Panna Cotta

If you are a fan of sweet and creamy desserts, then you cannot miss Panna Cotta. This Italian dessert is so simple yet so delicious. When someone mentions Italian desserts, most people will think of sweet dishes such as tiramisu, panettone, or gelato. Little do they know that Panna Cotta is just as delightful as the other desserts on the list, and its recipe requires much lesser ingredients and very little effort.

Panna Cotta’s Origin

Until this day, Panna Cotta’s origin is still a big question. What we know is that this dessert first appeared in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy during the early 1900s. The first person who made Panna Cotta was believed to be a Hungarian woman. Later on, Panna Cotta made the list of the region’s traditional foods. The name Panna Cotta translates to “cooked cream,” and this is exactly what Panna Cotta is made of. It is made of cooked cream along with a few simple ingredients such as gelatin to keep the cream in shape, sugar to sweeten the dessert, and vanilla extract to give Panna Cotta its sweet aroma. According to some sources, Panna Cotta used to be just cooked fresh cream and was eaten with fruits. Then, someone cooked the fresh cream with fishbone to thicken the cream since the fishbone contains gelatin. By the time gelatin sheets and gelatin powder were invented, people began to use store-bought gelatin to make Panna Cotta.

What Makes Panna Cotta Special

Panna Cotta has a distinctive taste. Since it is a combination of cooked sweetened cream with gelatin, it tastes like jello but creamier in texture. The Panna Cotta often comes in various shapes and sizes depending on the cook’s purpose. If you want to share Panna Cotta with your family and friends, you can either pour the Panna Cotta mixture into one big mold or many smaller individual molds with the shape of your choice. Let it cool in the refrigerator for a few hours, cut into smaller parts, and enjoy with fresh fruits or whipped cream on top. If you want to make Panna Cotta for just yourself, you can make just a small batch of Panna Cotta mixture and pour it into smaller containers or molds so that you can eat some and reserve some. Since Panna Cotta is made out of cream, and the amount of sugar in Panna Cotta is much lesser than the amount of sugar in other desserts, the Panna Cotta gets spoiled very easily. Once it is spoiled, you cannot do anything except throw the whole batch away.

Photo by Karly Gomez on Unsplash

Panna Cotta’s Variations

Nowadays, as Panna Cotta gained its popularity, numerous variations have strayed away from the original recipe. To make Panna Cotta more appetizing and appealing to customers, restaurants developed their own Panna Cotta recipes. While the original Panna Cotta was often topped with caramel sauce or fresh fruits, Panna Cotta nowadays can also be topped with strawberry sauce, raspberry sauce, chocolate sauce, and so on. Instead of using only fresh cream, many Panna Cotta recipes today also call for fruit purees or syrup to give Panna Cotta its new flavors and looks.

Other than Italy, many other countries also adopted the Panna Cotta recipe and added their own twists to the list of ingredients. For instance, countries like China and Japan are well-known for their green tea, so they often make Panna Cotta flavored with green tea or matcha. Similar to the Europeans, a lot of Asian customers love chocolate, resulting in restaurants incorporating chocolate into Panna Cotta. In Korea, Panna Cotta often comes in small bottles and is eaten as both a snack and dessert. Bottled Panna Cotta does not have any topping or sauce on top and is eaten by using a small spoon to scoop it out of the bottle. In Vietnam, Panna Cotta is often enjoyed as a dessert. The Vietnamese version of Panna Cotta is slightly more interesting than other versions in my opinion. In Vietnam, people often pour cooked Panna Cotta mixture into square or rectangle pans and let it cool down in the refrigerator. Once cooled, the Panna Cotta is cut into squares or cubes. The Panna Cotta comes in many flavors but lychee is the most popular. To enjoy, Panna Cotta cubes are added into a bowl along with canned lychee, canned fruits of your choice, lychee syrup, ice, and sliced almonds. This dessert is available almost everywhere, from street stands to fine dining restaurants. During the hot summer months, Vietnamese people usually eat this dessert to cool down.

If you have never had Panna Cotta before, try making it today. You can either follow the original simple recipe or more complex recipes that you like.

Kulich

During Easter, it is no surprise that families around the world prepare all kinds of savory and sweet dishes to celebrate the end of the fast of Lent and the beginning of Easter. While in Western Europe the Hot Cross Buns are a staple sweet dessert that is loved by a lot of people, in Eastern Europe, especially Russia, Kulich is considered an answer to the Hot Cross Buns. In contrast to the Hot Cross Buns, Kulich or Russian Easter Bread is often baked in cylinder molds which give them a cylindrical shape instead of a dome shape. These cylinders of bread are both delicious and meaningful during Easter time.

As you may know, bread plays a very important role in religious ceremonies like Easter in many different countries around the globe. With that being said, Russia is no exception. During Easter, families in the Eastern Orthodox countries bake a variety of bread to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. In Russia specifically, people bake the semi-sweet, tall, cylinder-shaped kulich to serve on the dinner table alongside Paskha, a traditional Russian fresh cheese pudding. Until this day, the origin of Kulich still remains unknown, but its presence is always a necessity on Eastern European families’ dinner tables during Easter. Kulich is most popular in countries such as Russia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Romania, Georgia, Serbia, and Latvia. Since this bread has been around forever, many families believe that they have the most perfect delicious kulich recipe. Although the ingredients vary depending on each family’s preference, kulich is still considered a very tasty sweet treat with bright notes of citrus and spices.

