Close your eyes and picture panna cotta. What do you see? A delicate, creamy dessert. Cleanly plated. Individually portioned. Garnished with a drizzle of syrup and spoonful of macerated berries. Now take that image and break free from the mold. Replace it with something king-size: more blubbery, more jiggly, more joyful.
When food editor Shilpa Uskokovic decided to develop a recipe for panna cotta, Hana Asbrink, deputy food editor, asked, “How can we take the frou-frou stereotype away from individual serving ramekins and really zone in on a very easy, crowd-pleasing recipe?” The solution: “Make it bigger than life! Have people serve themselves! Go back for more!”
Thus was born the Giant Panna Cotta—a just-sweet-enough masterpiece spiked with a heavy dose of vanilla in a large-format dish to feed a crowd. Uskokovic developed this recipe to be bursting with summer berries and zhuzhed up with balsamic vinegar. And then, for good measure, she made a bonus version flavored with espresso and malty brown sugar.
For the uninitiated, panna cotta, which means “cooked cream” in Italian, is a dessert made with milk, cream, sugar, and gelatin. Think Jell-O but milky, kind of like pudding. But while pudding is typically thickened with cornstarch or egg yolks, panna cotta doesn’t use either. Instead, panna cotta is set with gelatin (Uskokovic’s go-to brand is Knox). The consistency is quite special: “A good panna cotta should be just set, in a way where it breaks on your tongue,” Uskokovic says. “You never really chew a panna cotta.”
Using ramekins is a waste of time for a dessert this good. To Uskokovic, unmolding the dessert from the individual vessels is superfluous and way too much trouble—even if you do have an army’s worth of them in your kitchen. Keeping it in the large dish has another benefit too: Because the panna cotta doesn’t have to hold its own shape, the dessert’s texture is more bouncy, silky, and plush.
Plus, as Epicurious food editor Jesse Szewczyk explains, “Serving large-scale panna cotta means everyone can eat exactly how much they want; you aren’t limited to setting it in individual-size ramekins that assume everyone wants to eat the same amount. It feels less constricting, allowing people to determine their own serving size.”
And with this showstopping dessert, size definitely does matter.