How to Make Vanilla Panna Cotta

Everyone needs a good recipe for Panna Cotta in their recipe box because it is an incredibly easy but elegant dessert that goes well with almost any menu.  Amazingly it is also light, which makes this perfect for those times when you want to impress your guests with a beautiful, luscious dessert that won’t weigh everyone down at the end of a meal.

Five bowls of panna cotta topped with berries on a solver tray.

What is Panna Cotta?

Panna Cotta literally means “cooked cream” in Italian.  It is a smooth, creamy, and lightly sweet custard like dessert made with cream and gelatin.  The original version of Panna Cotta comes from the Piedmont region of Italy, and it was made with cream, marsala, gelatin, and sugar.  Over the years different versions have been developed and many of them substitute milk for some of the cream to lighten it a bit.  I tried to stay as close as possible to the original. 

My recipe uses almost all cream, but you will find that it tastes exceptionally light even though the cream makes it completely decadent.  When I serve this dessert, I am not trying to cut calories but if you want to swap some milk for some of the cream, the result will still be delicious and creamy.

Panna Cotta vs Crème Brule

Both Panna Cotta and Crème Brule are delicious desserts but they are different in ingredients and process. While Panna Cotta is made with gelatin as a thickener, Crème Brule uses eggs. one other difference is the method used to prepare them, Panna Cotta is cooked on the stove and then refrigerated until set, while Crème Brule is cooked in the oven until set and then refrigerated.

Flavor Variations and Topping Ideas

One of the things that you will love about this recipe is that it is versatile.  You can add coffee, almond, lemon, or other extracts to create different flavors.  

You can also play with any number of toppings to create a completely different dish. Panna Cotta is most often served with with fruit, but chocolate and caramel are also popular pairings.  My favorite topping is a Strawberry Compote.  It is lightly sweet, slightly thickened and its bright colors are stunning against the white canvas of the Panna Cotta.  You can really have fun experimenting with your favorite toppings.

Panna cotta in glass bowls with berries and two cups of coffee.

It can be made ahead

I made this many years ago for a bridal luncheon and served it in Martini glasses.  It was a simple but beautiful presentation and the ladies loved it!  I served Panna Cotta because it could be made the day before. This way I could cross one more item off my “to do” list and not have to worry about it on the day to the shower.  This is a huge plus in my book. 

two bowls of panna cotta with 2 brown cups of espresso.

How to Make Panna Cotta

You only need a few ingredients: Gelatin, milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla.

Sprinkle the gelatin over the milk in a small bowl and allow it to dissolve for about two minutes.

In the meantime, add the heavy cream and sugar to a medium saucepan and heat until the sugar is dissolved, and the cream just starts to boil.  Add the milk and gelatin mixture and stir until the gelatin completely dissolves.

Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Pour into 6 serving dishes and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.


How do you store Panna Cotta

This custardy dessert can be store in the refrigerator for several days as long as it is covered tightly with plastic wrap or in an air tight container.

Can you freeze Panna Cotta?

You can freeze it if you store it container that is air tight. It will last in the freezer for up to 2 months. When defrosting it, place it in the refrigerator and allow it to defrost slowly. You may find that the cream separates while it is defrosting. This is okay you may need to stir up and allow it to set before

A glass bowl filled with panna cotta and fruit on a solver tray.

If you are looking for other fabulous dessert recipes you may want to try one of these:

Nonna’s Pineapple Cookies

The Best Tiramisu

Nonna’s Easy Almond Ring

Five glass cups with panna cotta topped with a mixed berry compote.

How to Make Vanilla Panna Cotta

Panna Cotta is a creamy Italian custard made with cream and gelatin. If you are looking for something beautiful but simple, this is it! You will find that Panna Cotta is smooth, creamy and lightly sweet. Top with your favorite fruit or syrup for a really special presentation.
5 from 2 votes
Cook Time 15 minutes
4 hours
Total Time 4 hours 15 minutes
Course Dessert
Cuisine Italian
Servings 6 servings
Calories 437 kcal


  • ¼ Cup Milk
  • 1 Tbsp. Gelatin
  • Cups Heavy Cream
  • Cup Sugar
  • Tsp. Vanilla


  • Sprinkle the gelatin over the milk and allow it to dissolve for about two minutes.
  • Add the heavy cream and sugar to a medium sauce pan and heat until the sugar is dissolved and the cream just starts to boil. Add the milk and gelatin mixture and stir until the gelatin completely dissolves.
  • Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.
  • Pour into 6 serving dishes and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.


Serving: 6gCalories: 437kcalCarbohydrates: 15gProtein: 5gFat: 41gSaturated Fat: 25gCholesterol: 150mgSodium: 51mgPotassium: 98mgSugar: 12gVitamin A: 1620IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 84mgIron: 1mg
Keyword Panna Cotta, dessert, pudding, custard
Tried this recipe?Let us know how it was!

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  1. I can’t wait to make this! I had it at a Tappo one night because I had wanted Creme Brûlée and this was highly recommended by our server! Yummy!! It did not disappoint!

  2. Really beautiful and I love custard so I’ll have to try making this fir company. The day before!!

  3. Pingback: Pasta with Vodka Sauce and Sausage - Easy Weeknight Recipe -
  4. 5 stars
    I made this recipe last night for our girlfriends for dessert! It was a huge hit! So yummy and delicious! I will be making this again soon 😘

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