Panna Cotta is a delicious make-ahead dessert that’s simple to make, and also pretty enough for a special occasion. That’s why I love it for entertaining! Because it’s so often served at restaurants, it’s easy to think of it as complicated or fancy, but it’s one of the easiest desserts you can make yourself.

Panna Cotta - In Glasses with Fresh Berries On Top of Raspberry Gelee

I can’t tell you how much I appreciate make-ahead desserts for parties, special dinners, and other occasions at home.

Entrees like Lasagna or Chicken Marsala almost always have to be made just before serving, so it helps to be able to make dessert beforehand and simply have it waiting in the fridge to pull out when it’s time for dessert. And this is a perfect dessert for dinner parties!

Much like other make-ahead classics like Tiramisu or Creme Brulee, this Panna Cotta does not suffer at all from being made ahead of time.

This is true regardless of whether you’re just doing the milk and cream layer or if you’re doing the raspberry gelee on top too, which is optional.

However, the Raspberry Gelee adds such a gorgeous contrasting color and a complementary flavor, so I highly recommend it. A fruit sauce is always wonderful with a creamy panna cotta.

What is Panna Cotta?

Panna Cotta is a creamy classic Italian dessert that is served cold, and literally translates to “cooked cream.” The combination of milk and heavy cream is traditionally set using gelatin, making it sort of like a creamy jello or pudding.

It can be served in glasses like I have here, or inverted onto a plate for a molded look.

If you’re a fan of crème brûlée, or any custard-like dessert, you should enjoy this very much. It has a very silky texture.

Panna Cotta Recipe - Served In Glasses with Fresh Berries On Top of Raspberry Gelee

I think it looks beautiful in glasses, and the bonus there is that you don’t have to deal with the stress of inverting them perfectly!

But, I have had great success with inverting these onto plates as well. The panna cotta stays molded very nicely, while the raspberry gelee spreads slightly on the bottom of the plate. I recommend using a pretty dessert plate if you go this route.

Tips for Best Results

Use excellent quality dairy – For recipes like this, it’s worthwhile to splurge on really good quality, organic dairy. I have done taste tests of conventional vs organic dairy from various brands sold at the store, and in my experience, organic dairy has way more flavor.

Bloom the gelatin – At the start of the recipe, we will take a few moments to bloom the gelatin with milk. Allowing the gelatin to sit with liquid will ensure that we have a smoother texture at the end. Don’t skip this step!

Chill thoroughly – You want to make this recipe well enough in advance that you don’t have to rush the chilling time. It won’t taste quite right if it’s not served fully chilled.

Step by Step Overview:

In a small saucepan set off the heat, combine whole milk and unflavored gelatin powder together, and let it sit for 5 minutes:

Pouring milk and Gelatin Into a Saucepan

This is called blooming, and ensures that the gelatin dissolves evenly for the smoothest end results.

Heat this mixture over medium heat for a few minutes until the gelatin dissolves.

Then add heavy cream, granulated sugar, vanilla extract, and kosher salt to the softened gelatin milk mixture:

Adding Cream and Vanilla Extract to the Saucepan

Heat for another 5 minutes or so, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves.

Then pour the cream mixture into glasses or your dessert cups of choice. Stemless wine glasses are pretty too.

Pouring Panna Cotta Gelatin Mixture Into Small Glasses

Let the liquid cool briefly at room temperature, then cover well with a lid or plastic wrap before placing into the fridge for 6 hours, to set.

Make sure not to rush this process. If you’re in a hurry, you can use an ice bath, but that can be quite tedious. Since this is so make-ahead friendly, it’s better to make this further in advance.

For the raspberry gelee, combine gelatin with cold water in a small or medium saucepan, and again, let it bloom:

Bloomed Gelatin in a Saucepan

Add raspberries, fresh lemon juice, and sugar to the pan.

You’ll notice that I use frozen, since it’s more economical, but you are welcome to use fresh if you prefer.

Frozen Raspberries, Sugar, and Lemon Juice Added to Saucepan

More fruit gelee flavor ideas

You can make virtually any flavor of fruit gelee that you like. I love the raspberry here, but have also enjoyed strawberry, cherry, orange, passion fruit, and apricot. I’ve even seen people do pomegranate and peach!

