Elderflower Panna Cotta (Panna Cotta ai Fiori di Sambuco)

May 26, 2020 Updated: May 26, 2020

The elegant scent of elderflowers gives an extra oomph to one of the most classic Italian desserts, making it fresh and seasonal.

This panna cotta is soft and creamy, like a pudding. The silky texture marries perfectly with the elderflowers’ delicate floral aroma, while the caramel topping adds a pleasant bitter note.

You can make this panna cotta without gelatin, as it will set in a bain-marie in the oven thanks to the addition of egg whites. If you have time, you can infuse the elderflowers in the cream overnight in the fridge; otherwise, simmer them together on the stovetop just before making the recipe. 

Serves 8

  • 8 heads elderflowers, very fresh
  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/3 cup plus 1/2 cup sugar, divided
  • 4 egg whites, at room temperature

Gently shake the elderflower heads to remove dust and unwanted insects. Do not wash them.

Pour the cream into a saucepan, then add 1/3 cup of sugar and the elderflower heads. Bring the cream to a gentle boil, stirring occasionally to melt the sugar, then turn off the heat and let it cool down until lukewarm.

In a large bowl, slightly beat the egg whites with a fork until you see some bubbles form on the surface. Pour the lukewarm cream through a sieve, into the egg whites. Stir just enough to mix the ingredients.

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F, with a rack set at the bottom.

Melt 1/2 cup of sugar in a non-stick pan over medium-low heat, until it becomes an amber caramel. Twirl the pan without touching the caramel, inspecting it closely, to prevent it from burning. 

Pour the caramel into a 9-inch x 5-inch loaf pan, wait a few seconds until the caramel sets, then pour in the cream and egg white mixture, too.

Place the loaf pan in a larger baking dish filled with cold water and transfer to the bottom rack of the oven. Bake for about 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until the panna cotta has set and is firm but slightly elastic and bouncy to the touch. Be careful not to burn yourself when checking it!

Remove the panna cotta from the oven and let it cool. Cover with plastic wrap and stash it in the fridge for a few hours—or, even better, until the next day—to let it set completely, and let the caramel turn into a sauce.

To serve, dip the bottom of the loaf pan in a bowl of hot water for a few seconds, then carefully unmold the panna cotta onto a plate. The caramel will run everywhere, so choose a plate that can easily hold the sauce—it is so good, you don’t want to let any of it go to waste.