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.
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).
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.
2. Add ⅓ cup hot water.
3. Mix and let the agar agar strands soak in hot water for 5 minutes.
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.
5. Continue to stir often when cooking this solution.
6. Cook till all the agar agar strands dissolve.
7. The solution will also thicken. Remove from heat when all the agar agar strands have dissolved. You will see a clear solution.
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.
9. Add ½ cup sugar.
10. Place saucepan on a low to low-medium heat. Stir with a wired whisk until the sugar completely dissolves.
11. Keep on stirring at intervals while the cream mixture comes to a simmer.
12. The mixture should *just* come to a simmer or a light gentle boil. Then remove it from heat.
13. Add 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract.
Note: If using vanilla essence, then add 1 teaspoon of it.
14. Mix very well.
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.
16. Mix again very well.
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.
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.
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.
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!
- 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.
Absolutely! Use just 1 tablespoon of powdered agar agar, or 1.5 tablespoons if you plan on unmoulding it.
Yep! Feel free to swap in equal amounts of any milk you prefer.
Sure! Just swap coconut cream for the cream and use your favorite plant-based milk substitute. I like making mine with unsweetened almond milk.
Simply swap in an equal amount of heavy cream or whipping cream.
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.
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!
Please be sure to rate the recipe in the recipe card or leave a comment below if you have made it. For more vegetarian inspirations, Sign Up for my emails or follow me on Instagram, Youtube, Facebook, Pinterest or Twitter.
Panna Cotta Recipe | How to make Panna Cotta
- 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
- ⅓ cup hot water
- 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.
- 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)
This Panna Cotta recipe from the archives, originally published in April 2018 has been updated and republished on February 2023.