Panna Cotta Recipe | How to make Panna Cotta

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This creamy, delicious and easy vegetarian version of the classic Panna Cotta recipe is just as luscious and wobbly as the original but is made without gelatin. Wow, your dinner party guests with my easy and classic Vanilla Panna Cotta recipe for this simple and elegant Italian dessert.

two bowls of panna topped with mango slices with a side of dessert spoons.

What is Panna Cotta

In Italian, panna cotta means “cooked cream”. It is a softly set, pudding-like dessert that is creamy but firm, somewhat similar to flan. Many variations of panna cotta can be made by altering the basic recipe; Mango Panna Cotta is one of our favorites.

Making Italian panna cotta is very easy and takes just 15 to 20 minutes of active time. If I’m being honest, the hardest part is having the patience for it to set up in the refrigerator!

In traditional panna cotta recipes, gelatin (which is derived from animal bones) is the thickening/setting agent used. In place of gelatin, I use agar agar, which is a flavorless substance derived from algae.

Don’t worry though – this vegetarian panna cotta recipe still has all the charming wobble of the original.

I used light cream (low-fat cream) to make the panna cotta recipe, but you can easily use regular whipping cream instead. I also flavored it very simply with vanilla extract, which can easily be substituted for other extracts like almond, lemon or coffee.

I have been making panna cotta for many years now. Somehow this classic panna cotta recipe never made it to the blog. Thus this time when I made vanilla panna cotta recipe, I took pictures, so that I can share its recipe on the blog

For an elegant presentation, feel free to serve this panna cotta with fresh fruits like sliced mango or fresh berries. You can also serve with a simple fruit-based sauce (known as a coulis).

Step-by-Step Guide

How to Make Panna Cotta

Please note that both the agar agar solution and the cream mixture should be hot when mixed with each other, so cook both simultaneously. In the stepwise photos format, I have shown the steps separately for both agar agar solution and cream mixture.

Make Agar Agar Liquid

1. First take 2 tablespoons of finely chopped agar agar strands in a small saucepan. Cut the agar agar strands into small or tiny pieces. 

Note: If you want to unmould the panna cotta from whatever container you chill it in, then add 3 tablespoons of chopped agar agar strands.

agar agar strands in a pot

2. Add ⅓ cup hot water.

hot water added to agar agar

3. Mix and let the agar agar strands soak in hot water for 5 minutes.

whisking agar agar into hot water for making vegetarian panna cotta without gelatin

4. Place the agar agar and water mixture on a low heat. Stir the agar agar solution and let it cook till the agar agar strands are dissolved.

simmering agar agar mixture

5. Continue to stir often when cooking this solution.

continuing to simmer agar agar solution

6. Cook till all the agar agar strands dissolve.

simmering agar agar with water for making panna cotta recipe without gelatin

7. The solution will also thicken. Remove from heat when all the agar agar strands have dissolved. You will see a clear solution.

agar agar solution is completely clear after dissolving all the strands

Make Cream Mixture

8. Meanwhile mix 2 cups light cream or low-fat cream (20 to 30% fat) and 2 cups whole milk in a pan or saucepan.

Feel free to use heavy cream or whipping cream, if thats what you have.

Note: Since we are using equal amounts of cream and milk, you can easily substitute 4 cups of half n’ half instead.

cream and milk in pan

9. Add ½ cup sugar.

sugar added to cream and milk mixture

10. Place saucepan on a low to low-medium heat. Stir with a wired whisk until the sugar completely dissolves.

whisking cream milk and sugar to dissolve the sugar over medium heat

11. Keep on stirring at intervals while the cream mixture comes to a simmer.

making cream mixture for vegetarian panna cotta recipe

12. The mixture should *just* come to a simmer or a light gentle boil. Then remove it from heat.

cream mixture is barely at a simmer before removing from heat

13. Add 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract.

Note: If using vanilla essence, then add 1 teaspoon of it.

adding vanilla to cream mix for making panna cotta recipe

14. Mix very well.

whisking vanilla into cream base for panna cotta

Make Vanilla Panna Cotta Mixture

15. Now add the hot agar agar solution to the hot cream and milk mixture. Both the agar agar solution and the cream mixture should be hot when you mix them.

pouring agar solution into warm cream for making panna cotta recipe with no gelatin

