Although this silky-smooth, crazy-delicious Salted Butterscotch Panna Cotta has a fancy name and beautiful presentation, it may go down in history as one of the easiest desserts you’ll ever make!
I’m here to debunk a myth. Just because something looks and sounds fancy and has an elegant Italian name doesn’t mean it’s difficult to make and/or will take hours in the kitchen! This Salted Butterscotch Panna Cotta is the perfect example. The panna cotta itself is made from four simple ingredients and will take less than 10 minutes of hands-on time. The butterscotch sauce is one of our ridiculously easy recipes (and ridiculously delicious) and the “salted” part simply involves sprinkling a little flaky sea salt over the top before serving. See what I mean?
What is panna cotta?
If you’re not familiar with panna cotta, it’s a wonderful Italian dessert that’s made of sweetened cream that is thickened with unflavored gelatin. The English translation for panna cotta is “cooked cream” which doesn’t sound particularly intriguing but, believe me, panna cotta is a fabulous dessert that everyone seems to love. And this Salted Butterscotch Pana Cotta is particularly delicious!
Panna cotta needs to be refrigerated before serving as the chilling allows the gelatin to do its work. It’s often served as a molded dessert which simply means that it’s chilled then unmolded onto a serving plate for an elegant presentation. I personally think that it’s just as lovely served in a pretty glass container and it’s much easier, since you don’t have to fuss with the unmolding process.
What does it taste like?
Panna cotta tastes like a silky smooth custard. A perfect panna cotta is not super dense like pudding but light (sorry not in calories) and firm, yet slightly wobbly in consistency. Since the base is simply cream sugar and gelatin, the taste depends on what you use to flavor or top it with. In the case of this Salted Butterscotch Panna Cotta, it’s a vanilla bean base topped with our delicious Ridiculously Easy Butterscotch Sauce.
I’ve served this Salted Butterscotch Panna Cotta several times to guests and the response is similar after the first spoonful, either a little moan, an “Oh wow!” or a “So good!” I mean who wouldn’t love a silky smooth, vanilla bean-infused custard topped with the most outrageously delicious butterscotch sauce topped with a sprinkle of flaky sea salt?
Panna cotta is a very easy dessert to make however there are a few important rules to follow.
- Bloom the gelatin. Blooming in regards to gelatin simply means to sprinkle it into a cold liquid and let it sit and disolve for 4-5 minutes. In this Salted Butterscotch Panna Cotta recipe, the gelatin is “bloomed” in a cup of cold milk for 5 minutes. Then it’s combined with cream, sugar and vanilla and heated in a saucepan.
- Never boil mixtures containing gelatin. The culinary experts over at Serious Eats explain that “gelatin’s strength rapidly declines above 212°F, or when it’s held at that temperature for an extended period of time.” In this recipe, that means it’s important to keep an eye on the milk/cream mixture as it heats. When you start to see tiny bubbles form at the edges, it’s ready to be transferred to your serving containers and chilled.
- Don’t decrease the sugar. Sugar proportions are important anytime you’re working with gelatin according to Serious Eats as “Sugar encourages gelatin to form shorter protein chains, creating tenderness in desserts, so cutting back can lead to seemingly gooier results.”
- It’s also important to measure the ingredients carefully when making panna cotta as the proportion of liquid ingredients to gelatin is what will give you that perfect set.
So there you have it, just a few things to remember for fail-proof panna cotta. Next time (maybe tonight), you want a delicious dessert that takes minimal effort, make a batch of this beyond delicious Salted Butterscotch Panna Cotta. Remember, the hands-on time is short but the panna cotta will need time to chill, so plan ahead. I think you’ll be delighted with the results and this easy Italian dessert will become a best friend in your entertaining repertoire!
Café Tips for making this Salted Butterscotch Panna Cotta
- I love to serve this dessert in little Weck jars which reveals the pretty layers. It can also be served in cocktail glasses, martini glasses, tall shot glasses, espresso cups, small parfait glasses, yogurt jars… just about anything that strikes your fancy! The only words of wisdom I would recommend is to keep the servings small as it is a fairly rich dessert made with heavy cream (although my husband might not agree!).
