panna cotta

panna cotta with a red current couli and some raspberries

Panna cotta made with eastern Mediterranean flavours: Lebanese saffron and rose water, with a hint of cardamom. Infusing milk and cream with this trio is infinitely more interesting than using vanilla. It’s a bit like milk jelly for grown ups. If you have time and the inclination, a quick “coulis” alongside some autumn berries will reward you with plenty of smiles around the table.

The flavours of the spices and rose water are subtle, just enough to get you wondering what they are. Saffron, cardamom and rose water have huge presence, but here they are toned down by the richness of the cream and the sharpness of the fruit. This isn’t a bruiser of a pudding. Using just a pinch of the Lebanese saffron gives a hint of its sometimes “inky” presence, a description coined by Mark Diacono. The saffron we import from Lebanon has an amazing aroma, so not much is needed. Rather than turning the panna cotta bright yellow, the mixture looks rather like crème fraîche. 

Gather a mouthful of panna cotta in your spoon, dip it into the splodge of “coulis” and push a few raspberries on board. Enjoy the multitude of flavours. While any soft berries would do, the lemony taste of raspberries goes well with the rose water. It didn’t take long to heat some redcurrants with a tablespoon of sugar to make a “coulis”. Remember to pass it through a sieve to ensure that the panna cotta experience is a smooth as the jelly-like pudding. 

makes enough for 5


250ml double cream
250ml full fat milk
1 tbsp caster sugar
a pinch of Zejd saffron , crushed
seeds from 5 cardamom pods, crushed
1 tbsp rose water (Lebanese if you can find one)
3 leaves of gelatine



  1. Put the sugar, cream and milk in a medium heavy bottomed saucepan. Put on a low heat until steam begins to appear. 
  2. In a small pan warm the saffron and the cardamom seeds and then grind them in a pestle and mortar.
  3. Add these to the saucepan. Stir and set aside.
  4. Put the gelatine leaves in a small bowl and cover with cold water. Leave for 5 minutes to soften. Then squeeze out the water, and add to the saucepan. Stir to make sure all the gelatine has dissolved.
  5. Finally, add the rose water and stir well.
  6. Pour into 5 ramekins (or 4 for a more generous helping). Leave to cool before putting into the fridge for at least 3 hours. 
  7. When ready to serve, run a knife around the ramekin to loosen the panna cotta. Dip the bottom of the pot into a bowl of hot water for a second or two. Remove, place a small plate on top, and turn upside down. The saffron and cardamom should now be on the top of each panna cotta. 

Serve alongside some berries. A coulis is nice too, not obligatory, but easy to make if you have an abundance of summer fruit. 

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