Panna cotta is a simple chilled sweet custard, popular throughout Italy. It looks so fancy in glasses or inverted onto a dessert plate served with a fruit sauce, but it’s so incredibly easy to make at home with only a few ingredients.
A popular dessert served in fancy restaurants, Panna cotta might sound intimidating, difficult, and labor-intensive. But don’t shy away from making it at home – it’s so incredibly easy and simple.
What is Panna Cotta?
A classic Italian dessert, panna cotta literally means “cooked cream.” It’s a chilled custard that’s made from sweetened cream and thickened with unflavored gelatin. Traditionally it’s set in ramekins, unmolded onto a plate, then drizzled with some type of sweet fruit sauce or chocolate sauce. A bite of panna cotta is melt-in-your-mouth creamy and luxurious.
This particular recipe is vanilla flavored – similar to creme brûlée and flan, except there are no eggs used, the texture is slightly more delicate, and it is less sweet.
What is Panna Cotta made of?
Panna cotta is a silky smooth combination of milk, cream, gelatin, sugar, and vanilla, served plain, with fresh fruit, or paired with a sweet dessert sauce. The cream can also take on the taste of chocolate, coffee, and other flavors.
How to serve Panna Cotta
The traditional way to serve panna cotta is to pour the liquid into dessert cups (like ramekins), let it chill and set, then unmold it onto individual plates.
More often than not, I simply pour the mixture into wine glasses or nice glass tumblers, which eliminates extra dish-ware and also that additional step of unmolding them. Both work, though, and both options look so impressive, served with fresh fruit and raspberry sauce, caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, or dust with cocoa powder and garnish with shaved chocolate curls.
How to Get Panna Cotta Out of the Mold?
This recipe is basically foolproof, especially if you serve it in glasses, eliminating the need to unmold it. Inverting it onto a plate from a ramekin is the traditional way and can be a little finicky, but it’s not hard at all.
Simply dip the ramekin (halfway up the side) in a shallow bowl of hot water just for a few seconds, then invert onto a serving plate and the custard should come right out. If not, you can gently tap on the cup or run a dull knife along the edge to help release it. (Or skip ramekins entirely and serve in glasses instead. See note above ^)
Speed up the chilling process: instead of waiting for the mixture to reach room temperature before chilling, you can use an ice bath to cool the mixture before pouring into dessert cups, then chill in the fridge.
Why did my panna cotta not set?: If your custard is still liquid-y, there are a few reasons why that might be. 1) the gelatin didn’t dissolve fully 2) you accidentally boiled the liquid mixture (which wrecks the gelatin’s thickening ability), or 3) it didn’t chill long enough.
Make Ahead and Storage
Preparing this well in advance makes this a fantastic dessert for both casual and formal entertaining. It chills in the fridge overnight to solidify and will keep chilled and covered for up to 3 days. Spoon the fruit sauce on top just before serving.
Watch it Being Made
How to make Panna Cotta
Panna cotta is a deceptively simple and light dessert made with little effort and a standout presentation. The printable recipe card below lays out the steps to making this recipe. It’s so easy, but the success is in the details. Try it!
Vanilla Panna Cotta
- 2 tablespoons cold water
- .25 ounce envelope unflavored gelatin (1 tablespoon)
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup half and half (see note)
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- raspberry sauce , for serving
- small fresh mint leaves , for serving
- Pour the water into a small bowl. Sprinkle the powdered gelatin over the water and mix well; set aside so the gelatin can bloom.
- In a large saucepan over medium heat, whisk together the heavy cream, half and half, and sugar. Stir frequently until hot and steaming (about 140 degrees F – do not let it boil.)
- Remove pan from heat and stir in hydrated gelatin and vanilla, whisking until fully dissolved.
- Divide cream mixture among 8, 4 ounce ramekins (not all the way to the top. About 1/2 cup of the mixture per ramekin.) Cool to room temperature. Chill ramekins in the refrigerator, covered, overnight.
- If you choose to unmold them, run a thin dull knife around the top edge of each ramekin. Dip ramekins, 1 at a time, into a shallow bowl of hot water for about 3 seconds. Invert ramekin onto center of a small plate – shake very gently and it should come right out.
- Drizzle with 1-2 tablespoons of the raspberry sauce and garnish with a small fresh mint leaf.