Panna cotta features sweetened cream that’s flavored with vanilla and thickened with gelatin before being poured into ramekins. It’s a simple but decadent dessert that’s perfect for preparing before a dinner party!
What Is Panna Cotta?
Panna cotta translates to “cooked cream”. This classic Italian dessert is essentially sweetened, flavored cream that’s been combined with unflavored gelatin.
The mixture is then poured into ramekins or molds and chilled until firm. Because the cream and gelatin mixture needs to chill in the fridge to firm up, it’s a wonderful make-ahead dessert for parties or potlucks.
The sweetened cream mixture can be flavored with everything from coffee to lemon, but I made this a simple yet versatile vanilla panna cotta recipe. Top it with strawberry sauce like I did, or branch out by drizzling the dessert with caramel sauce, chocolate sauce, or your favorite topping!
This easy panna cotta recipe calls for just six ingredients. Measurements are provided in the recipe card below, but here’s an overview of what you’ll need to make it:
- Whole Milk: Do not substitute 2% or skim milk. You need all the fat that whole milk contains to create the signature velvety texture that panna cotta is known for.
- Unflavored Gelatin: This helps the panna cotta firm up and hold its shape once you unmold it from the ramekins. I used Knox original unflavored gelatin in this recipe. You can typically find gelatin in the grocery store close to the Jello and pudding mixes.
- Granulated Sugar: Sweetens the dessert without altering the flavor.
- Vanilla Extract: Two teaspoons infuse the dessert with rich vanilla flavor. I recommend using pure vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste for best flavor.
- Salt: Just a tiny pinch enhances the vanilla flavor and offsets the sweetness of the sugar.
- Heavy Whipping Cream: Check to make sure your cream contains at least 36% fat.
How to Make Panna Cotta
It’s incredible how six basic ingredients can quickly be transformed into a unique dessert! Let’s review the basic steps to making panna cotta from scratch:
- Bloom the gelatin: To keep this recipe as simple as possible, I like to sprinkle the gelatin directly over the milk in a saucepan and let it bloom for 5 to 7 minutes.
- Add the sugar to the gelatin mixture: Whisk in the sugar until it’s well combined. If it looks a little lumpy, that’s okay!
- Heat the mixture over medium-low heat: You want to dissolve the sugar and gelatin without letting the milk ever come to a simmer. Stir the mixture often to prevent this from happening.
- Add the vanilla and salt: Remove the saucepan from the heat before doing so.
- Slowly whisk in the heavy cream: This will ensure that it doesn’t end up curdled. Make sure to whisk well as you mix in the heavy cream too.
- Strain the mixture: This step is optional, but I highly recommend it. This will prevent any small pieces of gelatin or sugar that didn’t dissolve from ending up in your panna cotta.
- Grease six ramekins: Lightly grease your ramekins with nonstick cooking spray, this will make it much easier to remove them later!
- Divide the mixture into ramekins: You’ll be using about 1/2 cup of liquid per ramekin.
- Chill the panna cotta: Place the filled ramekins on a baking tray (this will make it easier to transfer them to the fridge), cover tightly with plastic wrap, then chill for at least 4 to 5 hours.
- Serve: You can either unmold the panna cotta and serve it on a plate, or keep things simple and serve it in the ramekins. Feel free to add your favorite topping right before serving!
Toppings to Try
I topped these with homemade strawberry sauce, however you could also try one or more of the following topping ideas:
- Salted caramel sauce
- Lemon curd
- Blueberry sauce
- Hot fudge or chocolate sauce
- Chopped fresh fruit or berries
- Toasted coconut
Can This Recipe Be Made in Advance?
Absolutely! The panna cotta base has to chill for at least 4 to 5 hours, but can also be left in the fridge overnight before being served. You may store it in the fridge for up to 4 days, which makes it a great make-ahead dessert option!
- You need to use whole milk and regular heavy whipping cream to make this recipe. Lower fat alternatives won’t create the same results.
- To make sure the gelatin and sugar are fully dissolved, rub a little bit of the mixture between your fingers. If it feels smooth, it’s ready to be removed from the heat. If it’s grainy, then continue to heat the mixture over medium-low heat.
- To remove the panna cotta from the ramekins: Use a butter knife or offset spatula to carefully loosen the sides of the panna cotta from the ramekin. Dip the bottom of the ramekin into a bowl of hot water for a few seconds. Wipe the bottom of the ramekin with a dish towel, invert the ramekin onto a plate, shaking gently to unmold the panna cotta. Repeat with the remaining panna cottas.
More Desserts to Make Using Ramekins!
- 1 cup whole milk (240 ml)
- 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin (0.25 ounce pkg, I used Knox)
- ⅓ cup granulated sugar (67 grams)
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream (1 pint; 480 ml)
- Optional: Homemade strawberry sauce for topping
- Pour the whole milk into a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan and sprinkle the gelatin over the top. Allow to bloom for about 5 to 7 minutes.
- Add the sugar to the saucepan and whisk until well combined. You may see some lumps, this is okay!
- Place the saucepan over medium-low heat on the stove and stir or whisk until the gelatin and sugar are dissolved. It should just be warm to the touch, but never come to a simmer. You can make sure the gelatin and sugar are dissolved by rubbing a little bit of the mixture between your fingers. If it’s grainy, continue to cook over medium-low heat. If the mixture feels smooth, it’s ready to be removed from the heat.
- Once the gelatin and sugar are dissolved, remove the saucepan from the stovetop and immediately whisk in the vanilla extract and salt.
- Slowly pour in the heavy whipping cream, whisking quickly to temper the cream so that it doesn’t curdle.
- Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer to remove any small lumps of gelatin or sugar that didn’t dissolve. This step is optional, but recommended.
- Lightly grease six 6-ounce ramekins with nonstick cooking spray.
- Divide the panna cotta mixture evenly between the greased ramekins, a little over ½ cup of liquid per ramekin.
- Place the filled ramekins onto a baking sheet and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Transfer to the refrigerator to chill for at least 4 to 5 hours or overnight.
- When ready to serve, either serve in the ramekins or remove from the ramekins. Serve with toppings of your choice.