Easy Panna Cotta Should Be Your Go-To Make Ahead Dessert (2024)

  • Italian
  • Easy Desserts
  • Heavy Cream

Panna cotta is an easy and elegant make-ahead dessert for any special occasion.


Sally Vargas

Easy Panna Cotta Should Be Your Go-To Make Ahead Dessert (1)

Sally Vargas

Sally is the author of four cookbooks and is a regular correspondent for the Boston Globe Wednesday Food Section. She also is a food photographer.

Learn about Simply Recipes'Editorial Process

Updated April 21, 2024

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There are certain desserts that are so easy to make and so stupendously rewarding that they should be at the very top of your list for special occasions.

Italian panna cotta is definitely one of them.

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What Is Panna Cotta?

Let’s not beat around the bush: Italians have the corner on the market when it comes to creating something amazing from only a few good ingredients. Panna cotta literally means "cooked cream," and that's about all it is!

This custard-like dessert is made with just cream, sugar, and gelatin – though I like to add sour cream and vanilla to mine for the extra flavor.

This panna cotta is like serving berries and cream, but fancier. Since you're not using any eggs, you can really taste the delicate flavor of the cream. The barely-set custard also has a luxurious, silky texture that feels so elegant.

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How To Work With Gelatin

Powdered gelatin must be softened first in cold liquid. In this case, I do it in milk. Then the softened gelatin needs to be warmed to fully dissolve. When making panna cotta, I do this by pouring the warmed cream over the softened gelatin.

Since the amounts of gelatin in individual packets can vary slightly, be sure to measure it out with a teaspoon. Too much gelatin could result in a texture that is too firm and Jello-like (you want the panna cotta to be just barely firm enough to unmold).

For those of you looking for a vegan substitute for the gelatin, take a look at this reference guide on The Kitchn. It's a good place to start when looking for alternative gelling agents.

Tip for Unmolding Panna Cotta

Simplify the unmolding process by lightly coating the ramekins used for molds with mild vegetable oil or spray.

If you don’t want to bother with unmolding, you can also simply pour the panna cotta mixture into pretty dishes and serve them as is. (Be sure to leave some room in the dish for the berries!) For reference when choosing molds or serving dishes, this recipe makes six 6-ounce servings, or eight 4-ounce servings.

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How Long Does Panna Cotta Take To Set?

Be sure to let the panna cotta chill in the molds for at least 4 hours to make sure it's fully set.

How Far Ahead Can You Make Panna Cotta?

Panna cotta is a fantastic make-ahead dessert! You can prepare it up to three days ahead and keep it in the fridge until you're ready to serve. Panna cotta will actually keep for longer, but for best flavor, serving it within three days is best.

If chilling longer than a few hours, we recommend covering the molds loosely with an upside-down baking sheet, crumpled up foil, or crumpled up plastic. (You want to avoid moisture condensing on whatever you're using to cover the panna cotta and dripping into the molds.)

If you're serving the panna cotta straight from the cups instead of unmolding, wait to top them with fruit or sauce until just before serving.

More Ways To Serve Panna Cotta

We love topping our panna cotta with fresh berries and an easy berry sauce, but there are plenty of other things you can do! Try dressing up your panna cotta any of these:

  • Shaved chocolate
  • Any sliced fruit, like strawberries, mangos, or even baked apple slices. (Roasted strawberries would also be wonderful!)
  • Add a layer of caramel sauce over top
  • Top with a few spoonfuls of lemon curd
  • Add extract to the cream, like orange extract or lemon extract
  • Infuse the cream with herbs or spices while it warms, like cinnamon or mint. Strain before adding to the gelatin mixture.

More Easy and Elegant Desserts

  • Easy Lemon Pudding
  • Easy Instant Pot Cheesecake
  • Chocolate Truffles
  • Citrus Olive Oil Cake
  • French Crêpes

From the Editors Of Simply Recipes

Easy Panna Cotta

Prep Time20 mins

Total Time20 mins

Servings6 servings


For the panna cotta:

  • Vegetable oil, or vegetable oil spray (for the molds)

  • 1/2 cup cold milk

  • 3 teaspoons unflavored gelatin powder

  • 3 cups heavy cream

  • 1/3 cup (67g) sugar

  • Pinch salt

  • 1/2 cup sour cream

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the sauce and berries:

  • 1 (12-ounce) package (about 3 cups) frozen raspberries, defrosted

  • 3 tablespoons sugar

  • 3 tablespoons orange juice

  • 2 cups fresh blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, sliced strawberries, or a mix


  1. Prepare the molds:

    Lightly brush or spray six 6-ounce ramekins with oil. (Skip this step if you are planning to serve straight from the dishes.)

    Place the ramekins on a baking sheet for easy transfer of the panna cotta from the counter to the fridge.

  2. Soften the gelatin:

    Pour the milk into a medium mixing bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over top. Stir with a fork to combine. Set aside for 5 minutes without stirring to allow the gelatin to soften. (It will look like curdled milk or milky applesauce.)

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  3. Warm the cream and sugar:

    In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the cream, sugar, and salt to a simmer. Stir frequently until the sugar is dissolved and the milk is just starting to steam. Do not let it come to a boil (if it does, let it cool slightly before continuing to the next step).

  4. Whisk the cream into the gelatin:

    Slowly pour the hot cream over the gelatin, whisking as you go in order to dissolve the gelatin. Rub a little of the cream mixture between your fingers to make sure the gelatin has dissolved; it should feel smooth, not grainy.

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  5. Add the sour cream and vanilla:

    Whisk in the sour cream and vanilla until smooth.

  6. Fill and chill the molds:

    Divide the panna cotta mixture between the ramekins. Transfer to the ramekins to the fridge and chill for at least 4 hours until set, or overnight.

  7. Make the raspberry sauce:

    Close to when you're ready to serve, puree the raspberries, sugar and orange juice in a blender until smooth. Pass through a fine meshed strainer to remove the seeds. Set aside or refrigerate until needed. (This sauce can also be made several days in advance and kept refrigerated.)

  8. Unmold the panna cotta:

    Slide a paring knife around the edge of each ramekin. Place a dessert plate upside-down over the top of the ramekin. Holding the plate in position, flip it over so the ramekin is now upside down on top of the plate. Slowly lift the ramekin at a slight angle to release the panna cotta.

    Spoon some of the sauce around the panna cotta and sprinkle with berries. (If you're serving straight from the dish, spoon some of the sauce over top and sprinkle with berries.)

Nutrition Facts (per serving)
50g Fat
42g Carbs
7g Protein


Nutrition Facts
Servings: 6
Amount per serving
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 50g64%
Saturated Fat 30g149%
Cholesterol 147mg49%
Sodium 74mg3%
Total Carbohydrate 42g15%
Dietary Fiber 8g27%
Total Sugars 33g
Protein 7g
Vitamin C 35mg176%
Calcium 151mg12%
Iron 1mg5%
Potassium 368mg8%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.

Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate. In cases where multiple ingredient alternatives are given, the first listed is calculated for nutrition. Garnishes and optional ingredients are not included.

Easy Panna Cotta Should Be Your Go-To Make Ahead Dessert (2024)
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