16. Mix again very well.

whisking panna cotta bases together

Assemble and Chill Panna Cotta

17. Pour the hot panna cotta mixture into bowls. If you plan to unmould the panna cotta, then grease the bowls with some neutral-tasting oil like sunflower oil.

panna cotta mixture without gelatin poured into clear bowls for setting

18. Cover the bowls with aluminum foil or lids. When the panna cotta mixture becomes warm or comes to room temperature, then place the bowls in the fridge to set for 4 to 5 hours or overnight.

vegetarian panna cotta in bowls covered with foil for refrigeration

19. Once set well, the panna cotta will gently wobble. Some water from condensation will be on top of the panna cotta. These are water droplets from the steam collected on the foil or lid.

If you want to avoid the water droplets, then let the panna cotta mixture cool first at room temperature and then cover with the lids or aluminum foil.

three bowls of panna cotta after setting up in the fridge

20. Serve Panna Cotta as-is, or top it with your favorite fresh fruit or berries. Sauces like fruit coulis, chocolate sauce or caramel can also be used. You can even drizzle some honey or maple syrup on the panna cotta. Enjoy!

overhead shot of classic panna cotta recipe made with no gelatin in a clear bowl and garnished with mango slices

Expert Tips

  • Temperature of Liquids: Both the agar agar solution and the cream mixture should be hot when you mix them while making the panna cotta recipe. In case one of them cools, follow these instructions:
    • For agar agar – on cooling the agar agar sets and becomes gelatinous, so add some hot water and reheat them with continuous stirring. You can also use a hot water bath.
    • For the cream mixture – gently reheat this mixture on a low flame till its hot.
  • Scale: This panna cotta recipe can be scaled depending on your needs. It is easily halved or doubled.
  • Sweetness: Feel free to adjust the sugar content to your needs.
  • Cream: Heavy cream or whipping cream can be used instead of light cream or low-fat cream.
  • Vegan options: For a vegan version of panna cotta recipe, use coconut cream in place of cream and almond milk in place of dairy milk.
  • Agar agar: The amount of agar agar used in the recipe will give you a panna cotta that sets nicely and is firm enough for serving in individual glasses. If you want a panna cotta that you unmould from a decorative container, I suggest adding an additional tablespoon of agar agar.

FAQs

Can I use agar agar powder instead of strands?

Absolutely! Use just 1 tablespoon of powdered agar agar, or 1.5 tablespoons if you plan on unmoulding it.

Can I use low-fat or skim milk?

Yep! Feel free to swap in equal amounts of any milk you prefer.

Can I make this vegan?

Sure! Just swap coconut cream for the cream and use your favorite plant-based milk substitute. I like making mine with unsweetened almond milk.

What can I use in place of light cream in the panna cotta recipe?

Simply swap in an equal amount of heavy cream or whipping cream.

What is the best way to make a panna cotta that I can unmould for serving?

Increase the amount of agar agar used by a full tablespoon. Also, be sure to lightly grease the container you are using to chill the panna cotta. Opt for a neutral flavored oil like vegetable, corn or grapeseed to prevent any strange flavors from developing.

Why didn’t my panna cotta set?

Sounds like one of two things happened: first, be sure to let it rest overnight in the fridge. If you rush this step, the residual heat will prevent the dessert from setting up.

Second, be sure to use enough agar agar. If you use too little, the panna cotta will end up being more like a pudding. Don’t worry though, it’ll still taste good!

More Classic Desserts!

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panna cotta recipe

Panna Cotta Recipe | How to make Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta is an Italian dessert made with milk and cream. This easy and delicious panna cotta recipe is made without gelatin and thus a vegetarian version of panna cotta. To set the dessert agar agar is used instead of gelatin.
5 from 2 votes
Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 15 minutes
Cuisine Italian, World
Course Desserts
Diet Gluten Free, Vegetarian
Difficulty Level Moderate
Servings 6
Units

Ingredients

  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 2 cups light cream or low-fat cream (20 to 30% fat), swap easily with 2 cups of whipping or heavy cream
  • ½ cup sugar or add as required
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or 1 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 2 tablespoons agar agar strands – finely chopped
  • cup hot water

Instructions
 

  • Do note that both the agar agar solution and the cream mixture should be hot when mixed with each other. So cook both simultaneously. 

