Mandarin panna cotta – Using gelatin

Ever made a beautiful, arty looking, dessert within 45 minutes which consists of more than 6 complex elements, of which two contain gelatin (thus require time to set)? I for sure didn’t, but the contestants on my favorite (and one of the only tv shows I watch) tv show did. I’m talking about Masterchef Australia, of course.

In one of the last episodes of season 8 three contestants made this beautiful looking mandarin dessert using pannacotta, chocolate ganache, a crumb and several more brilliant elements. The complete thing looked too complex for me, being just a science chef, not a professional chef. But the flavours just seemed to be great! So I decided to make three out of six elements, which already made for a great dessert.

Since we just discussed gelatin science in a previous post, this is a great example of applying gelatin as well!

The Masterchef Recipe

The recipe the contestants made during the show is fascinating, it has all these different flavours and textures and I wish I could have tasted it. I only made three of the elements of the original recipe and it already tasted so good. The flavours “just work really well together” (one of my favourite quotes from the show).

Using gelatin in a short time span

One of the challenges during such a show is of course the limited time span, especially when you want to freeze things or let things set. Most recipes using gelatin call for at least, if not more, one hour of setting time in the fridge. In such a tv show that can be sped up a little by using a freezer or even a blast freezer. A blast freezer can cool down and freeze foods a lot faster than a normal freezer would.

Gelatin sets because of its long protein chains that entangle one another. They will entangle and roll up slightly when they are cooled down. By cooling down a gelatin dessert very fast, the structure will be slightly different than when it’s cooled down slowly. However, the difference is small enough to still make a good product.

Our ‘artistic’ dessert: two humps of pannacotta with some chocoalte ganache and a crumb spread around. Yum!

Panna cotta

A panna cotta as used in this recipe from the show is a very common dessert. It’s a wobbly soft product. In its simplest form it’s a mixture of milk and cream with some sugar and flavouring (e.g. vanilla) that’s set using gelatin.

What’s most important for these types of recipes is to get the gelatin content just right. Too much gelatin and there will be so much entanglement of the proteins that the panna cotta becomes very firm. Not enough gelatin  on the other hand might result in a collapsing pannacotta because of insufficient entanglement of the proteins.

A panna cotta with sides recipe

Enough discussion of the recipe. If you want to read more about gelatin and how it works, check out the post dedicated to gelatin.

Mandarin panna cotta

Mandarin panna cotta

Yield: 4 portions
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes


Panna cotta

  • 110 ml cream
  • 50 ml milk
  • 25g sugar
  • 1 mandarin (the zest and the juice)
  • 1,5 sheet of gelatin (I used the regular gelatin from the Dutch supermarket, check how strong your gelatin is and for how much ml of liquid it should be used.)

Spice mix

  • 5 anise stars
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 5 cloves

Chocolate ganache

  • 50g dark chocolate (I use >70% dark)
  • 60g cream


  • 25g butter
  • 50g of almond meal (or almonds chopped up finely in a food processor)
  • 25g sugar (I used cane sugar)
  • 2 tsp flour
  • 2 tsp spice mix
  • 1/8 tsp salt


Panna cotta

  1. Take the gelatin and soak it in cold water (or follow the instructions on the package).
  2. Bring the cream, milk, sugar and mandarin juice + zest to the boil in a pan. Take it from the fire once it's boiling.
  3. Add the gelatin. The gelatin will simply dissolve in the mixture. The mix will not thicken or change in appearance.
  4. Leave to cool for a while before pouring into silicone moulds (easiest to use and get out). Leave to set in the fridge for at least one hour. You can take them out before, however, they will be super soft and you might not be able to get them out properly.

Spice mix

  1. Heat the spices in a frying pan until you start smelling them well.
  2. Blitz to a powder in a spice grinder/food processor, whichever method you have available.

Chocolate ganache

  1. Melt the chocolate in the microwave at a medium heat (I use 600W) with 30s intervals. Stir in between to prevent burning. Once melted, add the cream.
  2. Mix it through. Initially it will start creating brown strands in the cream after some mixing it will thicken up.


  1. Preheat an oven at 180C.
  2. Mix the butter, almond meal, sugar, flour, spice mix and salt together by hand to create a crumbly structure.
  3. Spread out on a baking tray and bake in the oven until golden brown (approx. 20-30 minutes).


  1. Serve everything together, it's the combination of flavours that makes this so good!
  2. If you or your fellow eaters are a fan of a particular element feel free to make a little more of that one. I for instance loved the crumb & ganache, so there's a little more of those than the panna cotta. Find your perfect ratio.

If you gave it a try, let me know!

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