Delicious Differences: Panna Cotta vs Crème Brûlée

Panna Cotta vs Creme Brulee

For anyone who loves custard or custard-like desserts, both panna cotta and crème brûlée are at the top of their “must have” list.

There’s no doubt that both are creamy, decadent and delicious, but that’s where the similarities end because there are several differences between them.

However, the main difference between panna cotta and crème brûlée is that panna cotta is a thickened mix of of sweet cream and gelatin (as opposed to eggs) which is then poured in molds until it sets whereas crème brûlée is a true custard that is served with a caramelized later of sugar on top. Panna cotta is not considered a custard since it doesn’t contain eggs as a thickening agent, but instead uses gelatin.

Aside from ingredients, other things that make these delicacies unique include their origins, the way they’re prepared, how each of them taste and more.

So let’s get right into it and uncover all the scrumptious details!

Differences in Origin

Panna cotta originated in Italy in a region well known for its rich dairy heritage – Piedmont.

However, the specific details are unclear and were regarded as a local preparation until it finally appeared in cookbooks towards the middle of the 20th century. 

Since that time, the popularity of this simple dessert has exploded as favorite around the world but perhaps nowhere as much as its home country. Panna cotta is so beloved in Italy that it was designated as an official food product of the Piedmont region in 2001.

As uncertain as the beginnings of panna cotta are, the country of origin is not in question. The same cannot be said for crème brûlée, which has at least three claimants – England, France and Spain.

Part of the reason for the dispute is that custards have been present in European cuisine since the Middle Ages so discerning its creation is no simple task.

England’s claim can be traced back to the 17th century, where the dessert was known as burnt cream. A hundred years later, Spain introduced their version, which is called Crema Catalana. Last, the most well-known version, crème brûlée, was introduced in France towards the close of the 19th century.

From there, its popularity spread across the globe and like panna cotta, is a cherished dessert in nearly every country.

Dessert Country of Origin First Appearance in Cookbooks Official Food Product of a Region
Panna Cotta Italy (Piedmont region) Middle of the 20th century Piedmont region, Italy (2001)
Crème Brûlée England, France, Spain 17th century (England, known as burnt cream), 18th century (Spain, known as Crema Catalana), 19th century (France) N/A

Differences in Ingredients

The primary ingredients in panna cotta are cream, sugar, gelatin and vanilla (or other flavors), whereas crème brûlée contains cream, sugar, vanilla and eggs.

As you can see, panna cotta doesn’t contain eggs, and crème brûlée doesn’t have gelatin. However, the consistency of the two is similar, which is the main reason that panna cotta is mistaken as a custard despite having a similar consistency and mouthfeel.

As mentioned earlier in this article, only custard contains eggs.

Dessert Ingredients
Panna Cotta Cream, sugar, gelatin, vanilla (or other flavors)
Crème Brûlée Cream, sugar, vanilla, eggs

Differences in Preparation

Although panna cotta loosely translates to “cooked cream”, the typical preparation methods used do not involve extreme heat or oven-cooking, which is the case with crème brûlée.

Panna cotta is made by combining a sugar solution in warmed cream that may or may not be flavored. Meanwhile, the gelatin, which gives panna cotta its wobbly consistency, is prepared separately and then added to the cream.

Once combined, the mixture is then added to molds until it sets. From there, it’s usually chilled and served, resulting in a creamy, decadent dessert.

In contrast to the chilled method used to prepare panna cotta, crème brûlée involves the cooking of all ingredients before being poured into containers known as ramekins

There are two basic methods for preparing crème brûlée’s ingredients – the “hot” method or the “cold” method.

In the hot method, cooking is usually done in a double boiler by first whisking the egg yolks and then adding the remaining ingredients. In contrast, the cold method involves whisking the eggs and sugar into a ribbonlike consistency before adding the rest of the ingredients.

Regardless of the method used, the ramekins are bathed in a how water bath, which is also known as a bain marie before being chilled. Once the mixture sets, it’s topped with brown sugar before being caramelized with a torch or in a broiler oven, giving it the crispy, crunchy shell we all know and love.

Dessert Translation Preparation Method Ingredients Consistency Cooking Method
Panna Cotta “Cooked Cream” Combined in a sugar solution in warmed cream and chilled Cream, sugar, gelatin, vanilla (or other flavors) Wobbly No oven-cooking
Crème Brûlée N/A Cooking in a double boiler or in a bain marie and chilled Cream, sugar, vanilla, eggs Creamy Oven-cooked or torched

Differences in Taste

If there’s one thing that panna cotta and crème brûlée have in common, it’s the custard-like consistency, but in terms of taste, they have little in common.

Panna cotta has a much more pronounced dairy sweetness and in traditional recipes, strong hints of vanilla as well. Variations of panna cotta that feature fruit make the difference between them even more pronounced.

Traditional crème brûlée is famous for its burnt caramel flavor courtesy of the crystallized sugar atop it while the custard inside has heavy notes of nut and hints of vanilla or other delightful flavors.

So while the two may taste quite different, there’s no denying that they’re both absolutely delish!

Dessert Consistency Taste Variations
Panna Cotta Custard-like Dairy sweetness and vanilla Fruit variations
Crème Brûlée Custard-like Burnt caramel, nut and vanilla N/A

Does Crème Brûlée Have Gelatin?

No, when made traditionally, crème brûlée does not contain gelatin. If you’re new to making crème brûlée, you might find that it doesn’t thicken up quite as much as you’d hoped.

In this case, the thought of using gelatin to help has probably crossed your mind. Technically speaking, if you include gelatin in your recipe, it’s no longer crème brûlée. You’d be making something closer to a richer version of panna cotta.

It’s likely that you’re having problems tempering your eggs correctly. Instead of them thickening the custard, you are probably cooking the yolks, which is obviously going to affect their ability to add thickness and stability to the custard.

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