Learn how to make traditional Italian panna cotta from scratch. It's a very simple recipe, and you only need 5 ingredients. The texture is velvety and smooth, and it literally melts in your mouth. It's subtly sweet and has a rich aroma due to the heavy cream and the fresh vanilla bean. Living a good portion of my life close to Italy, I learned how to make classic and authentic Italian desserts like this or tiramisu, and I will show you exactly how to make this true Italian classic to impress your family and friends.
What does panna cotta mean? It's Italian for cooked (=cotta) cream (=panna) and is originally made of sweetened and aromatized cream thickened with gelatin. It has a wobbly and velvety texture and is typically served molded with berry, mango, chocolate, or caramel sauce.
Is it the same as flan? No. Although it's similar to flan in appearance and texture, both are prepared in different ways and with different ingredients. Panna cotta is a gelatin-based custard lightly cooked and doesn't contain any eggs. Flan is a baked egg-based custard that doesn't contain gelatin.
Ingredients notes and substitutions
- Gelatin - you can use either gelatin powder or sheets. This recipe is made with powder. If you want to use gelatin sheets, use 3 sheets for this recipe.
- Heavy cream - the definition of heavy (whipping) cream differs slightly from country to country. Use a full-fat product with at least 36% fat content. Don't use a light product.
- Vanilla - using real bourbon vanilla bean gives you the best possible and most authentic taste. However, if you don't have it available, you can substitute it with 1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla extract.
First, cut off both ends of the vanilla bean and cut it through the middle lengthwise using the tip of a sharp knife. Then open the vanilla bean and scrape out the flavorful seeds with the back of the knife.
Let the water and gelatin bloom for 5-10 minutes.
Bring the heavy cream, sugar, vanilla seeds, and scraped vanilla bean to a boil.
Once it reached a boil, immediately remove the pan from the heat and carefully remove the vanilla bean. Add the bloomed gelatin and whisk until the gelatin is completely dissolved.
Pour the cooked cream through a mesh strainer (to remove bubbles and possible pieces from the vanilla bean) into molds. The cream is completely liquid and will firm when it cools.
Tip: It's easier to pour all the cream through a mesh strainer into a cup first and then fill it into molds or glasses.
Don't overfill the molds or glasses, or it's hard to transfer them. Immediately transfer it to the refrigerator and chill until firm.
How to unmold it?
To make sure you get it out of the molds in one piece, I show you how to unmold it step-by-step. First, run a sharp, thin-bladed knife around the inside of the molds to break the seal between the cream and the mold. Take care not to scratch the molds.
Then, dip the molds into warm tap water for 5 seconds.
Invert the mold onto a plate and shake a little or tap on the countertop to loosen it.
Voilá. Ready to serve.
Can I freeze it?
Yes, you can freeze it for up to 1 month. Once chilled and firm, wrap the molds in plastic wrap and place them in freezer bags or containers. To thaw, unwrap, and place in the fridge overnight.
Recipe and Video
How to Make Panna Cotta
- ½ tablespoon gelatin
- 2 tablespoon water
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- ½ cup granulated white sugar
- 1 vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
- First, cut off both ends of the vanilla bean and cut it through the middle lengthwise using the tip of a sharp knife. Although you don't need to cut it all the way through, it's ok when you do so. Then open the vanilla bean and scrape out the flavorful seeds with the back of the knife. Set aside.
- Pour the water into a small bowl and sprinkle the gelatin on top. Let it bloom for 5-10 minutes.
- Meanwhile, using a heavy-bottomed medium-sized saucepan, bring the heavy cream, sugar, vanilla seeds, and scraped vanilla bean over medium-high heat to a boil. Once it reached a boil, immediately remove the pan from the heat and carefully remove the vanilla bean. Add the bloomed gelatin and whisk until the gelatin is completely dissolved.
- Pour the cooked cream through a fine mesh strainer (to remove air bubbles and possible pieces from the vanilla bean) into molds. The cream is completely liquid and will firm when it cools. Don't overfill the molds, or it's hard to transfer them. Immediately transfer the molds to the refrigerator and chill for 8 hours or overnight. Store in the fridge for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 1 month.