1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
Oil, as needed
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
5 tablespoons sugar
1 (2-inch) section vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise, or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Stir to distribute and set aside to soften for 2 to 3 minutes. Wipe insides of 8 (1/2-cup) ramekins with a light coating of neutral oil and set aside. Half-fill a large bowl with ice and add enough water to make an ice bath and set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine the cream, milk, sugar and split vanilla bean; bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat and whisk in softened gelatin (and the vanilla extract, if using). Scrape vanilla seeds from bean pod into mixture and discard pod.

Set saucepan in ice bath (making sure top of saucepan is well above surface of water) and whisk until mixture is lukewarm. Rub a drop between your fingers: There should be no grit from undissolved sugar or gelatin.

Ladle mixture into oiled ramekins and chill for at least 4 hours or overnight. If keeping longer than overnight, cover them with plastic wrap, pressing wrap gently against panna cotta to prevent a skin from forming. Be aware that preparing panna cotta more than 24 hours in advance will result in a somewhat firmer set.

About 10 minutes before serving, run a thin-bladed knife around inside of ramekin. Dip ramekin briefly in a bowl of hot tap water and then carefully invert onto a serving plate. If panna cotta doesn't unmold right away, tap ramekin lightly on countertop to loosen it. If it still doesn't unmold, return it to hot-water bath for another 5 seconds and repeat. Panna cotta can also be served without unmolding.

Makes 8 servings.