- This recipe calls for unflavored gelatin. Unflavored gelatin can be purchased at most grocery stores in the same area that you would find Jello. It can also be purchased very inexpensively in bulk, just in case you become a panna cotta aficionado!
- If possible, use a flaky sea salt for this Salted Butterscotch Panna Cotta. If you’ve followed The Café for any length of time, you probably know that I’m a huge fan of Maldon Sea Salt. Maldon is a delicious flaky finishing salt that’s harvested off the coast of England, about 50 miles north of London. It’s perfect to add that gourmet touch to just about anything. It’s more expensive than kosher or regular table salt, but it’s not meant to be an every day salt, rather a salt used sparingly to finish. A box will last a long time. To use Maldon, grab a little pinch between your thumb and forefinger and rub them together to slightly crush the flakes.
- I occasionally substitute buttermilk for the milk in this recipe. The buttermilk adds a nice little tang,
- This panna cotta recipe calls for the seeds from one vanilla bean. If you’ve ever purchased vanilla beans, you know that they can be frightfully expensive (even more so for the past few years as there’s been a vanilla shortage due to weather issues in Madagascar where most of the world’s vanilla beans are harvested). I was thrilled recently to find a great source for reasonably priced vanilla beans. I love that these beans are soft and pliable and each one is filled with a zillion tiny vanilla seeds. The pods come in a small airtight package and keep fresh for a long time. I use vanilla beans more frequently now that I don’t have to pay an arm and a leg for one pod!
- How to remove the seeds from a vanilla bean? Don’t be intimidated by this, it’s really quite simple. Just place the bean so it lies flat on a cutting board. Now, use a small, sharp knife to cut just the tip off of each end. With the bean still laying flat, cut down the center of the bean, from one end to the other. Don’t cut all the way through the bean but rather just through the top layer. At this point, you should be able to fold the cut edges open, creating a flat, wide surface. Now scrap your knife down the length of the bean to remove all the delicious seeds. Don’t scrape too hard as you don’t want to remove the woody pulp from the pod. You’ll end up with a delicious little mound of vanilla seeds!
- A little side tip: there’s still a lot of flavor left in that scraped vanilla bean pod. I like to fill a jar with sugar and add the scraped pod. Within a few days the sugar is deliciously infused with vanilla. Use it in coffee, whipped cream or any recipe that calls for sugar.
Thought for the day:
We have this Hope as an anchor for the soul,
firm and secure.
What we’re listening to for inspiration:
If you enjoyed this recipe, please come back and leave a star rating and review! It’s so helpful to other readers to hear other’s results and ideas for variations.
Although this silky-smooth, crazy-delicious Salted Butterscotch Panna Cotta has a fancy name and beautiful presentation, it may go down in history as one of the easiest desserts you'll ever make!
- 1 cup milk I use whole milk
- 2½ teaspoons unflavored gelatin (1 packet of Knox)
- 1 vanilla bean pod or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 6 tablespoons sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon kosher salt
Add cold milk to a medium-size saucepan. Sprinkle the gelatin over the top and set aside for 5 minutes to soften the gelatin.
While the gelatin is softening, removed the seeds from the vanilla bean. (See Café Tips above in the post for directions on how to remove the seeds from a vanilla bean.)
Over medium heat, whisk the milk mixture until smooth and no lumps remain then add the cream, sugar, vanilla bean seeds (or vanilla) and salt.
Heat the mixture over medium heat, 5-8 minutes, to just below the boiling point. Little bubbles will be forming around the edges of the pan. Remove from the heat and pour into 6 small glasses or ramekins. Each serving should be ½ cup.
Refrigerate for at least 4 hours and up to 2 days.
Top each serving with 2 tablespoons butterscotch sauce and a pinch of flaky sea salt. (If the butterscotch sauce has been refrigerated, you may need to warm it in the microwave for 20-30 seconds.
See Café Tips above in the post for more detailed instructions and tips.
Nutritional information does not include the butterscotch sauce. See that post for the nutritional info.