If you’ve always wondered how to make the BEST Classic Panna Cotta, this recipe is for you! This panna cotta recipe is easy, foolproof, and adaptable! It’s a simple, delicious, and an always impressive dessert, perfect for dinner parties or any occasion. This is the only panna cotta recipe you will need + many variations!
A classic vanilla panna cotta that is soft, perfectly sweet, and has an incredible creamy texture! And it’s the perfect make-ahead dessert.
- What is panna cotta?
- Panna cotta ingredients
- How to make panna cotta (classic panna cotta recipe)
- Serving suggestions
- Expert tips for making panna cotta
- Frequently Asked Questions and Troubleshooting
I’ve shared several panna cotta recipes before such as this coconut panna cotta, matcha panna cotta, bubble milk tea panna cotta etc. But never a classic panna cotta recipe. Time to fix that. Here, I’m going to share how to make panna cotta. The perfect vanilla panna cotta dessert. This is the base recipe that every other panna cotta recipe is derived from.
If this is the first time you’re attempting to make classic vanilla panna cotta, I’m also sharing plenty of tips and tricks that should help you perfect this recipe, and even jazz it up!
What is panna cotta?
Panna Cotta is a dairy based, creamy, classic Italian dessert that is set with gelatin, and flavored with vanilla. This vanilla panna cotta is a custard-like dessert that should also taste like silky smooth deliciousness in other words. It’s usually made with a mixture of,
- vanilla, and
You can also check my comprehensive post on types of custard for more information about set creams/custards such as panna cotta and others.
Panna cotta ingredients
You can change these ingredients to adapt your panna cotta recipe to create lots of different flavors. But the most important ingredients for any panna cotta recipe are,
- A high fat dairy or plant milk base (milk + cream, almond milk + coconut cream),
- Sweetener (sugar, honey, maple syrup etc.),
- Flavoring (vanilla, fruits, chocolate, tea, coffee etc.),
- Gelatin (powdered gelatin, leaf gelatin).
Here I wanted to make a classic panna cotta recipe that not only has perfect texture, but perfect flavor as well. So I use,
- Full cream milk (3% fat) or half and half (makes the panna cotta ultra creamy!).
- Raw honey (lends an incomparable floral fragrance and flavor).
- Vanilla bean paste (or vanilla beans).
- Powdered unflavored gelatin or gold leaf gelatin (I have tested this recipe with both, and either option works).
- Heavy cream (35% fat), aka whipping cream (not whipped cream).
How to make panna cotta (classic panna cotta recipe)
Bloom the gelatin – Pour some cold water into a small bowl, and sprinkle gelatin over it. Let the gelatin bloom for a few minutes. Alternatively, soak gelatin leaves in a bowl of water until softened.
Make the milk mixture – In a small saucepan, place the milk / half and half, honey, salt and vanilla. Heat over medium heat and stir the mixture until the honey and salt dissolve. The milk mixture should be steaming, but not boiling. Do NOT let it boil.
Add the gelatin – When the milk mixture is hot, remove from the heat, and add the bloomed gelatin mixture. If you’re using leaf gelatin, remove the softened gelatin leaves from the water bowl, and squeeze the gelatin leaves to get rid of excess water. Then place the squeezed, softened gelatin leaves in the hot milk mixture.
The gelatin will dissolve readily in the hot mixture. All you have to do is simply stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.
Stir in heavy cream – Once the gelatin is fully dissolved, stir in the heavy cream. This is the last step of the recipe to make the panna cotta mixture. This milk cream mixture is now ready to be poured into single serving dishes.
Portion and let it set – Pour the panna cotta mixture evenly into 6 serving dishes, let it cool down a bit to room temperature, then cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the panna cotta mixture sets.
I prefer to make it the day before I need it, and allow the panna cotta to set overnight.
Pro tip for serving this dessert
This easy panna cotta recipe can be made to be served in individual dishes, OR you can unmold and serve that way as well. It’s a fantastic make-ahead dessert.
If you’re hoping to unmold the panna cotta dessert, then make sure to use metal or silicone molds. These are easier to unmold. Just place the mold in mildly hot water for a few seconds, and then turn it over onto the serving dish.
Tap or lightly squeeze the mold to release the panna cotta. If needed, return the mold to warm water to help it release from the mold.
There are ENDLESS ways to serve this vanilla panna cotta recipe!
Here, I used a slightly sweetened berry gel, but you could use an easy berry sauce, or just serve them however you like! Here are some options,
- Fruit compote (like this passion fruit mango compote, and caramel apple compote)
- Fresh berries and other fresh fruit
- Fruit syrup (like passion fruit syrup, lychee syrup, lemon syrup, rhubarb syrup, blood orange syrup, pineapple syrup etc.)
