Panna cotta al caffè

Observation: I've found that here in Rome, dessert can (at times!) seem like sort of an afterthought. I know, I know! It sounds odd -- after all, Italy and the capital in particular is known for its outstanding record of allowing one to mangiare bene, consistently -- but go to your average trattoria or osteria and you'll find that while the spaghetti alla carbonara and rigatoni all'amatriciana are spot on, the end to the meal is often just-okayOn the typical menu: classic tiramisu, usually with a disproportionate cake/cream ratio and a layer of cocoa powder sprinkled just a bit too thick; millefoglie, usually on the too-sweet side with less-than-crisp pastry; there's the decent but forgettable profiteroles and tartufo di gelato and panna cotta, and honestly, if I want something sweet I usually opt for the fresh fruit (currently: watermelon, my obsession, see here). 

So! Panna cotta -- the start of today's post -- is a dessert I've never been too crazy about, mostly because I'd only ever eaten it in a restaurant where dessert was edible but not craveable!, and therefore it merited about a B-, B at best in my book. Panna cotta as I knew it was rather gummy, a little one-note in terms of flavor, served with excessive amounts of sauce poured over -- caramel, fruit, or chocolate, take your pick -- with an odd, jello-esque jiggle. That being said, I do miss baking and churning out sweets once the summer rolls around-- today its a very non oven-friendly 100 degrees Fahrenheit, to give you an idea of what we're dealing with -- and when I came across this recipe, it got my attention. Panna cotta after all requires no oven and very minimal cooking, just a few minutes on the stove (it is literally is translated as cooked cream, fyi) the whole thing coming together in a matter of minutes before being left to set for a few hours in the (wonderfully cold!) fridge. I decided to give it a try, if only to have a little homemade dessert around, (heat need not apply) and, well, I guess I didn't know panna cotta at all, because this, my friends, was a clear A+++, downright special. It was marvelously creamy and rich and just jiggly enough, sweet but with a perfectly distinct coffee flavor, reminiscent of an iced coffee, extremely refreshing and cold and I loved every bite. This panna cotta al caffe' was nothing like those of my past -- homemade is nearly always best, isn't it? -- and I think it might just be my new favorite summer dessert, step aside crisps and pies. 

And asking for a friend here, but: this has coffee in it, which technically means it would be okay for breakfast, right?!

A couple of notes: As you can see from the pictures here the panna cotta took on a sort of two-tone, which I suspect is due to some of the coffee that sunk to the bottom. I didn't expect this to happen and Giallo Zafferano's photos showed panna cotta that were a more uniform color. In any case, they were delicious and looked really cool this way, so whatever happens when you make them, you can't go wrong. If you don't have a vanilla bean, a little vanilla extract should work fine here too, but I would whisk it in after the whole mixture is off the stove. Finally, I grated a little chocolate over the top of these but feel free to serve with some chocolate sauce. 

Looking for other coffee-ish desserts? I've got this crema di caffe' and these coffee blondies. Want more no cook desserts? I've got these butterscotch pudding pops, these raspberry yogurt popsicles, this chocolate chip cookie icebox cake, this chocolate gelato, and this vanilla salted caramel ice creamFor really good sweets in Rome by the way, check out this post here!

Recipe from Giallo Zafferano. Serves 6.

Ingredients for the panna cotta:
10 tablespoons (150 mL) of coffee
2 cups (500mL) of heavy cream
1/2 cup (100 grams) of sugar
2 sheets or 1/4 of an ounce (8 grams) gelatin sheets
Half of a vanilla bean

Fill a bowl with cold water and leave the gelatin sheets in there to soften. In the meantime, pour the cream into pot and then whisk in the sugar. Slice open the vanilla bean with a sharp knife, scrape out the seeds as much as you can, and add to the cream mixture (I just toss in the rest of the bean as well to let it infuse the cream) Bring the whole thing to a bubble, and once at this stage, drain and wring out the gelatin sheets and add them to the cream mixture, then whisk again for a minute or so.

Add the coffee, whisk again, and then take the pot off the stove and pour the whole mixture through a strainer to ensure it is perfectly smooth. Pour your almost-panna cotta into six custard cups, and then leave it to set in the fridge for 3-4 hours. 

Unmold each panna cotta, dipping each one in a bowl of hot water and running a knife dipped in hot water around the edge of each to loosen them. Place on individual dishes, and serve each with a grating or so of chocolate and a few chocolate covered coffee beans to garnish, if you have them.

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