Saffron and Cardamom Panna Cotta

This image courtesy of Joseph DeLeo

I conjured this dessert from the memory of an exotic Indian rice dish scented with saffron, cardamom, and cinnamon. The spices accentuate the rich flavors of the milk, cream, (and pistachios if you like them), and freshly grated stick cinnamon pulls the whole thing together with a heady top note of flavor and perfume.

NotesYou can substitute 3 leaves of sheet gelatin for the granulated gelatin. Soak the leaves in the cold milk to soften them, then fish the softened sheets from the milk and stir them into the hot cream (after steeping) until completely dissolved. Stir in the milk, and proceed as directed.




Total Timea day or more

Make Ahead RecipeYes

Kid FriendlyYes

OccasionCasual Dinner Party

Recipe Coursedessert

Dietary Considerationegg-free, gluten-free, peanut free, soy free, vegetarian


Taste and Texturecreamy, rich, spiced, sweet

Type of Dishdessert


  • 3¼ cups heavy cream
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • Pinch of salt
  • 5 cardamom pods
  • Slightly rounded 1/8 teaspoon crushed saffron threads
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2½ teaspoons unflavored gelatin (see Note)
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Finely chopped or grated pistachios for garnish (optional)
  • Instant-read thermometer
  • Six 6-ounce ramekins or dessert dishes


  1. In a small saucepan, heat the cream, sugar, and salt until steaming hot, stirring from time to time to dissolve the sugar. Off the heat, add the cardamom pods and saffron. Cover and allow to steep for 25 minutes. Meanwhile, pour the milk into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Set aside (without stirring) for 5 to 10 minutes to let the gelatin soften.

  2. Add the milk and gelatin to the cream mixture and reheat to steaming, stirring well to dissolve the gelatin. Strain the mixture into a bowl, preferably stainless steel; discard the cardamom pods. Set the bowl in a larger bowl of water and ice cubes and stir frequently until the mixture thickens and registers 50°F on the instant-read thermometer.

  3. Divide the mixture evenly among the ramekins or dessert dishes. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 4 but preferably 12 hours. Serve the individual panna cottas in their ramekins or dishes, or unmold the ramekins: wrap each one briefly in a wrung-out hot wet towel and unmold them onto dessert plates. Use a Microplane zester to grate a little stick cinnamon over each one. Sprinkle with chopped or grated pistachios, if desired.


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