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Italian Panna Cotta Recipe

This Italian Panna Cotta recipe is luscious and creamy without being too heavy. The flavor of vanilla perfectly compliments fruit and fresh fruit sauces.

If you are looking for the best, make-ahead dessert, then look no further. Here’s an Italian dessert that looks impressive, easy and almost fail proof!

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three vanilla panna cotta in glasses with strawberries and blueberries.

This updated post was first published in February 2011.

Panna Cotta with vanilla bean is one of my most popular desserts. This is easy to make, egg free and gluten free so what’s not to love?

Just like Italian Tiramisu, Apricot Tart and Cannoli Cake, this classic Italian panna cotta recipe is well known but often thought of as difficult. However, it’s actually quite simple with very little that can go wrong.

Italians have quite a sweet tooth but usually purchase most of their sweet treats at a pasticcerie (a shop selling cakes and pastries). But many of the best Italian desserts like this vanilla panna cotta are quite easily made at home.

For complete ingredient quantities and full instructions, please scroll to the printable recipe card bottom of the page.

Ingredients

ingredients for vanilla bean panna cotta as in the recipe card.

Panna Cotta mean “cooked cream” in Italian so there is no guessing what is the main ingredient in this recipe. I find this dessert made completely with cream results in a slightly fatty or oily mouth feel. Because of this I like to add milk as well as cream.

You will need a few simple ingredients.

  • cream – I use heavy or thickened cream which has 35% fat
  • milk – whole full fat milk
  • white superfine (castor) sugar – super fine sugar dissolves easily
  • unflavored powdered gelatin – this recipe talks more about the use of gelatin
  • vanilla bean – the main ingredient and easily found in most supermarkets
  • salt – just a pinch to bring out the natural flavors

Ingredient substitutions and variations

Once you master the basic Italian panna cotta recipe, ingredients can be substituted and varied to suit your tastes or needs.

  • use pure pouring cream that has no additives (if using pure cream, allow heated mixture to cool in the refrigerator but not set before pouring into glasses)
  • substitute natural or Greek yogurt for milk
  • low fat milk can be used instead of full fat
  • use all whole full fat milk for a lighter dessert
  • for a dairy free dessert, substitute coconut cream for cream and milk
  • instead of sugar, sweeten with mild flavored honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar or agave
  • use 3 teaspoons of vanilla extract instead of a vanilla bean

Instructions

four images showing process steps of how to make this recipe.

The steps to make this recipe are quite simple. All you need to do is –

  1. Mix the gelatin into 1/4 cup of milk and allow to bloom.
  2. Heat together remaining ingredients. Remove from the heat and add bloomed gelatin and stir until completely dissolved.
  3. Strain into a jug.
  4. Pour evenly into glasses.

Tips for success

  • Be sure to add the gelatin to cold milk. The gelatin will bloom and become really thick.
  • Heat cream/milk mixture gently over low to medium heat. This is not meant to boil.
  • Stir the bloomed gelatin into the cream/milk mixture OFF the heat. Don’t boil gelatin because it will lose it’s setting properties.
  • Pouring from a jug will ensure serving glasses remain clean of spills.
  • After pouring panna cotta mixture into serving glasses, cover with plastic wrap and carefully place in the refrigerator to set.

FAQ’S

Can these be made in advance?

Yes! This recipe must be made in advance because it needs to set. Make this dessert the day before you want to serve it for best results.

What is the best way to store?

Store in the refrigerator and wrap each glass in plastic wrap.

How long will these keep?

This dessert is best served within 24 hours once it has set. However leftovers will keep for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator but it will not be at its prime.

Can this recipe be frozen?

No, desserts set with gelatin are not suitable for freezing.

Last time I made panna cotta it separated. How can I prevent this happening?

Panna cotta tends to separate when pure cream is used which is why I use whipping/thickened cream in this recipe. If you are using pure pouring cream, be sure to cool strained panna cotta in the refrigerator. Stir regularly to prevent skin forming on the top then pour into glasses when cool but not set.

vanilla panna cotta in glasses with strawberries and blueberries viewed from above.

Serving suggestions

Fresh fruit or fruit sauces are the perfect accompaniment for creamy, vanilla desserts like this one.

  • Try macerating halved/quartered strawberries and whole blueberries with a little sugar. Spoon over set panna cotta with chopped pistachio nuts.
  • Top with a few spoonfuls of homemade Strawberry coulis.
  • Add a layer of Cherry sauce for a festive touch.