- Fruit curds (like lemon curd, lime curd, pineapple curd, or passion fruit curd)
- Chocolate sauce
- Caramel sauce
- Whipped cream
- Chocolate shavings (from dark, milk or white chocolate)
This panna cotta recipe is firmly in my top three panna cotta versions. That wonderful flavor of honey shines through and complements the creaminess of the pudding. This panna cotta dessert is an easy yet impressive treat that is worthy of special occasions!
Easy ingredient substitutions and variations
- You can substitute the honey with sugar. The amount is indicated in the recipe card below. Honey adds deeper flavor however.
- Substitute the honey for brown sugar or maple syrup to add a different flavor profile.
- Caramelize the sugar, and use this sugar to make salted caramel panna cotta.
- Milk can be substituted with buttermilk for a tangy, creamy buttermilk panna cotta! This is one of my absolute favorite substitutions.
- You can also make this recipe dairy free by using almond milk and coconut cream (at least 20% fat content). See my recipe for refined sugar free coconut panna cotta.
- Infuse the milk with a flavor of your choice, like tea or coffee. I made an amazing boba milk tea panna cotta that infuses tea into the milk. You can also make a fabulous matcha tea panna cotta too.
Expert tips for making panna cotta
I’ve been making panna cotta for years. But it did take me a few of those years to perfect my panna cotta recipe.
- Some recipes call for cooked cream in the base mixture. I prefer not to cook the cream or boil the milk. Boiling the cream will create a skin on top of the panna cotta mixture as it cools down. That’s not very appetizing.
- A perfect panna cotta only has JUST ENOUGH gelatin to hold the cream mixture together. This means that the texture is really jiggly.
- Too much gelatin and the panna cotta has more of a jello-like consistency.
- Too little gelatin and the panna cotta won’t set properly and you got a recipe for disaster in your hands.
- With just the right amount of gelatin, this italian dessert is very jiggly, and a spoonful will instantly melt in your mouth, as if you were eating a luscious, creamy pudding. That my friends, is the perfect panna cotta, and that’s why this is the best vanilla panna cotta recipe.
Classic panna cotta ratio and using leaf gelatin
The ratio for this perfection is 3 cups (720 mL) of liquid (with an average fat content of 15 – 25%), set with 1 packet of powdered gelatin (about a 1/4 ounce).
I use powdered Knox gelatin that has a bloom strength of 225.
If you’re using leaf gelatin, I recommend using gold leaf gelatin which has a bloom strength of 200. Usually 1 packet of gelatin is = 4 – 5 gelatin leaves, but for this recipe, I find that 5 gelatin leaves made the panna cotta too stiff, and 4 leaves were the perfect amount to set the mixture.
Frequently Asked Questions and Troubleshooting
It’s likely that you either didn’t dissolve the gelatin properly, or didn’t use enough gelatin.
Another reason could be that you’re making panna cotta with kiwi fruit or another fruit that interferes with the ability of gelatin to set.
If you boiled the mixture with the gelatin, the high heat can also affect its setting ability.
Yes you can, but I prefer not to.
The fridge will cool down the panna cotta more evenly, so that you get a consistent texture as it sets. If you keep it in the freezer, the outside could cool down and freeze faster than the center. This will give the panna cotta two different textures. Not appetizing.
It’s also possible that you could forget the panna cotta in the freezer, and end up with a weird-ass frozen panna cotta the next day.
You CAN store panna cotta in the freezer (the plain panna cotta), but I prefer not to.
Frozen panna cotta can have an effect on the texture. Once frozen, transfer the panna cotta to the fridge and leave it overnight, so that the frozen parts can thaw out slowly and evenly.
Even then, there is a chance that the texture of the panna cotta could change and may not be even. So please be mindful of that.
I have stored this Italian panna cotta in the fridge for up to 5 days. Make sure they are tightly wrapped before you store them in the fridge.
I haven’t tried to make vegan panna cotta. However, you can certainly substitute with non-dairy ingredients to make this dairy free. You could also make panna cotta with agar agar by substituting the gelatin for an equal amount of agar agar powder (not flakes). Please note that agar agar does need to be boiled to activate its gelling properties.
Also please note that I haven’t personally tested this substitution. So for best results, I recommend following a vegan panna cotta recipe so you know it’ll work.
Yes, you can.
This panna cotta lasts about 5 days in the fridge. However the longer you keep it in the fridge, the less fresh it will taste.
You can make it up to 48 hours in advance and keep it in the fridge for best taste.
Absolutely! Since milk has less fat content, the panna cotta won’t have the same silky, rich mouthfeel if you don’t use any heavy cream. It’ll still be smooth, and silky, but will taste less rich without the cream.
Usually this happens when the gelatin doesn’t properly dissolve, or hasn’t properly mixed in with the milk mixture.
It can also happen if the heavy cream and milk mixture isn’t emulsified and properly mixed before pouring into dishes.
