudge.  We’ll have to talk it over at some point but I think right now I need some space!  GEEZ!

So I now request your help once again…or I’m going to start email-stalking Bittman himself until he discovers the error of my ways!


8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Mmh, I think you were wrong on using lemon, because of the acidity.

    This is my infallible recipe (for 2-3 people):
    3 leaves fish-glue (10g)
    200 g single cream
    100 g milk
    55 g zucchero

    Put the glue in cold water for 10 minutes. Heat up the milk, without let it boil, and mix the squeezed glue into it. Boil the cream with the sugar and the vanilla; join suddenly to the milk. Put in wet moulds and let it cool down.

    I never used lemon zest, but I used lavender or tea and the result was good. I use a ball like that to flavour the boiling cream.

    An Italian reader 🙂

    May 14, 2012
    • Thanks for the recipe! I’ll update the post in a bit…as I made a second batch last night, completely different recipe and no lemon this time – I used vanilla as the flavoring. And lo and behold, I pulled one out of the fridge last night…and again – it had separated. Both layers are gelled but they are TWO distinct layers! Arghhh!

      May 14, 2012
      • I’m sorry you are in a fight with this delicate desset! Try to use a different single cream (another brand)..

        May 15, 2012
  2. Hiya! Was reading through your post about the lemon panna cotta and glad you found that lemons because they’re acidic can inhibit the setting action of the gelatin, but one thing you may have missed is that they’ll cause the milk to curdle in a process akin to making cheese! Is your buttermilk a bit acidic? If so, then it’ll do the same thing to the cream if you’re mixing it all together. Try boiling the cream with the sugar for 5 minutes and then slowly add the buttermilk off the heat. Then you can add your gelatine once it’s cooled slightly, but is still very warm. Through some process for which I don’t have a name, when you boil cream and sugar it helps prevent separation when you add an acidic ingredient. This is the same way that you’d make a lemon posset which is nothing more than cream, milk, sugar and lemon juice. Try that and let me know what happens!

    May 18, 2012
    • Thanks for the tips. My next attempt will not include any buttermilk or lemon…I’ll just go for the most basic panna cotta and see what happens! So glad you commented!

      May 18, 2012
  3. tasteanddo #

    Try cooking the lemon down with sugar to make a lemon syrup. Basically make a lemon reduction sauce. The more dense you can make it the more acid you can most likely pull out and the lemon flavor will deepen. Otherwise try lemon extract, but who wants to do that? Take 3/4 cup of sugar and 1/4 cup of lemon juice and let it thicken over medium heat. When you can run your fingur across the back of the spoon and the walls do not cave in thicken it for another 5 minutes. I hope this helps because the acid has to be removed.

    June 18, 2012
    • Thank you for the tip…that sounds like a great idea. I will certainly try it the next time I endeavor to make the (now-feared) panna cotta!

      June 19, 2012

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