Espresso con Panna is Italian for “espresso with cream.” Traditionally, espresso con panna uses heavy cream whipped by hand on top of a shot of espresso to make a thick, creamy layer on top of the espresso. You get a delicious rush of coffee when you break through the cream layer that is sweet and smooth and a real treat.
In this article, we’re going to show you how to make espresso con panna the authentic way and give you a few simpler options if you don’t feel like whipping cream yourself or if you don’t have an espresso machine. Espresso aficionados might cringe at these crude alternatives, but we like them since they can give people a sense of what makes espresso con panna so great without nearly as much equipment or effort.
How to Make Authentic Espresso con Panna:
Let’s start with the classic. To make espresso con panna the traditional way, you’ll need a few things.
1. Whip the cream.
We know using an electric mixer isn’t the most traditional way to make espresso con panna, but we think it’s fair to tweak the rules a little bit. An electric mixer makes this so much easier, and there isn’t any difference in the result compared to using a hand mixer. There is an art to getting the right consistency, and you’ll get better the more you practice. A good stopping point is when you see the cream starting to form well-defined peaks.
2. Pull a shot of espresso.
The heart of espresso con panna is the espresso. If you don’t have an excellent shot, you’re not going to have a great experience. All of the usual espresso details matter here, with tamping and dosing having the largest effects.
3. Top the espresso with cream.
Be gentle with this step. You want the whipped cream to sit on top of the shot rather than be submerged and mixed into the espresso.
A slightly easier version
If you don’t feel like whipping heavy cream yourself, we don’t blame you. You can absolutely use whipped cream from a can, but it won’t give you the same experience. Whipped cream in a can is typically lighter than heavy cream whipped by hand, so when you use canned whipped cream in espresso con panna, you lose the sealing effect that heavy cream has.
Part of the joy of espresso con panna comes from the separation of the coffee and the whipped cream, which is lost when you use a pre-whipped cream. That doesn’t mean you can’t use it, but you should be aware of the concession you’re making. Still, since it’s so much easier to use canned whipped cream, it might be a good first exposure to espresso con panna if you want to test it out.
Coffee con Panna
This is where espresso lovers will really start wrinkling their noses. What if you don’t have an espresso machine? You can still make an approximation of espresso con panna with regular coffee. The best alternative is to use a Moka pot since they make strong, concentrated coffee that is a reasonable facsimile of espresso. If you also don’t have a Moka pot, you can use whatever brewing method you like, but you’ll be even further from traditional espresso con panna.
1. Whip the cream.
You can use canned whipped cream if you want to, but since you’re already making a big change, we recommend going all in and whipping the cream yourself. It still won’t be 100% traditional espresso con panna, but it will give you a better sense of what it’s like if you whip the cream yourself.
2. Brew the coffee.
If you have a Moka pot, use it. Otherwise, use your usual brewing method but make the coffee slightly stronger than you normally would.
3. Top the coffee with cream.
Like in the espresso version, make sure you gently place the cream on top of the coffee. The goal is to have a layer of cream on top of the coffee at the beginning.
Using lighter cream
Health-conscious people that don’t want to use heavy cream can use light cream with similar results. Heavy cream can be slightly easier to whip than reduced-fat cream, but the difference isn’t significant enough to worry about. Your health comes first.
If you opt for the coffee version, make it stronger than your standard cup. The cream can easily overpower a regular strength cup of coffee, and you’ll have a false impression of how espresso con panna is supposed to taste. The best option is to use espresso, but we realize that might not be possible for everyone interested in making an espresso con panna-style drink at home.
If you have an espresso machine, you can use a regular shot to make espresso con panna, but you can also make it with a lungo or ristretto depending on your caffeine and flavor preference. Experiment with all three and see which you prefer.
Espresso con panna is a rich, delicious espresso drink that isn’t too hard to make but does take a little effort to make in the traditional fashion. We think it’s worth it to go for the authentic experience if you can but understand that not everyone will want to go through the process of whipping cream themselves.
Don’t let espresso elitism deter you from making whatever version you think strikes the right balance for you. There is nothing wrong with making some adjustments to classic drinks to make them easier to try at home. Even if the coffee version isn’t technically espresso con panna, it will still give you a sense of what the drink is all about.
Featured Image: Vee Satayamas, Flickr
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