One of the simplest, yet most luxurious desserts must be panna cotta. It’s so rich that every bite feels like it’s bringing you closer to a life of diabetes. Recently, a friend of mine asked me to make some desserts for her low-key wedding reception. What better way to ring in a new marriage with a GIANT PANNA COTTA! For anyone needing an easy-to-make, crowd-pleasing, show-stopping dessert, a giant panna cotta must be on your list. Trust me, it definitely gets an ooh and aah factor from guests.
Before I embarked on making the giant panna cotta, there were a few concerns I had. Was the size of the panna cotta going to be too big? Would it collapse and not hold its shape? Did I even have big enough molds? To avoid potential kitchen mayhem, I decided to break it down, science style.
First: The Recipe
There are many great panna cotta recipes in books and on the web but I was looking for something specific. I needed a panna cotta that was smooth and creamy, yet had enough structural integrity to hold together. Therefore, I searched for a recipe for a cream-based panna cotta, rather than a milk-based panna cotta. Milk-based panna cotta recipes can give you a much more delicate texture, but I was far too worried that this would make my panna cotta collapse.
After a little digging, I found a suitable recipe in the Italian cooking bible The Silver Spoon. I’d read reviews of the recipe, which stated that the panna cotta came out “far too dense”. But for me, that gave me more confidence that the giant version would hold up.
So with my recipe all chosen (a similar one can be found here), I still needed to decide on one key aspect: how big should I make the panna cotta???
Second: Size Matters
When it comes to show-stopping desserts, size most definitely matters. The larger the panna cotta, the greater the Wow-Factor. I found a large bowl in my house that was a suitable mould. Importantly, it was wide (about 28 cm in diameter) without being too deep. I opted for this shallow bowl as a tall panna cotta was more prone to collapse than a shorter panna cotter.
Once I selected the bowl, I had to determine the volume of it, so I knew how much panna cotta to make. To do this, I weighed the bowl empty and filled to the top with water. The mass of water needed was then used to determine the volume, remembering that 1 kg of water equals to 1 L of water. Of course, you could always fill the bowl with one cup of water at a time until you reach the top.
The bowl I used had a volume of about 3.5 L, so I decided to make 4 L of panna cotta, just in case. The recipe from The Silver Spoon used 475 mL of cream and 100 mL of milk, giving me a total of about 575 mL of panna cotta. Therefore, I needed to multiply the recipe by about 7 to give me 4 L.
One the calculation was made, I bought all the ingredients and with a bit of effort, the panna cotta mixture was made. I poured the still-hot mix into the slightly-oiled bowl, making sure to fill it right to the top. The reason why you want the mix to reach the top is that when you go to unmould it, the bowl will be flipped upside down onto a plate. Therefore, you don’t want the panna cotta to have to drop from a great height before it hits the plate. The smaller the drop, the less chance for collapse.
Once the mix was in the bowl, I put it into the fridge to set over night. Then, it was time to serve! (Note: you may wish to cover the panna cotta with plastic wrap to a) stop a skin from forming on the top and b) to stop fridge smell permeating your dessert. I personally didn’t bother and it turned out fine).
Serving the panna cotta proved to be slightly harder than I expected. The first challenge was finding a big enough plate that could accommodate a 28 cm diameter dessert. I searched around my house, but had no luck, while attempts to find a cheap second-hand plate failed. However, a chance trip to Bunnings pointed me to 40 cm in diameter plastic plant saucer that was exactly what I needed. Bunnings and desserts aren’t exactly synonymous but when you’re broke, you’ve got to be resourceful. The plant saucer set me back $8.
With my panna cotta set firm in the fridge and my plant saucer turned wedding platter washed and ready, all I needed to do was unmould and serve! I took out the panna cotta from the fridge and place the plate on top. I then flipped both upside down and jiggled the bowl until the panna cotta was released from its prison. And to my relief, it slid out perfectly! I even had a blow-torch on hand should the thing stick to the sides of the bowl, but it was not needed.
And there you have it, giant panna cotta success! I finished it off with a ring of berries to give it much needed acidity and freshness. You could also make some kind of berry coulis, which is probably more economical than smothering the thing with expensive fruit. The final touch on my giant wedding panna cotta was the bride and groom figurines, which perched on top of the white dome.
Presenting the wedding panna cotta to the guests was such a high. People were taking lots of photos, pointing at the dessert and generally appreciating the effort. The research and stress was worth it! At the end of the day, one of the guests came up to me and gave me a napkin. On it, she wrote 9.8/10 great panna cotta (???). Turns out I needed to add some chocolate to get that extra 0.2!