More recipes you’ll love

Nutella Panna Cotta
Ricotta Pie
Cinnamon Panna Cotta with Apple Crumble
Mango Ice Cream

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three vanilla panna cotta in glasses with strawberries and blueberries

Italian Panna Cotta

Italian Panna Cotta is luscious and creamy without being too heavy. This is a great, make-ahead dessert that is perfect for all occasions.
5 from 81 votes
Print Rate
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 5 minutes
setting time: 8 hours
Total Time: 8 hours 25 minutes
Servings:8 servings
Author: Marcellina

Ingredients

  • 3 cups (720mls) heavy cream 35% butterfat
  • 1 cup (240mls) whole full fat milk
  • ½ cup (100 grams) granulated white sugar
  • teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin See note 1
  • 1 vanilla bean
  • pinch salt

Instructions

  • Place 2 tablespoons of water in a small bowl and sprinkle powdered gelatin over the surface and stir well. Let stand for 5-10 minutes to soften and bloom.
  • Cut the vanilla bean in half and with the back of the knife or a teaspoon scrap out the seeds.
  • Put the vanilla bean and scraped seeds into a medium saucepan with cream, remaining milk, sugar and salt. Heat until just before boiling point. A few bubbles will start forming around the edges of the saucepan, steam will rise and the sugar should be dissolved. Remove from heat and let it stand for 5 minutes for the flavours to infuse.
  • Heat the bloomed gelatin in the microwave for 10-20 seconds until melted and there are no lumps.
  • Stir the melted gelatin mixture into the cream/milk and immediately whisk until smooth and dissolved. If the gelatin hasn’t fully dissolved, return the saucepan to the stove and heat gently over low heat. Stir constantly and don’t let the mixture boil.
  • Strain into a 4 cup jug to remove the vanilla and any pieces that may have broken off. Place the jug in the fridge until it cools completely but doesn't set. Stir every now and then.
  • Then pour cream/milk mixture into 8 individual serving glasses.
  • Cover the glasses with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4-6 hours, or until completely set.
  • Serve with fruit and chopped nuts.

Notes

  1. The gelatin powder used is platinum strength. As a guide, 2 teaspoons will set 2 cups plus 4 teaspoons of liquid (or 2 metric cups (500mls).
Tips for success
  • Be sure to add the gelatin to cold milk. The gelatin will bloom and become really thick.
  • Heat cream/milk mixture gently over low to medium heat. This is not meant to boil.
  • Stir the bloomed gelatin into the cream/milk mixture OFF the heat. Don’t boil gelatin because it will lose it’s setting properties.
  • Pouring from a jug will ensure serving glasses remain clean of spills.
  • After pouring panna cotta mixture into serving glasses, cover with plastic wrap and carefully place in the refrigerator to set.
Tried this recipe? Give it a star rating and leave a comment below!

Nutritional Estimate Per Serving

Calories: 335kcal | Carbohydrates: 17g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 29g | Saturated Fat: 18g | Cholesterol: 103mg | Sodium: 47mg | Potassium: 127mg | Sugar: 14g | Vitamin A: 957IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 96mg | Iron: 1mg

Nutritional Disclaimer

Nutritional information is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. For accurate results, it is recommended that the nutritional information be calculated based on the ingredients and brands you use.

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Recipe Rating




19 Comments

  1. – – CIAO Marcellina ;-))
    – I am writing from France where you cannot find “powdered gelatin” but instead “gelatin leaves”… DO YOU KNOW HOW much leaves I need to use to replace the 2tsp1/2 of powdered one in your recipe…???
    -( By the way, I LOVE your “S” ITALIAN cookies for dunking !!! SO EASY TO MAKE…AND TO EAT !!!! ;-))

    1. Ciao Virginie! How lovely to hear from you! I can’t give you an exact measurement because gelatine leaves can vary from brand to brand, country to country. What I can tell you is that the gelatine powder I use says that 2 teaspoons will set 500mls liquid (approximately 2 cups). So if you think about that, have a look at the gelatine leaves you use and check the package. It should tell you how many leaves will set 500mls of liquid. You should use those leaves plus another 1/4 of that amount. For example if you need 4 gelatine leaves to set 500mls of liquid then you will need to use 5 gelatine leaves for my panna cotta recipe. I hope that makes sense. Glad you love the S cookies! We do too!

  2. 5 stars
    Perfect every time and doesn’t include out-of-place ingredients like sour cream or yogurt.

  3. i do occasionally eat panna cotta but i find it too rubbery most times. too much gelatine for me. the best i ever had was at the tasmanian taste festival. it really needs to wobble:-) vanilla is a great flavour when done with beans:)

    1. It is such a fine line, Sherry! Too much gelatine or panna cotta when it’s too old is not good!! This panna cotta is barely set – just how I like it.

  4. Great post and gorgeous photo! People are always surprised how easy it is to make panna cotta. It’s considered a “fancy” dessert so it has to be a project to make, or so the thinking goes.

    1. Thank you Frank! That’s so true. I find everyone waits to eat panna cotta at a restaurant, where they could be making it at home for a fraction of the price!

  5. Real vanilla makes all the difference. This is one of my favourite classic Italian desserts.

  6. Especially love the mixed sweetened berry topping, it just intensified both the presentation and definitely the taste too… Great choice of combination!

  7. Its beautiful. My daughter liked it too but she thought it a little on the sweeter side.

  8. Ciao, I found you on Flavia's comments, sei italiana?

    I see that you live in Australia, I live in New Zealand, just across the ditch!

    Beautiful blog, I'll follow you!

    ciao
    Alessandra

  9. Great work! I think a lot of people have avoided making Panna Cotta thinking it was harder than it is! Its now on my regular dessert list!