How to make a beautiful, smooth and creamy Vanilla Panna Cotta. This classic Italian dessert is unbelievably easy to make with just 10 minutes of prep time then it's left to set in the fridge. A stunning make-ahead dessert that will deliver that wow factor!
Originating in the region of Piedmont, Panna Cotta literally translates as 'cooked cream'.
It's a rich, smooth and luxurious custard usually flavoured with vanilla and set with gelatin to give it a very delicate 'wobble'.
Although Panna Cotta has the reputation of being a complicated dessert you'd see in a fancy restaurant it's actually unbelievably easy to make.
Just 10 minutes of prep time is all you need to create the perfect make-ahead dessert for dinner parties or special occasions.
Serve it just as it is with some fresh berries or with a delicious berry sauce.
See the recipe below including notes on ingredients, step by step photos, tips, variations and a video tutorial. For the full printable recipe scroll to the bottom or click the recipe link below
See the photo below that shows you all the ingredients needed to make a classic vanilla panna cotta plus some important notes and ingredient substitutions.
Ingredient notes and substitutions
- Heavy cream - this is the key ingredient (we are making 'cooked cream' after all) so don't substitute it for a low-fat version.
- Whole milk - again, for best results use whole milk not semi-skimmed.
- Sugar - we used caster sugar (superfine) but granulated will work just fine.
- Vanilla - you'll want to use a good quality vanilla either a whole vanilla bean with the seeds removed or vanilla bean paste as we have (see the ingredient photo above).
- Unflavoured gelatin powder - you can also use gelatin sheets just check the packet instructions for the amount you need to use for the quantity of liquid.
Step by step photos and instructions
Put the milk, cream and vanilla in a saucepan and bring to a boil (watch it carefully so it doesn’t over boil). Once boiling turn off the heat (photo 1).
Add the sugar and stir until the sugar has dissolved (photo 2).
Sprinkle the gelatin powder into the mixture whilst whisking to avoid any lumps forming (photo 3).
Pour the mixture into individual moulds or ramekins and leave to cool at room temperature for about 30 minutes (photo 4).
Note: A skin can form on the top of the panna cotta from the milk. If this happens you can easily remove it with a spoon while the panna cotta is still liquid although it’s entirely optional and doesn’t have to be removed.
After 30 minutes, refrigerate the panna cottas for at least 4-6 hours or overnight before serving.
How to remove panna cotta from moulds
It's super easy to remove the Panna Cotta from their moulds. Use a knife to gently remove the panna cotta from the edges of the mould (photo 5).
Fill a bowl with hot water and place them one at a time into the water for a few seconds. Don't leave it for more than 10 seconds in the water or it'll start to melt (photo 6).
Overturn the panna cotta onto a serving plate and gently remove the mould, serve (photo 7).
I recommend using individual non-stick moulds for ease and best results. Alternatively, you can serve the panna cotta in ramekins.
There are so many ways to serve Panna Cotta, here is a list of some of our favourites.
- Fresh berries - I love the simplicity of serving fresh berries with the classic dessert it's easy yet delicious.
- Passion fruit - another super simple and delicious way to add freshness.
- Berry sauce - either a strawberry or raspberry sauce would work really well.
- Salted caramel or chocolate sauce - if you're looking for something more comforting rather than fresh this is a great option.
- Nutella - hazelnut chocolate spread is another good option, warm it up slightly and drizzle it over with some chopped hazelnuts.
- Use high-quality ingredients - because panna cotta is so simple and made with very few ingredients the quality of them is important. Although a vanilla bean or vanilla paste is expensive it's well worth using in this recipe instead of extract.
- Blooming the gelatin - if according to your packet instructions you need to 'bloom' the gelatin before using it you can do so in a few tablespoons of water (as stated on the packet) before adding it to the milk.
- Don't boil the gelatin - it's important that the milk and cream is off the heat before adding the gelatin. If the mixture boils with the gelatin added or gets too hot the panna cotta won't set properly.
- Chill properly - pour the mixture into moulds then let it cool at room temperature before putting them in the fridge to set for at least 4 hours. Don't put them in the fridge while still hot.
- Moulds vs ramekins - using moulds to present your panna cotta is an easy way to create an impressive and fancy-looking dessert especially garnished with some berries. If you don't have moulds you can set the panna cotta in small glass jars, dessert glasses or ramekins.
Our Panna Cotta recipe has a rich, smooth and velvety texture with a delicate vanilla flavour. There's enough gelatin added so it's just set enough to keep its shape with the perfect wobble. Panna Cotta should never be rubbery, it's a sign that too much gelatin has been added.
Gelatin is an animal product and is not vegetarian-friendly. If you want to use something that is I suggest using agar agar.
The panna cotta will keep well in the fridge for up to 3 days.
Yes, you can. You'll need to soak the gelatin sheets in water to soften them before using. It's best to check your packet instructions for the conversion as certain brands may vary but I find 3 gelatin sheets work well.
More Panna Cotta recipes to try
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📖 Full Recipe
Vanilla Panna Cotta
- 1 ½ cups plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream (double cream) (375ml)
- 1 cup + 1 tablespoon whole milk (250ml)
- ½ cup caster sugar (can also use granulated sugar) (95g)
- 4 teaspoons gelatin powder (12g sachet)
- 3 teaspoons vanilla paste or 1 vanilla bean *see note 1
- Put the milk, cream and vanilla in a saucepan and bring to a boil (watch it carefully so it doesn’t over boil). Once boiling turn off the heat.
- Add the sugar and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
- Sprinkle the gelatin powder into the mixture whilst whisking to avoid any lumps forming.
- Pour the mixture into individual moulds or ramekins and leave to cool at room temperature for about 30 minutes.
- Note: A skin can form on the top of the panna cotta from the milk. If this happens you can easily remove it with a spoon while the panna cotta is still liquid (before refridgerating) although it’s entirely optional and doesn’t have to be removed.
- After 30 minutes, refrigerate the panna cottas for at least 4-6 hours or overnight before serving.
How to remove panna cotta from moulds
- Fill a bowl with hot water. Remove the panna cotta from the fridge and place them one at a time into the water for a few seconds.
- Overturn the panna cotta onto a serving plate and gently remove the mould, serve.
- Note on vanilla - if using vanilla bean paste use the amount stated on the bottle that equals one vanilla bean. We used 15ml which is 3 teaspoons to equal 1 vanilla bean. Alternatively, scrape out the seeds from 1 whole vanilla bean and add that to the milk. Keep the bean for another use or add it to a jar of sugar to create vanilla sugar.
- Storage - the panna cotta will keep well in the fridge for up to 3 days.
- I always use extra virgin olive oil in all of my recipes unless stated otherwise
- When I use canned or jarred tomatoes of any kind I always use Cirio or Mutti brands for the best results and flavour.
- All vegetables are medium sized unless stated otherwise
- All recipes are tested and developed using a fan (convection) oven
- Find out more about how nutrition is calculated.
- Check out our must have Italian Pantry Staples.
- You can also find all our Essential Kitchen Tools for Italian Cooking.
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