Kulich is quite similar to the Italian panettone, in my opinion. It is very close to brioche but baked in cylindrical molds instead of being braided like the Pane di Pasqua from Italy. What I find to be the most interesting fact about kulich is that the bread contains a lot of dried fruits, nuts, and candied citrus peels. Based on my experiences, no matter which country a recipe comes from, as long as it incorporates dried fruits, nuts, and candied citrus fruits or peels inside, it will definitely taste good. The reason for this is simply because these ingredients balance out the sweetness of sugar and the creaminess of cream, eggs, or butter used in the recipe. Last but not least, to make kulich even more appealing to eat, it is often flavored with alcohols like rum or brandy, and spices like vanilla and saffron. As I was researching different kulich recipes, I found an interesting fact about another culture that is surprisingly similar to mine. In order to shape kulich into cylinders, people from Russian often use cans such as coffee cans or fruit tins instead of expensive molds. This is simply because people find it is handy to reuse what they have around the house instead of buying more stuff that you may not use more than once per year.

Aside from the delicious stuffing inside the bread, kulich is often decorated with a white sweet glaze on top and sprinkled with colorful candy bits, nuts, or candied citrus rind. What makes this bread special is the symbols it has on it. Similarly to the Paskha, Kulich is often decorated with letters XB, which stand for Христосъ Воскресе or “Christ is Risen.” The white icing on top of Kulich is believed to represent the church’s rooftop covered in snow. Some people also believed that it represents the priest’s hat. Before Kulich is enjoyed by the family, it will be brought along with Paskha and many other savory foods to the church and be blessed by the priest during midnight services.

If you want to try Kulich and cannot find it anywhere near you, try making it this Easter weekend instead.

Paskha

Today, let’s explore another tasty Easter dessert from one of the Eastern Orthodox countries, Russia. Just like many other Christian families who will be preparing all kinds of food, from savory to sweet, to celebrate the end of Lent and the beginning of Easter, the Orthodox Russians are also making an enormous amount of their own traditional Easter foods. These festive dishes consist of food that was forbidden to be consumed during the fast of Lent. During Holy Week, it is time for families to create a variety of savory dishes as well as sweet dishes. Among the sweet dishes, Paskha is a one-of-a-kind dish that is not only delightful but it also carries hidden meanings and traditional religious symbols related to Easter.

What is Paskha?

Paskha is also called pascha or pasha. It is a traditional sweet dish made from quark or curd cheese. If you have never heard of quark, it is a type of fresh cheese similar to cottage cheese but is often less watery. Although the look is very similar, the taste of curd cheese varies from region to region. In Western Europe, especially in Germany, quark and cottage are often considered to be different types of fresh cheese. Quark is often creamier than cottage cheese. In Eastern Europe, quark and cottage cheese are considered the same thing, but in Russia specifically, quark is much drier, and its texture is much grainier. Since milk products have been consumed for thousands of years, other countries have also created similar fresh cheese that is relatively similar to quark. In India, there is paneer, and in the Iberian Peninsular as well as some Latin American regions, there is queso fresco.

If you are a fan of cheesecake, then paskha will definitely steal your heart. This dessert is very similar to a no-bake cheesecake while it does not have a graham crust at the bottom. What makes Paskha’s taste more appealing than a cheesecake is that it contains dried fruit bits, nuts, and citrus zest. Usually, I find that a cheesecake is too rich in texture. It often makes me feel full too quickly before I could finish a slice. Although I mentioned that Paskha is similar to a cheesecake, the process of making paskha is somewhat different. In the traditional method, paskha is made in a mould. The mould is a wooden mold that has special symbols carved on the inside. Nowadays, some people also use a new flower pot or a plastic mould to create paskha’s unique shape. After the making process, paskha is often decorated with candied fruits or dried fruits.

Photo by Julia Frey on Vikalinka

Its Meanings

Even though paskha is a simple dish to serve on Easter, it also has many different hidden meanings. First of all, paskha is made out of fresh cheese, and its white color represents the purity of Christ and the Paschal Lamb. Secondly, the symbols carved on the inside of the mould are letter X and B which stands for Христосъ Воскресе, or “Christ is Risen.” Lastly, the mould is shaped like a pyramid which represents the Church. Some also said that the mould’s shape represents the Tomb of Christ. Therefore, all of the religious decorations of Paskha symbolize Jesus Christ’s Passion and Resurrection.

According to my friends from Russia, on Saturday afternoon, their family will pack all kinds of food, such as paskha, kulich, sausage, hard-boiled eggs, cabbage, horseradish, etc, in straw baskets before heading to the church for the midnight Easter service. During the midnight Easter service, the food will be blessed by a priest and later enjoyed by the family along with vodka and grape wine. To best serve paskha, the Russians often spread a generous amount of it on a slice of kulich, Russian Easter bread.

If paskha sounds interesting to you, let’s try making it this Easter weekend to share with your family or friends.