There are certain desserts that are so easy to make and so stupendously rewarding that they should be at the very top of your list for special occasions.
Italian panna cotta is definitely one of them.
VIDEO! How to Make Panna Cotta
Panna Cotta with Berries
What Is Panna Cotta?
Let’s not beat around the bush: Italians have the corner on the market when it comes creating something amazing from only a few good ingredients. Panna cotta literally means "cooked cream," and that's about all it is!
This custard-like dessert is made with just cream, sugar, and gelatin – though I like to add sour cream and vanilla to mine for the extra flavor.
This panna cotta is like serving berries and cream, but fancier. Since you're not using any eggs, you can really taste the delicate flavor of the cream. The barely-set custard also has a luxurious, silky texture that feels so elegant.
How to Work with Gelatin
Powdered gelatin must be softened first in cold liquid. In this case, I do it in milk. Then the softened gelatin needs to be warmed to fully dissolve. When making panna cotta, I do this by pouring the warmed cream over the softened gelatin.
Since the amounts of gelatin in individual packets can vary slightly, be sure to measure it out with a teaspoon. Too much gelatin could result in a texture that is too firm and Jello-like (you want the panna cotta to be just barely firm enough to unmold).
For those of you looking for a vegan substitute for the gelatin, take a look at this reference guide on The Kitchn. It's a good place to start when looking for alternative gelling agents.
Tip for Unmolding Panna Cotta
Simplify the unmolding process by lightly coat the ramekins used for molds with mild vegetable oil or spray.
If you don’t want to bother with unmolding, you can also simply pour the panna cotta mixture into pretty dishes and serve them as is. (Be sure to leave some room in the dish for the berries!) For reference when choosing molds or serving dishes, this recipe makes six 6-ounce servings, or eight 4-ounce servings.
How Long Does Panna Cotta Take to Set?
Be sure to let the panna cotta chill in the molds for at least 4 hours to make sure it's fully set.
How Far Ahead Can You Make Panna Cotta?
Panna cotta is a fantastic make-ahead dessert! You can prepare it up to three days ahead and keep them in the fridge until you're ready to serve. Panna cotta will actually keep for longer, but for best flavor, serving it within three days is best.
If chilling longer than a few hours, we recommend covering the molds loosely with an upside-down baking sheet, crumpled up foil, or crumpled up plastic. (You want to avoid moisture condensing on whatever you're using to cover the panna cotta and dripping into the molds.)
If you're serving the panna cotta straight from the cups instead of unmolding, wait to top them with fruit or sauce until just before serving.
More Ways to Serve Panna Cotta
We love topping our panna cotta with fresh berries and an easy berry sauce, but there are plenty of other things you can do! Try dressing up your panna cotta any of these:
- Shaved chocolate
- Any sliced fruit, like strawberries, mangos, or even baked apple slices. (Roasted strawberries would also be wonderful!)
- Add a layer of caramel sauce over top
- Top with a few spoonfuls of lemon curd
- Add extract to the cream, like orange extract or lemon extract
- Infuse the cream with herbs or spices while it warms, like cinnamon or mint. Strain before adding to the gelatin mixture.
More Easy & Elegant Desserts
Easy Panna Cotta
- For the panna cotta:
- Vegetable oil, or vegetable oil spray (for the molds)
- 1/2 cup cold milk
- 3 teaspoons unflavored gelatin powder
- 3 cups heavy cream
- 1/3 cup (67g) sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- For the sauce and berries:
- 1 12-ounce package (about 3 cups) frozen raspberries, defrosted
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 3 tablespoons orange juice
- 2 cups fresh blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, sliced strawberries, or a mix
Prepare the molds
Lightly brush or spray six 6-ounce ramekins with oil. (Skip this step if you are planning to serve straight from the dishes.)
Place the ramekins on a baking sheet for easy transfer of the panna cotta from the counter to the fridge.
Soften the gelatin
Pour the milk into a medium mixing bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over top. Stir with a fork to combine. Set aside for 5 minutes without stirring to allow the gelatin to soften. (It will look like curdled milk or milky applesauce.)
Warm the cream and sugar
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream, sugar, and salt to a simmer. Stir frequently until the sugar is dissolved and the milk is just starting to steam. Do not let it come to a boil (if it does, let it cool slightly before continuing to the next step).
Whisk the cream into the gelatin
Slowly pour the hot cream over the gelatin, whisking as you go in order to dissolve the gelatin. Rub a little of the cream mixture between your fingers to make sure the gelatin has dissolved; it should feel smooth, not grainy.
Whisk in the sour cream and vanilla until smooth
Fill and chill the molds
Divide the panna cotta mixture between the ramekins. Transfer to the ramekins to the fridge and chill for at least 4 hours until set, or overnight.
Make the raspberry sauce
Close to when you're ready to serve, puree the raspberries, sugar and orange juice in a blender until smooth. Pass through a fine meshed strainer to remove the seeds. Set aside or refrigerate until needed. (This sauce can also be made several days in advance and kept refrigerated.)
Unmold the panna cotta
Slide a paring knife around the edge of each ramekin. Place a dessert plate upside-down over the top of the ramekin. Holding the plate in position, flip it over so the ramekin is now upside down on top of the plate. Slowly lift the ramekin at a slight angle to release the panna cotta.
Spoon some of the sauce around the panna cotta and sprinkle with berries. (If you're serving straight from the dish, spoon some of the sauce over top and sprinkle with berries.)