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The Best Vanilla Panna Cotta Recipe (Easy to Make)

Vespa's recipes have appeared in "Midwest Living" and "Taste of Home." She belongs to Cook's Recipe Testers for "Cook's Illustrated."

Panna cotta with fresh blueberries

Panna cotta with fresh blueberries

How to Make Vanilla Panna Cotta

Jackson was 12 years old when he made his first panna cotta. The dinner plates had been cleared away when his mother served the elegant dessert. It was silken, creamy, and delicately scented with rose water. We were blown away. Was Jackson some kind of child prodigy?

Then I learned how fast and easy it is to make panna cotta. An Italian dessert whose name literally means "cooked cream," it is straightforward, simple, and elegant. I've since added it to my arsenal and have yet to find a better dessert for company.

Low-Fat Panna Cotta

Although we love full-fat panna cotta, I often replace half the cream with kefir, plain yogurt, or buttermilk. Not only does it cut the fat and calorie content, but it also makes a light, fresh panna cotta.

You can flavor panna cotta with vanilla, dark rum a la Chef Gordon Ramsey or a liqueur like Grand Marnier. Pour into ramekins, custard cups or, in a pinch, short drinking glasses. Chill for at least two hours and garnish with fresh fruit, berries, chocolate shavings or frosted rose petals. Or drizzle caramel sauce or wild berry sauce over individual servings of panna cotta. You'll have an easy dessert fit for a king: simple, elegant, delicious.

Panna cotta and frosted rose petals

Panna cotta and frosted rose petals


  • Traditional panna cotta is made with heavy cream. We like to replace half of the cream with kefir, yogurt or buttermilk for a light, lower calorie dessert.
  • The cream and yogurt will separate if boiled—just heat to steaming.
  • Flavor panna cotta with our favorite vanilla paste, dark rum or a liqueur such as Grand Marnier.
  • If you don't have vanilla paste, substitute a vanilla bean or vanilla extract.
  • Pour hot panna cotta mixture into ramekins, custard cups or short glasses.
  • For picture-perfect panna cotta, briefly soak ramekins or custard cups in hot water. Panna cotta will easily slide onto the serving plate.
  • Panna cotta is best eaten within a day or two. Texture won't be as creamy after a couple of days in the refrigerator.
Vanilla panna cotta and exotic wild berry sauce

Vanilla panna cotta and exotic wild berry sauce

Vanilla Panna Cotta

Prep timeCook timeReady inYields

10 min

5 min

15 min

6 servings


  • 1 cup (236 milliliters) heavy cream or half-and-half
  • 1 cup (236 milliliters) plain kefir, yogurt or buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup white granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla bean paste or liqueur (see tips)
  • Pinch of kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoons powdered, unflavored gelatin
  • 1/4 cup cold water


  1. Pour cream, yogurt, sugar and salt into a medium saucepan.
  2. Heat over medium heat until sugar dissolves and mixture is steamy. Do not boil!
  3. While the cream heats, combine unflavored gelatin and cold water in a cup. Set aside for 5–10 minutes.
  4. Stir gelatin mixture and vanilla paste or liqueur into hot cream.
  5. Lightly grease ramekins or dessert dishes with a flavorless vegetable oil such as canola.
  6. Pour panna cotta into dishes and refrigerate at least 2 hours, until set.
  7. To unmold: set dishes in very hot water for a few seconds, until panna cotta easily unmolds. Do not leave in hot water too long or panna cotta will melt.
  8. Garnish individual panna cottas with wild berry sauce, fresh berries or fruit, caramel sauce or chocolate shavings.