Burnt Caramel Panna Cottas

December 20, 2022
3 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland
  • Prep time 6 hours 10 minutes
  • Cook time 30 minutes
  • Serves 6 to 8
Author Notes

Translating literally to “cooked cream,” panna cotta is a classic Italian dessert of cream and sugar set with gelatin. It’s incredibly simple, an oft-unsung dessert hero, and the perfect blank canvas for endless variations—seasonal fruit, chocolate, or infusions of tea or coffee. No matter what flavors you choose, the method remains the same: bring cream (and sometimes milk) and sugar to a boil; add bloomed gelatin, pour the mixture into ramekins or cups, and then refrigerate until set. Some versions of panna cotta are firm enough to be unmolded and some are soft set and served in their cups.

In this (my favorite) version, a dark caramel lines each ramekin, inspired by the gorgeous golden ring of a flan. This panna cotta recipe lets me enjoy the caramel topping without the fuss of a water bath or long bake time, while providing a big wow factor. While this panna cotta will be set and ready to eat after six hours of chilling time, it will be even better after a day or two. The longer the panna cotta has to absorb the caramel, the better!

Working with gelatin can be intimidating to some, but it truly couldn’t be easier. Gelatin needs to be bloomed (or activated) in a small amount of cold water before being dissolved in hot liquid and left to set. The key when blooming gelatin is to use a wide bowl instead of a narrow cup so that the gelatin gets a lot of surface area to spread out over and absorb liquid. Sprinkle it evenly over the water (not in a pile) and let it sit for five minutes—it should dissolve and turn the water to a loose jelly. Next, simply add the hot panna cotta mixture to the gelatin and whisk well to ensure that it fully dissolves.

For a little something extra, a few fresh orange segments served on the side make a lovely pairing.
Zola Gregory

What You'll Need
  • 1 cup plus 6 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
  • 2 1/2 cups half-and-half
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1 pinch kosher salt
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons (1 envelope) gelatin powder
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  1. Select 6 to 8 small or medium heatproof ramekins or glasses; arrange on a tray. Set aside.
  2. Make a dry caramel: Place 1 cup of sugar in a large saucepan and place over medium heat. Once the sugar begins to melt, start stirring it occasionally, using a wooden spoon, to help the sugar melt evenly. Avoid the urge to remove it from the heat as soon as the sugar is melted—the caramel is done once it has turned a deep amber color, by which point it will be smoking lightly, about 10 minutes total (if you’re nervous about burning, turn the heat to low once the sugar has melted, which will take an additional 5 to 7 minutes, but you’ll have more control). Immediately remove the pan from the heat and divide the caramel between the ramekins.
  3. Start the panna cottas. add ¼ cup cold water to the bottom of a large pitcher or bowl with a pouring lip. Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over the surface of the water (not in a pile) and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes or until the gelatin powder is mostly absorbed.
  4. Combine the half-and-half, cream, remaining 6 tablespoons sugar, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until the mixture comes to a boil—about 5 minutes. Once the cream mixture comes to a boil, remove it from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Pour the hot liquid into the pitcher with the gelatin and stir for at least 1 minute to ensure the gelatin fully dissolves.
  5. Divide the hot panna cotta between the ramekins. Gently tap each to remove any air bubbles, then press plastic wrap to the surface of each panna cotta and chill for at least 7 hours or overnight. Store uneaten panna cottas in their ramekins in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Zola Gregory
    Zola Gregory
  • Amy

3 Reviews

Amy January 22, 2023
I tried this recipe two times. The first time, I let the caramel go to a dark amber and it tasted burnt and was rock hard in the bottom after being refrigerated with the panna cotta for 12 hrs. The second time, I stopped the caramel earlier, but it also was rock hard in the bottom after almost 20 hrs. The custard is fine and good, but the caramel does not soften and you have a base of hard caramel stuck to the glass.
Zola G. January 22, 2023
Hi Amy, So sorry to hear you had trouble with this recipe! Not all of the caramel will turn to liquid, this is true.

I would recommend unmolding the panna cottas: simply run a butterknife around the insides of the ramekin and invert over a small plate. The liquid caramel will cascade over the inverted panna cotta and the hardened caramel will remain in the ramekin. (For easy cleaning, simply soak the ramekins until the hardened caramel is dissolved).

I hope this helps!
Amy January 22, 2023
thanks for the response. My experience in cleaning the ramekin was that repeated bouts in the microwave followed by boiling water finally cleaned them. It was pretty labor intensive (water alone did not do the trick). The recipe was good, but there is a lot of hardened caramel left in the bottom of the ramekins...