Panna cotta is a dessert that shows up on restaurant menus a lot more than it does in home kitchens, but the simple dish is one that is very easy to make at home. Panna cotta, or “cooked cream” in Italian, is a dessert that consists of a lightly sweetened cream mixture that is set with a small amount of gelatin. The gelatin allows the cream to thicken without needing to use eggs or starches, like many other types of custard do. Only a very small amount of gelatin is used, just enough to hold the cream together without giving the dish a tough or jello-like texture. The result is a dessert that has an exceptionally light and silky mouthfeel. Panna cottas can be flavored with a whole variety of different ingredients, but their richness and body comes from the cream that makes up the base of the dessert.
Typically, panna cotta will be unmolded before serving. I find that unmolding it primarily serves to showcase the texture of the dessert, and how something that feels so light on the tongue can still hold together on the plate. That said, it is absolutely not necessary to unmold this dessert before serving. You can simply put it out for dessert right in the ramekin, or other small dish, that it was made in and you’ll get that delicate texture with even less fuss.