Sunday, December 14, 2014

Vanilla Panna Cotta Using China Grass/Agar Agar

Panna Cotta is an Italian dessert prepared using fresh cream and full fat milk. Panna Cotta means "Cooked Cream, with a smooth and velvetty like texture which can be achieved by using China Grass/Agar Agar powder. You can also use gelatin instead. As gelatin is not a vegan option I opted for china grass. China grass can be easily found in any departmental store in the aisle where you can find other baking/pudding ingredients.

I was introduced to this dessert from one of the cookery shows. From then on it was on my To Taste and Try list. Few months back I happened to taste this in the Cream Centre restaurant and it was absolutely heavenly. Just melted in my mouth. I desperately wanted to try this and planned for a special occasion. Yeah, its been one year since I started this blog and its our anniversary too. So here comes one special recipe with lots of tips that I have learnt. I got it right only on my third attempt and all my learnings are here for the benefit of you :-)

What does a perfect panna cotta look like? Once you pour the cooked cream in any mould or ramekins and refrigerate, it should be set in 5 or 6 hours. Set in the sense, you should be able to flip it down and unmould it. Still it should hold its shape. Nor runny or too cheesy either. It should wibble-wobble like a jelly and should be soft and creamy when you eat. It can be achieved with the right quantity of china grass/agar agar. If too less it wont set, if too much it will be too stiff and cheesy. Fresh cream and full fat milk are the must. They cannot be substituted with any other ingredients. Else the you won't get the exact creamy and soft texture and taste.

Vanilla extract or vanilla essence? Both are really different. Vanilla extract is originally obtained from the vanilla bean or pod in the natural way. Whereas vanilla essence is just the flavor obtained by some chemical processing and is watery than the extract. Vanilla essence can be replaced for extract just use a little more than the mentioned quantity. 

Here comes the recipe!


Fresh Cream - 1/2 cup
Full fat milk - 1/2  cup
Sugar - 2-3 tbsp
Vanilla extract - 1 tsp (OR) Vanilla essence - 1 1/2 tsp
China Grass/Agar Agar powder - 2 tsp
Water - 2 tbsp

  1. Slightly grease the moulds in which you are going to pour the cooked cream with any unflavored oil. 
  2. Heat the water in a small vessel, once it starts boiling turn off the flame and add the agar agar powder. Stir well until it dissolves and set aside.
  3. Take a heavy bottomed pan and add the fresh cream, full fat milk and sugar. Bring to a boil in low flame. Stir well so the sugar dissolves completely. Now add the agar agar dissolved water to this, mix well and cook on low flame for two more minutes. Turn off the flame and add the vanilla extract. Mix well and immediately pour into the greased moulds.
  4. Allow them to come to room temperature and then refrigerate for 5-6 hours or overnight. Even before refrigerating, the mixture would have thickened and starts setting. 
  5. To unmould, run a thin knife around the sides of the mould/ramekin. Dip the mould in a bowl containing water for 5-10 seconds. Invert the mould over a serving plate and shake it gently so that it can easily come out of the mould and fall in the plate.
It is very important to cook the china grass dissolved water along with milk and cream for atleast couple of minutes. I missed this step in my first two attempts and the panna cotta didn't set at all. Do not worry, if it didn't set. Take it out of the refrigerator and add it again to a heavy bottomed pan and cook for few minutes. Allow to cook down and now refrigerate. Voila, its all set now and ready to be enjoyed :-)

Serving suggestions
  • Garnish with fresh fruits (any berries, pomogranate etc.) 
  • Drizzle with chocolate sauce
  • Warm some strawberry or fruit jam with very less water and drizzle on top of it
  • Sprinkle some grated chocolates or chopped nuts

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