Pumpkin Panna Cotta

My love for panna cotta started when we had to make panna cotta at one of our practical classes at university.

Don’t you wish you could eat more panna cotta? Panna cotta is a good as dessert gets! Unfortunately, we hardly ever see it on menus (or maybe I just don’t eat out too often & at the right restaurants?). The other problem I have with trying something I have not eaten at a specific restaurant (in other words – the UNKNOWN) is that I am often disappointed. We went to an Italian restaurant recently and to my surprise there was panna cotta on the dessert menu. Obviously I had to give it a try. I must say the texture was great – it was really smooth, delicate and extremely light and it had that wobble to it, but the flavour was disappointing and dull. So once again, it left me feeling dissapointed.

If you are Afrikaans, most of you probably grew up with ‘flamby’ desserts – the instant crème caramel / flan packs that your mom used to make. She even had the little ‘flamby’ sets especially for this instant dessert that we all loved. Random fact: ‘Flamby’ is actually a French trademark product name owned by Nestlé and Lactalis. It is the name for a caramel custard dessert that is packaged and sold in little plastic ‘pots’.  The correct word is actually ‘Flanby’.

At the restaurant one of the guests at our table asked me what panna cotta was and I had to explain it to him. When my panna cotta dessert arrived, he said: “Oh, it’s a flamby!” And I just had to laugh and sort of agree! Créme caramel is made of an egg custard that has been poured over a caramel sauce and is then cooked in a bain marie in an oven. As you unmold the créme caramel, the caramel has melted and now serves as a sauce for the baked custard. The egg serves as a thickening agent in crème caramel and sets it. Panna cotta does not have any eggs in, but relies on the gelatine to set the mixture in the fridge. A sauce for panna cotta is only added after the dessert has been unmolded.

Too much information for one day? 🙂  Okay, let’s get back to the point.

The question remained: Why have I not made my own panna cotta at home?

I don’t know why I have never attempted this simple dish ever again after university. Being autumn and all, I thought it would work well to incorporate the autumn flavours into this dessert.

A lot of times cooks are scared to work with gelatine & I can guarantee you there is no need to feel this way – it all comes down to knowing the basics about gelatine. Here are some tips:

  • In South Africa we hardly get leaf gelatine or gelatine sheets, so we normally use powdered gelatine & to tell you the truth I prefer working with powdered gelatine. Powdered gelatine is easily available at most grocery shops. You can even buy larger quantities of gelatine at baking shops.
  • You need to ‘bloom’ powdered gelatine. Blooming is a very important step in ensuring your gelatine is properly incorporated into your mixture and ensuring that your end product does not separate.
  • You can bloom gelatine in almost any liquid, not just water. The liquid always has to be room temperature or colder. NEVER hot liquid.
  • To bloom gelatine, the ratio is more or less 1 part gelatine : 2 parts liquid. Pour the liquid into a small bowl (like a ramekin) and pour the gelatine over it. The gelatine will absorb the liquid and swell, but still keeping its granules. You need to melt the gelatine either in a water bath on the stove or in the microwave. Using the microwave is way easier and quick.
  • Be careful not to let the gelatine boil. If gelatine boils it loses structural integrity and it might not set. Once all of the granules are melted, remove from the heat, or stop the microwave and set aside to cool to room temperature.
  • If it starts to harden before you are ready to add it to your mixture, you can just reheat it.
  • Do not add hot gelatine to cold mixes. You can, however, add the hot melted gelatine straight to hot mixtures.
  • It is best to add gelatine to a recipe as one of the very last steps as it will start working quite quickly if the mixture is quite cold.

Once you see how it easy it really is to prepare panna cotta, you will make it at home all the time! Once again, feel free to experiment with flavours and combinations.

I must say that this is not the lightest or smoothest panna cotta I have ever tasted. It has pumpkin in after all, so immediately your brain should tell you that it cannot be as light as a mere honey or vanilla panna cotta, but there are a few tips to make the pumpkin as smooth as possible (please read recipe for tips). In this panna cotta’s defence I must say that it has the wobble to it and is very flavourful with all the right spices – a perfect autumn dessert.

I have made a simple rooibos syrup to serve with the panna cotta. I have also added a dollop of freshly whipped cream.  The sauce is really sweet, so make sure that it is not too thick and make sure you only pour a very, very thin layer thereof.

You can make panna cotta in ramekins, dariole moulds, or if you don’t mind your panna cotta having an ‘old school’ twist, you can use your little ‘flamby’ plastic containers – the panna cotta slides out of the moulds without effort. If you are using dariole mould or ramekins, you can take a sharp paring knife and loosen the edges or you can dip the mould into hot water for a few seconds to loosen the edges so that the panna cotta doesn’t stick to the mould.

Cups - FB

Dariole Mold Plating - FB

Plastic Mould with Spoon - FB

Pumpkin Panna Cotta & Rooibos Syrup

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 6 small containers

Adapted from: Pastry Affair


    Panna Cotta
  • 1 Cup Milk
  • 2½ Teaspoons Gelatine
  • 1 Cup Cream
  • 80ml Granulated Sugar
  • 1 Cup Pumpkin Purée (I used butternut, but any pumpkin will work; if you make your own, make sure to remove more of the skin than you would normally – the whiter parts don’t soften as easily and can cause your end result to have a coarse texture)
  • ½ Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
  • ⅛ Teaspoon Nutmeg
  • ⅛ Teaspoon Ground Ginger
  • A Pinch of Chinese All Spice
  • 1 Teaspoon Salt
    Rooibos Syrup
  • 250ml granulated sugar
  • 250ml water
  • 1 Teaspoon of Red Espresso (ground rooibos) or you can use a few teabags
  • 4 Vanilla Husks (vanilla beans already scraped out and used for something else)
  • 4 Black Peppercorns
  • 1 Star Anise
  • Rind of half a Small Orange
  • 2 Lemons


    Panna Cotta Instructions
  1. Work the pumpkin purée through a sieve and place it in a food processor. Add the cream, salt, all spices and salt. Blend until smooth.
  2. Bloom the gelatine with some of the milk.
  3. Add the rest of the milk to a saucepan and heat up. Add the pumpkin mix to the milk. Take an emulsion blender and blend the mixture to make sure more of the uneven pumpkin particles get broken down. Keep on heating this mixture.
  4. Melt the gelatine in the microwave and pour it into the hot pumpkin & milk mixture. Mix well for another 2 minutes. Please don’t let it boil.
  5. You can now pour out the mixture into your containers. Once the mixture is cool you can cover it and place in the fridge until it is set firmly. Mine was set overnight.
  6. Once the panna cot is set, unmold and add the rooibos syrup and a dollop of cream.
    Rooibos Syrup Instructions
  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a medium sized pot.
  2. Over very low heat, stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. If you are not sure, press onto the base of the pot with your finger. (Before you do this, please be sure that the mixture is not too hot). This step is crucial!
  3. Once all of the sugar is dissolved, boil the mixture over medium heat for about 12 minutes – DO NOT mix the sugar syrup – just leave the pot as is without stirring.
  4. Strain the syrup through a sieve to remove all of the larger flavour elements. Set it aside to cool.
  5. Once the syrup is cool, add the juice of 2 lemons and mix with some warm water to make sure it is not too thick. It should be not nearly as thick as the syrup you get at the supermarket. It should in fact be a little watery.
  6. Because the panna cotta already has sugar in, having too much or a too thick sauce on your plate will leave you ending up with a dessert that is inedible.
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