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You can make 5-ingredient panna cotta in the microwave — but should you?

Never underestimate the power of the mighty microwave.
Can a microwave produce such a delicate dessert? The answer is yes.
Can a microwave produce such a delicate dessert? The answer is yes.Erica Chayes Wida / TODAY
/ Source: TODAY

Now that I mastered making panna cotta in the microwave, I am officially ready for a stress-free holiday.

Panna cotta is that luscious, custard-like Italian dessert flecked with vanilla beans. Translated, it means "cooked cream," and is typically made with simple ingredients like cream, sugar, vanilla and gelatin via a not-so-simple method that involves careful heating on the stove and hours of chilling time. While I find panna cotta irresistible when I'm out to eat, I typically steer clear of it in my own kitchen because of the finicky consistency of gelatin once it exceeds a boiling point.

Because, let's face it: Nobody wants chunky cream, even if it does taste like vanilla.

Luckily, I stumbled upon a Reddit recipe, posted by user green_amethyst who has a whole YouTube channel dedicated to shortcut workday recipes, that swaps the stovetop method for the microwave. As if that weren't enticing enough for the impatient baker, this panna cotta also cools in just 30 minutes.

Enticed by the easy-peasy prep work, I gathered my ingredients to see how the flavor would hold up when altering the traditional method. Here's what happened.

All you need is four ingredients, plus a little water, to make this delicious gourmet dessert.Erica Chayes Wida / TODAY

I was thrilled to find out that this recipe only calls for five ingredients:

  • 1 cup cream
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 tablespoon of water
  • 1 teaspoon gelatin
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (optional)

The first thing to do is to bloom the gelatin, which takes just a few minutes (during which you can prep everything else!). I added about a tablespoon of room temp water to a small, shallow bowl and evenly sprinkled the gelatin on top, letting it sit until the powder dissolved and transformed into a gelatinous solid.

The gelatin and water mixture turns into a nice jelly-like solid in less than five minutes.Erica Chayes Wida / TODAY

Meanwhile, I added 1/4 of the cream to a glass measuring cup and heated it in the microwave for 30 seconds. Once it bloomed, I stirred in the gelatin mixture with a whisk until fully dissolved (no chunks). I whisked quickly for about 10 seconds until it was all smooth. Then, I whisked in a tablespoon of sugar and the vanilla bean paste.

Whisk in all the ingredients to the warmed cream before adding the rest of the cold cream to the mix.Erica Chayes Wida / TODAY

According to the recipe, the vanilla is optional, but I personally wouldn't skip it: It adds that gently fragrant flavor that takes panna cotta from plain to perfect. Plus, the crushed vanilla beans give the end result a restaurant-quality look.

Finally, I whisked in the remaining 3/4 cup of cream and poured the mixture evenly between ramekins or jars. Because I'm a fan of anything individually portioned in pretty jars — "jarcuterie," anyone? — I did the latter, and was able to fill three.

I put lids on the jars while I chilled them and for easy storage in case I wasn't going to enjoy them right away. But covering with plastic wrap would work well, too!Erica Chayes Wida / TODAY

I screwed on the lids and popped them in the fridge. The recipe said to chill for 30 minutes but I did it for 45, as mine were still a bit too soft when I first removed them.

As for the taste, I never would have guessed the panna cotta was made in a microwave. It was cool, creamy and smooth with a wonderful, not-too-sweet flavor. It will be so easy to double the recipe to make a nice dessert for six people and play with different toppings.

Individually jarred panna cotta is the perfect dessert for the holidays, dressed up with whatever toppings you prefer.Erica Chayes Wida / TODAY

At the end, I sprinkled deep red, diced frozen cherries for a pop of festive color. It was too hard to resist.