Guys, I just discovered the ultimate weekend brunch treat/decadent dessert that still contains a whiff of moderation/preschooler snack. The ingredient list is so short, and the cooking process is so simple that you’ll have the recipe memorized by the time you make it the second time. And you will make it a second time, maybe even within a week. It looks pretty, tastes luxurious and… well, most of you probably discovered panna cotta a decade ago.
I’m sorry, I’m just slow. For example, this week I started reading this new book that everyone was talking about in September … 2007. And that’s just the beginning. Gallery wall? Skinny jeans? Arrested Development? Quinoa? People, I am on it. True to sluggish form, it’s been a full four years since my friend Nicole gushed to me about the wonders of yogurt panna cotta. I put it on my cooking to-do list, blinked, and that about brings us up to last week when I saw it on my list and thought, “right, wasn’t I going to make that a few days ago?”
I made up for lost time quickly by making this three times in one week because I couldn’t get it right, as seems to be the aggravating theme lately. In the first round, I had some difficulties unmolding the panna cotta. [Why won’t this unmold? Shake. Shake-shake-shake. Let me just flip it back over an… THUUUUURP-FLOP! Splat! Tasty floor panna cotta, anyone?] Not that I tried it or anything (cough) but it was excellent, albeit so rich, I suspected I could replace some of the cream with milk and use less sugar. The second round unmolded beautifully, but as it turns out unsweetened yogurt panna cotta, even draped with honey, tastes like… you know, yogurt. On the third round, I became preoccupied with
clearing my neighborhood stores of their Greek yogurt supply single serving panna cottas, unmolded or scooped from their cups. Aren’t they darling?
There are so many things I love about these, but one of the biggest is the clarity of the yogurt flavor. This is a dish for yogurt lovers, as well as those obsessed with its health virtues (the yogurt, barely heated, keeps its bacterial/probiotic wonders intact). The inspiration is the simple way yogurt is served in Greece — with honey and walnuts, known as yiaourti me meli. There, it’s dessert, but seeing as we here file yogurt almost exclusively in the morning category, I wanted to give it a breakfast spin. To do so, I replaced most of the cream used in traditional panna cottas with milk (and you can use all milk and no cream if you’re feeling especially virtuous) and found little change in richness, due to the wonders of thick Greek yogurt. I reduced the sugar quite a bit, as well, so again, it smacks of breakfast, not dessert. But you can serve it as if it’s a little of both, either sliced like a cheesecake or flan for guests at a brunch buffet, unmolded in individual forms for a fancier one, or scooped from a cup because you are totally craving dessert right now but don’t want to overdo it.
One year ago: Classic Ice Cream Sandwiches
Two years ago: Crispy Potato Roast and Sour Cream Cornbread with Aleppo
Three years ago: Blue Cheese Scallion Drop Biscuits
Four years ago: Pasta with Favas, Tomatoes and Sausage
Five years ago: Almond Cake with Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote
Six years ago: Margarita Cookies and Tequila Lime Chicken with Green Onion Slaw
Yogurt Panna Cotta with Honey and Walnuts
As far as panna cottas go, this is on the soft side but will still slice or hold a form. For a firmer panna cotta, reduce the milk or cream by 1/2 cup. I used this recipe as my starting point but altered the proportions so it used one container, not one plus a fraction of another, always irksome, of yogurt. I significantly reduced the sugar; I recommend 1/2 cup for a standalone but not achingly sweet yogurt panna cotta that could be served with fresh berries or just a drizzle of honey. If you’d like to fully drape or coat the panna cotta with honey, I recommend dropping the sugar to 1/4 cup to compensate. I also replaced most of the suggested cream with milk, using 1 1/2 cups milk with 1/2 cup cream; you can use all cream, all milk, or anywhere in-between but I found that at least a small amount of cream added a richness that stretched far. As for the yogurt, I used, and highly recommend a full-fat Greek yogurt. The dish will work with others (lower fat and non-Greek yogurts) but it is astronomically more delicious with the real deal. If you only have regular yogurt but want to approximate the richness of Greek yogurt at home, you can set yours to strain in a fine-mesh strainer lined with a coffee filter or layers of cheesecloth over a bowl in the fridge for a few hours or up to a day until the yogurt on top thickens.
[Updated 4/29/13 to move the lemon juice addition to the end, as some people were experiencing curdling when it was heated. So sorry for any trouble.]
Yield: 1 9-inch round panna cotta or 7 to 8 1/2-cup servings*
Neutral oil such as canola or safflower
4 tablespoons (60 ml) water
2 1/2 teaspoons (1 packet or 1/4 ounce or 7 grams) unflavored gelatin
2 cups (460 grams) plain whole-milk Greek yogurt
2 cups (475 ml) milk, heavy cream or a combination thereof (see note up top), divided
1/4 to 1/2 cup (50 to 100 grams) granulated sugar (see note up top)
2 tablespoons (30 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice (from about 1/2 lemon)
1/3 to 1/2 cup (110 to 170 grams) honey
1/2 to 3/4 cup (55 to 85 grams) walnuts, toasted, cooled and coarsely chopped
If you plan to unmold the panna cotta later, lightly coat the inside of a 9-inch round cake pan or smaller dessert cups with the oil. (No need to if you will scoop it from its cups.)
Place water in a small bowl. Stir in gelatin and set aside until the gelatin softens, about 15 minutes.
In a large bowl, whisk all of yogurt and 1 cup of milk, cream or a mixture thereof. In a small saucepan, bring remaining milk or cream and sugar to a simmer. Stir in water-gelatin mixture (it will dissolve immediately) and remove from heat. Whisk this mixture into the yogurt mixture, then stir in lemon juice at the end. Pour mixture into cake pan or smaller cups and chill in fridge for at least 2 hours for small cups and up to 8 for a large pan. It’s best to do this the night before you need it, to be safe.
To unmold the cake pan, fill a larger baking dish with 1-inch boiling water. Dip panna cotta cake pan in it for 10 seconds, then flip it out onto a flat round platter. (A curved one will cause the panna cotta to appear sunken in the middle.)
To unmold smaller dishes, bring a small saucepan of water to a simmer and dip the bottom of a small panna cotta cup in one for five seconds, then invert it onto a plate. Repeat with remaining cups.
Right before you serve the panna cotta, sprinkle it with walnuts and drizzle it with honey. This needs to be done right before you serve it because the honey will (unfortunately) become liquidy and roll off it it sits on the panna cottas for too long.
Do ahead: Panna cottas can be made two days ahead, though I suspect longer. Keep refrigerated.
Non-gelatin panna cotta: Because gelatin is an animal by-product, many vegetarians will not eat it. I haven’t tested vegetarian options, but I’ve read a lot about using Natural Dessert’s Vegan Gel as well as agar-agar as a replacement. If you Google around a bit, you will find many directions for using either.
Dairy-free panna cotta: This isn’t really in the realm of this recipe, which was designed for yogurt, but there are many recipes on the web for panna cottas made with almond, coconut and/or soy milks, if you’re interested in looking into them.