So to make sure this doesn’t happen, thoroughly mix the mixture after adding the gelatin AND after adding the cream. You could even wait for the mixture to cool down a little, and mix it again before pouring the panna cotta into individual dishes.
This is fine. Just remove the milk mixture from the stove. Whisk the milk and let the bubbles subside and the temperature to drop below boiling point. Then add the gelatin and whisk again to dissolve.
The gelatin will still set well.
If you boil your milk mixture after adding the gelatin, there could still be a chance that your panna cotta sets well. Especially if it wasn’t boiled for too long.
However, if you boil your gelatin milk mixture for a long time, it’ll be hard to say how much the gelatin could be affected. The only way to know for sure is to set the mixture and see if it still turns out OK.
To be completely safe (than sorry), I’d be tempted to make the panna cotta again if this happens.
Classic Panna Cotta Recipe
- 1 packet powdered Knox gelatin (7 g) or 4 gold gelatin sheets (8.4 g)
- 3 tbsp water if using powdered gelatin
- 1 ½ cups half and half or 3% milk
- ¼ cup honey see recipe notes, or ⅓ cup / 66 g sugar
- Generous pinch of sea salt
- 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract or vanilla caviar scraped from 1 vanilla bean pod
- 1 ½ cups heavy cream / whipping cream
Berry fluid gel
- 200 g berries I use a mix of raspberries and strawberries
- 3 tbsp honey
- ½ tbsp lemon juice
- Pinch of salt
- ½ tsp powdered gelatin 1 gold gelatin sheet
Bloom the gelatin
- Pour the water into a small bowl. Sprinkle the powdered gelatin over the water, and mix well. Set aside until the gelatin absorbs the water.1 packet powdered Knox gelatin (7 g), 3 tbsp water
- If using gelatin sheets, break the gelatin sheets in half. Fill a small bowl (that can fit the gelatin sheets) with cold tap water and submerge the gelatin sheets in the water. Set aside for at least 10 minutes until the gelatin softens. Before using the gelatin sheets, remove them from the water bowl and squeeze excess water out.1 packet powdered Knox gelatin (7 g)
- Place the half and half in a small saucepan, along with the honey, salt, and vanilla.1 ½ cups half and half, ¼ cup honey, Generous pinch of sea salt, 1 tbsp vanilla bean paste
- Heat over medium heat and stir the mixture while it's heating. Make sure the salt and honey dissolve and mix into the base. Do NOT allow the mixture to come to a boil.
- When the half and half - milk base is steaming, remove it from the heat.
- Add the bloomed gelatin straight into the hot mixture and gently stir / whisk until the gelatin has completely dissolved.
- Add the heavy cream and stir it in.1 ½ cups heavy cream / whipping cream
- Divide the mixture into 6 dishes (with a ¾ cup capacity). Each serving will be about ½ cup capacity.
- Make sure to stir the panna cotta mixture each time you pour it into a serving dish so that the vanilla seeds are properly dispersed through the mixture.
- Allow the panna cotta to cool down slightly, then cover them with plastic wrap and store in the fridge overnight.
Berry fluid gel
Bloom the gelatin
- Mix the ½ tsp of gelatin with ½ tbsp of water, and let it sit for about 10 minutes.½ tsp powdered gelatin
- If you’re using gelatin sheets, soak the gelatin sheets in a bowl of water for at least 10 minutes until softened. Make sure to squeeze out extra water before adding the sheets to the berry mix.
- Place the berries, honey, salt, and lemon juice in a small saucepan.200 g berries, 3 tbsp honey, ½ tbsp lemon juice, Pinch of salt
- Cook over medium heat until the berries break down. This can take about 10 - 15 minutes.
- Cook the mixture down until you have about 1 cup of berry coulis.
- You can use the berry coulis as is, if you prefer. But to make a fluid gel, you will need to add gelatin.
- Stir in the bloomed gelatin until it completely dissolves in the berry coulis.
- Place the coulis jello in the fridge until it sets.
- Once set, break the jello layer and place it in a container that can be used with a stick blender (i.e. a narrow and tall container that fits a stick blender).
- Blend the berry jello until you have a smooth paste. You will end up with a fluid gel (i.e. a berry sauce that still has some viscosity).
- Once the panna cotta has set, you can keep it in the fridge for up to 3 - 4 days.
- Serve the panna cotta with a dollop of the berry fluid gel and fresh berries on top.
- If you’re unmolding the panna cotta, place the mold in warm water for a few seconds until the panna cotta is slightly loosened and can be released from the mold.
- Turn it out onto a serving plate and tap or gently squeeze the mold (if using silicone) to release the panna cotta. Spoon the raspberry coulis on top, and serve immediately.
Tips & Tricks
“This website provides approximate nutrition information for convenience and as a courtesy only. Nutrition data is gathered primarily from the USDA Food Composition Database, whenever available, or otherwise other online calculators.”