Vanilla Panna Cotta with Poached Rhubarb

April 26, 2013

Vanilla Panna Cotta with Poached Rhubarb
You know when you buy a new car, and then you keep spotting that car everywhere you drive, as if it were the most popular car on the planet? Well, I don’t know if it’s just because I’ve been experimenting with panna cotta recipes of late, but I’m seeing this dessert everywhere – on every restaurant menu, reality TV cooking shows, etc. I’m not sure if panna cotta is enjoying a resurgence, or if perhaps this lovely Italian dessert never really left the spotlight.

Either way, its popularity is much deserved. It can be made ahead of time, and sits patiently in the fridge until its turn comes. And considering how impressive it looks and how luxurious it tastes, no one would ever guess just how simple it is to prepare. But what I love most about it is its versatility. Because panna cotta pairs so well with all sorts of flavours, it’s a dessert chameleon, changing with the seasons to allow endless variations.

This recipe showcases rhubarb – I’m thrilled that it’s currently in season, and can’t seem to get enough of it. The rhubarb’s bright red colour dramatically contrasts the panna cotta’s snowy white. And its tartness is gently tamed with some honey and vanilla, both of which complement the cream’s inherent sweetness.

Whether you make this panna cotta with rhubarb, whichever fruit is in season, or another flavour combination, I hope you enjoy this tasty dessert as much as I do.

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(Serves 4)

Panna Cotta

  • 2 cups (500 ml) heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon, in large strips (use vegetable peeler)
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 packet unflavoured gelatin (approx. 2 ¼ teaspoons or 10g) (I use GoBIO)
  • 3 tablespoons cold water
  • Coconut oil (if unmolding)

Poached Rhubarb

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • Zest of 1/2 lemon, in large strips (use vegetable peeler)
  • 1/2 vanilla bean (both the pod & the scraped out seeds, reserved from the panna cotta), or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 pound rhubarb stalks


Panna Cotta

1. If you will be unmolding your panna cotta, lightly grease your ramekins with coconut oil to prevent the panna cotta from sticking. Place your greased moulds in the fridge to chill. If you will not be unmolding, skip this step.

2. Add the cream, 1/2 cup water, honey, and strips of lemon zest to a saucepan. If using a vanilla bean, split it in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds with the back of a knife. Add half the pod and half the seeds to the saucepan and reserve the other half of the pod and the seeds for the rhubarb. If using vanilla extract, do not add it in yet.

3. Bring the cream mixture to a simmer over low heat, stirring frequently. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Cover and allow to steep for 30 minutes.

4. Bloom the gelatin: Pour the 3 tablespoons of cold water into a small bowl. Sprinkle the gelatin over the surface of the water so that it is not all clumped together. Let stand 5 minutes.

5. Reheat the cream mixture, bringing it to a simmer. Remove from the heat. Remove the vanilla bean pod and the lemon peel. If using vanilla extract, stir it in now.

6. Add the bloomed gelatin to the cream, stirring until all of the granules have dissolved.

7. Strain the panna cotta mixture. (Don’t skip this step! Straining ensures a smooth panna cotta by eliminating any bits of vanilla pod or lemon peel that were left behind, as well as any undissolved gelatin granules).

8. Pour the panna cotta mixture into your ramekins. Allow to cool.

9. Cover each ramekin with plastic wrap and place the ramekins in the fridge. Allow to chill for 4 hours. If you are making panna cotta in advance, still follow the next step and unmold after four hours, then return the unmolded panna cottas to the fridge.

10. Gently slide a thin, sharp knife around the edge of each panna cotta. Dip the ramekin into a bowl of hot tap water for 5 seconds (not allowing any water to enter the ramekin). Invert the ramekin over your serving plate* and gently shake the panna cotta to help it slide out. Be careful if you are using a thin glass vessel that has just come from the fridge, as placing it in hot water may cause it to shatter (not an issue with ramekins, custard cups, Pyrex, and other heatproof materials).


1. In a saucepan, bring to a boil all the ingredients except the rhubarb. Reduce the heat and maintain at a simmer.

2. Trim both ends of the rhubarb stalks, making sure to cut off all remnants of the leaves, which are toxic. Slice the rhubarb on a slight diagonal into 1 cm pieces.

3. In batches, add the sliced rhubarb into the simmering liquid, so as to not overcrowd the rhubarb. Poach the rhubarb for approximately 3 minutes, until it has started to soften, but before it becomes mushy – it will continue to cook once removed from the liquid. Use a slotted spoon to remove the rhubarb. Place the rhubarb on a large plate in a single layer. Continue poaching the rest of the rhubarb in batches.

4. After all the rhubarb has been poached and removed from the liquid, bring the liquid to a boil. Allow it to reduce for approximately 5 minutes until it has thickened into a syrupy but still runny consistency. If it becomes too syrupy, you can always add some more water. Remove the poaching liquid from the heat. Allow both the rhubarb and the syrup to cool completely.

5. Arrange the cooled rhubarb slices onto the panna cotta**. Pour the cooled syrup over top of, and surrounding the panna cotta. Serve right away or keep in the fridge until ready to serve.


* Small, rimmed plates are best because they allow the sauce to pool around the panna cotta.

** You will likely have some leftover rhubarb and syrup after you’ve plated your panna cotta. It makes for a delicious snack, with yogurt or whipped cream (coconut, heavy cream, or my favorite: crème fraîche).

If you enjoyed this recipe, please remember to share it (pinterest, facebook, twitter, etc.). Thanks!

Shared with Real Food Wednesdays.

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Leave a Comment


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Julie April 26, 2013 at 1:45 PM

Many thanks! This is my favorite kind of dessert!


[email protected] April 26, 2013 at 6:13 PM

We have similar tastes ;)


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