Monday, 30 August 2010

Points Counting and Panna Cotta

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 I have a bit of a baking dilemma: when I'm in London, I have very little equipment/space, but there are people around who will eat the things I make.  When I'm in San Francisco, at my parents' house, I have all the beautiful, fancy equipment and stainless steel countertops a girl could desire, but nobody will touch my creations.  Why is this?  Well, I blame weight watchers.

 See, my mom and my sister labor under the mistaken notion that they should be thinner than they are naturally, and so need to control every morsel they put in their mouths– thus their lives are dictated by 'points.'  Dinnertime conversations are dominated by discussions of 'one-point' snacks and 'no-points' cooking techniques.  They thrill at a zero-points steamed veggie, swoon at a low-calorie, high fiber granola bar.

And so you see my problem.  I looooove to bake, especially with all kinds of naughty, high-point ingredients like (GASP) butter and (DOUBLE GASP) white flour.  But I hate watching my scrumptious brownies or perfect banana bread languish on the counter, alone and uneaten (and I also hate eating the whole thing on my own and then feeling blimpish...).  And so, despite my skepticism of their "not a diet a lifestyle" lifestyle, I decided this time, for my mom's birthday, to bite the bullet and try to make something they could eat with little guilt.

And so was born: low fat, low calorie, nearly guilt free panna cotta.  But it wasn't an easy road.  Nor a short one.  It took three recipes, and four attempts, over a space of a month, to get the results I wanted.

I started with a recipe that used nonfat greek yogurt in place of cream, which I was pretty excited about, given how much I love greek yogurt.  Alas, although it came out looking lovely and tangily tasty, the texture was a bit grainy, and definitely not the creamy indulgence of real panna cotta.  I think I probably messed up somewhere along the line (I have a feeling the heat of my electric stove curdled the yogurt or something), but I wasn't really interested in trying again.  Pretty, though, especially with some raspberry sauce on top!

Next up, I tried a more traditional recipe, swapping out half-fat single cream.  Now this was real panna cotta!  Creamy, sweet, and delicious.  But not low-fat enough, unfortunately.  Too bad, because it sure was scrummy.  And pretty!

So last but not least, once I was in the land of the fake fat (the good ole USofA), I tried one more thing: Nonfat Half n Half.  I know, I know.  Not possible, right?  Well, it turns out it is, and it actually tastes pretty good, as long as you suspend disbelief and try not to think about the chemical processing involved.  So I found yet another recipe, this time from dessert boss David Lebovitz, and swapped out the majority of the cream for Nonfat Half n Half (from Trader Joe's, so how unhealthy could it be?), subbing a bit of whole milk to make up for the texture issues, and viola!  A beautiful AND tasty result:

The only thing was, because of the thinness of the Nonfat cream/milk combo, the gelatin made the texture just a bit chewier than I would have liked.  I consulted with my awesome cousin, who just happens to be an even more awesome chef at this bad-ass resort, and her suggestion was to cut the gelatin.  Which I did.  And the next day, finally, after much searching and testing and tasting, we all agreed that I had hit upon a damn tasty recipe for a pretty scrummy panna cotta, which weighs in at– wait for it– 127 calories per serving!  WHAT.  For serious.

In case you couldn't tell, I'm pretty durned proud.  Of course, when my mom's bday actually rolled around, we went out to dinner.  Doh.

"Panna"* Cotta :
   Serves 4

2c "cream" (1.5c nonfat 1/2 and 1/2 + .5c whole milk)
1/4c sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split
1/2 packet (2.25 tsp) gelatin
3 T cold water

Heat the "cream" and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, stirring often to avoid burning.  When the sugar has dissolved completely, remove the saucepan from the heat and scrape in the insides of the vanilla bean, adding the scraped bean hull as well.  

Cover and set aside to infuse for 30 minutes, then reheat, removing the bean hull.

Lightly oil 4 ramekins (or don't, and just eat the panna cotta out of pretty glasses).  In a medium-sized bowl, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water and let stand 5-10 minutes.

When the gelatin is ready, pour the very warm "cream" mixture into the bowl with the gelatin and stir until all the gelatin has dissolved and the mixture is entirely smooth.

Divide into the ramekins/glasses and chill for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight.  Enjoy, guilt-free!

Nutrition Info Per Serving (based on recipe analysis):
Calories: 127.6
Fat: 2.26 g 
Protein: 4.84 g

WW Points: 3

*Panna is cream in Italian, so I didn't feel right using that word without scare quotes.  As far as I know, though, there isn't a word for 'nonfat half n half' in italian.  Unless it's something like 'cazzata'...


  1. Yum! I'm going to have to try this. I'm always in an endless search for delicious ww recipes.

  2. If you made this, I will eat it!! What a great recipe :)

  3. Thanks, guys! I hope you like it as much as I did!


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