Since becoming gluten-free, dessert out at restaurants has been a much less joyous affair—unless, of course, there’s a salted caramel ice cream sundae on the menu, and then I’m IN. But most of the time there are only one or two options. And since most restaurants follow a certain formula with their dessert menus, those options are usually ice cream, crème brulee, or panna cotta.
For years I was resistant to panna cotta as my default dessert choice. It wasn’t something I would have ever ordered before I was gluten-free, so why waste my sugar consumption on something that didn’t make me want to do Meg Ryan impressions at the table?
The root of my bias was that panna cotta resides in the flan family. And there’s just no more mediocre dessert than flan. But I’ve discovered through many a family-style forced consumption that panna cotta is a much more delicate beast. It’s creamier, lighter, and less egregiously wiggly jiggly on the plate, even though it’s made with the help of gelatin. It’s also silly easy to make.
Because of my resistance to being put in a (gluten-free cake) box, this was the first time I actively accepted panna cotta as a willful part of my life and attempted to make it. I went with a dairy-free version using velvety full-fat coconut milk. I was a little afraid of heating the milk to the point where it boiled over the pot and created the world’s most annoying mess on my stovetop, which, as you can guess, is something that I’ve cleaned on more than one occasion (usually at the hand of this dish). As a result, my coconut panna cotta recipe didn’t set to the point where I would have turned them out onto a plate. But I didn’t mind this. They tasted no less creamy and delicious when eaten as a pudding.
A few pointers for new coconut panna cotta makers: whisk the coconut milk thoroughly before adding the gelatin since it tends to separate in the can. Some people deal with this later on by running their mixture through a sieve before pouring it into ramekins, but as I mentioned here, I am way too lazy to this step. I used a bit less maple syrup than I found in other recipes and found that it had the perfect sweetness for me. If you have a highly honed sweet tooth, you might want to add more.
To make this a Fourth of July themed affair, I garnished my pudding cups with a simple blueberry compote and some chopped strawberries. If you have fresh herbs on hand, they make for a beautiful and bright addition to the fruit. Charlie especially liked the flecks of mint in each bite.
If I’m out on the town, a salted caramel sundae still puts poor old panna cotta to shame. But when given the choice at home, a cup of this healthy dessert is a little bit more my speed on a school night.
Coconut Panna Cotta with Berry Compote
In a small saucepan, whisk the coconut milk until smooth. Sprinkle in the gelatin and whisk until incorporated. Let stand for 10 minutes so the gelatin can "bloom."
Set the saucepan over medium-high heat. Warm the coconut milk, stirring constantly, until it starts to steam and the gelatin appears to be fully dissolved. Do not bring to a boil - you just want the milk to heat to the point where the mixture is smooth. Off the heat, whisk in the syrup and vanilla.
Carefully pour the mixture into 4 ramekins or custard cups (I transferred mine first to a 4-cup measure to make pouring easier. Some people recommend straining through a sieve, but I found that my mixture was plenty smooth without this step).
Refrigerate for the panna cotta for at least 5 hours, or overnight. When ready to serve, divide the compote between the ramekins and garnish with the strawberries.
If you want to serve the panna cotta on a plate, simple submerge the sides of the ramekins in warm water for 15 seconds, then invert onto a dish. The panna cotta should slip right out.