The Best Recipe for Panna Cotta

Creamy and light, this recipe for Panna Cotta is a simple, elegant dessert. A classic Italian dessert, it has only five ingredients and comes together quickly and simply.

Who doesn’t love a classic panna cotta? It’s simple but beautiful. Lightly sweetened cream is thickened with gelatin and can be served with a variety of flavorings and toppings.

There are some helpful tips and guidelines later in the post that are helpful if you’ve never worked with gelatin before. It’s a fairly simple process, but there are a few things you need to know to have successful panna cotta.

A plate of creamy panna cotta garnished with mint and with several bites taken.

What is Panna Cotta?

Panna Cotta is a cream-based, custard-like dessert. However, custards like pastry cream, creme brulee, flan, and pudding, are thickened with eggs. Panna cotta is thickened with plain gelatin, which makes it a lighter, less rich dessert.

Originating in Italy, panna cotta literally means “cooked cream.” However, you aren’t going to cook anything for very long–you only need to warm some of it for long enough to dissolve the sugar, and then the gelatin.

This panna cotta recipe is flavored with a touch of vanilla. However, some recipes don’t even call for that and are just sweetened cream, so you can decide what you want to do!

What is Panna Cotta Made Of?

This recipe for panna cotta has very simple ingredients. They are:

  • Whipping cream
  • Plain Gelatin–this recipe uses powdered gelatin, which is the most common form to buy in the USA.
  • Water– it needs to be cold for the gelatin to set properly.
  • Vanilla bean extract and a little bit of paste–see the notes and tips section of this post

Tools and Equipment

  • A small bowl
  • A small pot
  • A large spoon or ladle
  • Five 8 oz. ramekins
  • Liquid measuring cup
  • Measuring spoons

How to Make Panna Cotta

  • Begin by assembling and measuring out all of your ingredients and tools.
  • Pour 1/4 cup of cold water into the small bowl.
  • Sprinkle the gelatin over the top of it, then stir it in so all of the gelatin is in the liquid, dissolving.
  • After about 5 minutes, the gelatin will have set into a thick, grainy-looking consistency. {See the section below for more information on how to set gelatin}
Combining the whipping cream and sugar for panna cotta.
  • While the gelatin is setting, combine 1/2 cup of the whipping cream and 1/3 cup sugar in a small pot.
  • Heat the cream and sugar until it is steaming and the sugar has dissolved. It should be around 140°F. Allow it to cool if it’s too warm.
  • Add the set gelatin to the warm cream and whisk it in until it’s completely dissolved.
Stirring set gelatin into the warm cream and sugar so it can dissolve and eventually set the panna cotta.
  • Pour in the two cups of cream and vanilla bean extract or paste and whisk until it’s well combined.
  • Ladle the panna cotta mixture into the ramekins, then set them in the refrigerator.
  • Let the panna cotta chill for at least 6 hours, or until it’s set.
This recipe for panna cotta makes four large or 6 small panna cottas.

How to Set Gelatin

Panna cotta is set completely with gelatin, so knowing how to set it can be helpful.

  • First, place cold water in a small bowl.
  • Sprinkle the gelatin over the water and avoid dumping it in one spot–this can cause clumps that are hard to dissolve.
  • Allow the gelatin to sit for 5 minutes. It will have a grainy, slightly lumpy appearance, but still be fairly soft. It will become thicker as it sits, which is fine for the panna cotta.
  • Stir the set gelatin into the warm cream and sugar. Makes sure that it’s not too hot, as gelatin begins to break down (or denature) around 200°F.
  • Whisk until the gelatin is completely dissolved and you can’t see any grains of it in the liquid.
  • Continue with the rest of the panna cotta recipe.
  • Gelatin won’t set until it becomes cold, though it will cause some thickening at room temperature.

How to Serve Panna Cotta

  • You can serve the panna cotta in the ramekins, or unmold them and serve them on a plate.
  • If you wish to unmold the panna cotta, run the tip of a sharp knife around the edge.
  • Run warm water over the bottom of the ramekin for about a minute, keeping the water off the panna cotta.
  • Place a small plate over the ramekin and gently shake it. If the panna cotta does not slide out onto the plate, remove the plate and run warm water over it for a few more seconds until it does.
A close-up of a panna cotta garnised with a sprig of fresh mint.

Toppings for Panna Cotta

While panna cotta is delicious on its own, there are lots of toppings that complement and elevate it.

  • Fresh berries– blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries–they’re all delicious!
  • Fruit Sauces–something like this strawberry syrup would be delicious drizzled over the top.
  • Toasted almonds sprinkled over the top.
  • Chopped chocolate or chocolate sauce.
  • Chopped mango or passionfruit.
Two panna cottas on dessert plates, being shared.

Recipe Tips and Notes

  • Panna cotta will keep for up to a week in the refrigerator. Cover each ramekin with a bit of plastic wrap to keep it from drying out on top.
  • I recommend using vanilla extract to flavor the panna cotta, as it will keep it as creamy and white and possible. Adding a touch of vanilla bean paste (or even scraping a bit of the inside of a vanilla bean) adds the pretty little black flecks. But if you add too much vanilla bean paste, it sinks to the bottom of the ramekin and will leave a layer of flecks that look peppery.
A plate of panna cotta with a bite taken out of it.
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Panna Cotta


  • Author: Rebecca Neidhart
  • Total Time: 6 hours 20 minutes
  • Yield: Four 8 oz. panna cottas 1x
  • Diet: Gluten Free

Description

Creamy and light, this recipe for Panna Cotta is a simple, elegant dessert. A classic Italian dessert, it has only five ingredients and comes together quickly and simply.


Ingredients

Scale
  • 2 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 1/2 tp. powdered gelatin
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract + 1/4 tsp. vanilla bean paste (optional)

Instructions

Begin by setting out four 8 oz. ramekins.

Place the cold water in a small bowl and sprinkle the powdered gelatin over it in an even layer. Allow it to set and thicken.

Put 1/2 cup of whipping cream and sugar in a medium pot and heat it while stirring occasionally over medium-low until steaming and hot to the touch, about 140°F. The sugar should also be completely dissolved.

Remove the pot from the heat and add the gelatin. Stir it in until the gelatin has dissolved.

Whisk in the cream, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean paste, then divide the mixture between the ramekins. Place them in the refrigerator until the panna cotta is completely set. This should take about six hours, but it’s best to leave them overnight.

To release the panna cotta from the ramekins, hold each one in a bowl of warm water for a few seconds. Run the very tip of a sharp knife around the top to release it from the edge of the ramekin.

Set a small plate on top of each ramekin and turn it over to flip it onto the plate. Shake it gently. If it doesn’t release, hold the ramekin in the warm water for a few more seconds.

Serve immediately with any toppings desired (see the post for ideas). Store any leftover panna cotta in the refrigerator, covered.

  • Prep Time: 20 minutes + 6 hours of chilling time
  • Category: Desserts and Sweets
  • Method: Chilling
  • Cuisine: Italian

Keywords: panna cotta, gluten free dessert, cream, custard

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