Making agar agar liquid

  • First take the 2 tablespoons finely chopped agar agar strands in a small sauce pan. Do cut the agar agar strands in small or tiny pieces.
  • Add hot water.
  • Mix and let the agar agar strands soak in hot water for 5 minutes.
  • Then keep the agar agar and water mixture on a low heat. Keep on stirring the agar agar solution and let it cook till the agar agar strands are dissolved.
  • Continue to stir often when cooking this solution.
  • Switch off the heat when all the agar agar strands have dissolved. You will see a clear solution.

Making vanilla panna cotta mixture

  • Meanwhile mix the light cream (or whipping or heavy cream) and whole milk in a pan or saucepan.
  • Add sugar.
  • Keep the saucepan on the stovetop on a low to low-medium heat. Stir with a wired whisk. The sugar should dissolve completely.
  • Keep on stirring at intervals while the cream mixture comes to a gentle boil.
  • The mixture should just come to a gentle boil. Then turn off the heat.
  • Add the vanilla extract. If using vanilla essence, then add 1 teaspoon of it. Mix very well.
  • Now add the hot agar agar liquid to the hot cream and milk mixture. Both the agar agar solution and the cream mixture should be hot when you mix them.
  • Mix again very well with a wired whisk.

Setting panna cotta

  • Pour the hot panna cotta mixture in bowls. If you plan to unmould the panna cotta, then grease the bowls with some neutral tasting oil like sunflower oil.
  • Cover the bowls with aluminium foil or lids. When the panna cotta mixture becomes warm or comes to room temperature, then place the bowls in the fridge to set for 4 to 5 hours or overnight.
  • After setting, the panna cotta will have a gentle wobble on it.
    Serve Panna Cotta once it is set as is or topped with your favorite fruits or berries or drizzled with a fruit sauce or coulis.

Notes

  • Liquids Temperature: Both the agar agar solution and the cream mixture should be hot when you mix them. In case one of them cools or becomes warm, follow these instructions:
    • For agar agar – on cooling the agar agar sets and becomes gelatinous, so add some hot water and reheat it with continuous stirring. You can also use a hot water bath.
    • For the cream mixture – gently reheat this mixture on a low flame till its hot.
  • Cream: Instead of light cream, feel free to make panna cotta with whipping cream or heavy cream.
  • Sweetness: Adjust the amount of sugar as needed.
  • Setting Time: Let the panna cotta set completely before you serve it. Depending on your fridge settings it can take 4 to 5 hours or 9 to 12 hours for it to set. 
  • Vegan option: For a vegan version of panna cotta, use coconut cream and almond milk.
  • Agar agar: The amount of agar agar used in the recipe will give you a panna cotta that sets nicely and is firm. So this is best served in a bowl or a small dessert glass. If you want to unmould and serve then I would suggest adding 3 tablespoons chopped agar agar strands instead of 2 tablespoons as mentioned in the recipe.
  • Scaling: The recipe can be halved or doubled.

Nutrition Info (Approximate Values)

Nutrition Facts
Panna Cotta Recipe | How to make Panna Cotta
Amount Per Serving
Calories 392 Calories from Fat 288
% Daily Value*
Fat 32g49%
Saturated Fat 20g125%
Cholesterol 117mg39%
Sodium 66mg3%
Potassium 167mg5%
Carbohydrates 23g8%
Sugar 21g23%
Protein 4g8%
Vitamin A 1298IU26%
Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) 1mg67%
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) 1mg59%
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) 1mg5%
Vitamin B6 1mg50%
Vitamin B12 1µg17%
Vitamin C 1mg1%
Vitamin D 2µg13%
Vitamin E 1mg7%
Vitamin K 3µg3%
Calcium 143mg14%
Vitamin B9 (Folate) 7µg2%
Magnesium 14mg4%
Phosphorus 118mg12%
Zinc 1mg7%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

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This Panna Cotta recipe from the archives, originally published in April 2018 has been updated and republished on February 2023.

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Meet Dassana

Welcome to Dassana's Veg Recipes. I share vegetarian recipes from India & around the World. Having been cooking for decades and with a professional background in cooking & baking, I help you to make your cooking journey easier with my tried and tested recipes showcased with step by step photos & plenty of tips & suggestions.

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