Panna cotta is a delightfully light Italian custard dessert, and the infusion of saffron makes this a luxurious treat. I made these panna cottas parfait-style and layered them with rose whipped cream and toasted, chopped pistachios (and some dried rose petals to be fancy!) . Making panna cotta is as simple as mixing blooming gelatin with sweet cream. It is seriously full-proof. Like, bullet proof, full proof.
Traditional panna cotta is flavored with vanilla, but I used saffron threads and cardamom pods for a Middle Eastern meets Italia treat. The bright red saffron threads were infused in the cream, giving the panna cotta a gorgeous, bright yellow hue. Saffron has a reputation for being the world’s “most expensive spice,” but I used Afghan saffron which is a mere fraction of the price of Spanish saffron, and has even won awards for its taste as best in the world.
Saffron has a very unique flavor, and like many other spices, it’s also popular for its medicinal properties. It’s known to aid everything from high blood pressure to anxiety. Saffron truly has a unique, slightly pungent taste that makes it perfect for dessert. I’m always looking for ways to dial up flavor and balance sweetness, and saffron does the trick in these pudding-like treats. Since saffron is a spice, it’s perfect for diffusing in cream. I chose to use the threads whole, making it a breeze to filter once it was completely diffused in the cream.
Saffron Panna Cotta
Hands-on time: 30 minutes
Total time: 4 hours
1 envelope (1 tablespoon) unflavored gelatin
2 tablespoons cold water
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 pinch saffron threads
5 whole cardamom pods
pinch of salt
whipped cream flavored with a few drops of rose water, dried food-grade roses and chopped pistachios (optional, for garnish and serving)
Prepare 8 (1/2 cup) ramekins or 6 small parfait dishes by arranging them on a rimmed baking sheet.
Place the two tablespoons of cold water in the smallest pot you have. Sprinkle the gelatin over the water—the water will immediately absorb it and start to seize up. Use your finger or a small spoon to stir to make sure the gelatin has been evenly distributed. Set the saucepan over low heat and use a heat-proof rubber spatula (a wooden spoon or regular spoon also work) and gently stir the gelatin until it completely dissolves, about one minute. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.
Prepare the panna cotta by combining the cream, milk, sugar, saffron and cardamom in a medium-sized pot. Place over medium-low heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Continue cooking until large bubbles start to expand all over the pot, about 7 minutes. Remove the pot from the heat, cover, and allow the saffron and cardamom to diffuse for 15 minutes. Strain the cream into a large bowl and discard the cardamom pods and threads.
If the gelatin has solidified, gently reheat on low, stirring until dissolved, about 30 seconds. Pour the melted gelatin into the cream, and stir until combined. Distribute the cream evenly among the serving dishes (ramekins or small parfait dishes). Allow to sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes. Cover with plastic and transfer to the refrigerator. The panna cotta is ready to enjoy once the cream has set, which takes about 3 hours in the refrigerator. Keep it refrigerated until you’re ready to serve. This is a great make-ahead dessert, and will keep for up to three days, covered, in the refrigerator.
Note: The panna cotta is excellent as is, but it can be topped with whipped cream and crushed nuts. I like toasted pistachios for this dish. I also added some crushed food-quality dried rose petals for a little flair.
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