Simmer the raspberry gelee mixture for 5-8 minutes, using as low heat as possible to maintain a slight bubble (this prevents scorching), until the raspberries have broken down into a jammy texture and the sugar has dissolved:

Raspberry Gelee Mixture in Saucepan Cooked

Strain the seeds out using a fine-mesh strainer, stirring it with a spatula to move as much of the liquid away from the seeds as possible:

Straining the Raspberry Seeds with a Fine Mesh Strainer

Let the raspberry gelee cool to room temperature, then pour it evenly over the four chilled glasses:

Pouring the Raspberry Gelee over the Set Panna Cotta

Return the glasses to the fridge for another hour, to allow the raspberry gelee layer to fully set and chill.

How to Serve

Panna cotta is best served cold, thoroughly chilled from several hours in the fridge. Then at the very last moment, I like to add a few berries or other fresh fruit on top of each one.

If inverting onto a dessert plate, run the tip of a knife around the edges first, place the plate on top, then quickly invert, and lift the dessert cup up. If it’s your first time doing this, focus on inverting as swiftly as possible.

If you’d like to add a few other complementary nibbles for a dessert spread, I recommend serving with Shortbread Cookies and Candied Pecans. Stick with more vanilla-based and lighter desserts. Anything involving chocolate will overpower the palate and take away from the delicate flavors of the panna cotta. Caramel sauce would be okay here.

Panna Cotta Dessert - Served in Glasses with Raspberry Gelee and Berries

Blackberry CrispRaspberry Frozen Yogurt, and Fruit Pizza are some of my other favorite fruity desserts. Enjoy!

Recipe Tips and FAQ

How do you store leftover Panna Cotta?

Keep covered in the fridge for up to 5 days.

Can you freeze Panna Cotta?

Yes, it freezes very well. Cover tightly and store for up to 2 months. To thaw, leave in the refrigerator overnight.

Can you make this recipe ahead of time?

Yes, and you will need to, with all of the chilling time required. One day ahead is the optimal time to prepare this recipe ahead, though you can do it up to 5 days ahead.

Recipe Flavor Variations

Vanilla – I recommend keeping this as a vanilla panna cotta, but you may swap out the vanilla extract for an equal amount of vanilla bean paste, or an actual vanilla pod. Split the bean lengthwise and scrape out the vanilla seeds into the milk at the very beginning of the recipe. Add the actual scraped vanilla pod in there too, for extra infusion. Remove it before pouring the panna cotta mixture into the dessert cups.

Chocolate – I would recommend looking up a different recipe entirely for chocolate panna cotta instead of altering this one. You’ll need to work in melted chocolate and the process will be slightly different. Once you add chocolate it will not have the delicate taste that this vanilla version has.

Did you enjoy the recipe? Please leave a 5-star rating in the recipe card below and/or a review in the comments section further down the page. Or, follow me on Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest!

Panna Cotta In Glasses with Fresh Berries On Top of Raspberry Gelee

Panna Cotta with Raspberry Gelee

Creamy panna cotta is served with a bright raspberry gelee on top. It’s a beautiful and delicious make-ahead dessert!
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Ingredients

For the Panna Cotta:

  • 1/2 cup whole milk
  • 1 envelope powdered unflavored gelatin (only use 1.5 tsp of it here)
  • 1.5 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 tsp salt

For the raspberry gelee:

  • remainder of above gelatin envelope (about 3/4 tsp)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1.5 cups fresh or frozen raspberries (6 oz, by weight)
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp lemon juice

Instructions 

  • In a small saucepan off the heat, combine 1.5 tsp of the gelatin with the milk, and let stand for 5 minutes. This process is called blooming, and lets the gelatin absorb liquid and dissolve evenly later on.
  • Set the pan over medium heat, and stir frequently for 5 minutes, until the gelatin dissolves, making sure you don’t boil the milk. Turn the heat down to medium low, if necessary.
  • Add the heavy cream, sugar, vanilla extract, and salt, and stir for another 5 minutes until the sugar dissolves. Remove the mixture from the heat.
  • Evenly pour the mixture into 4 glasses or ramekins of your choice (4-ounce ramekins are a good size), and let cool at room temperature for 15 minutes. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap, then chill in the fridge for 6 hours to set.
  • To make the raspberry gelee, in a small saucepan, combine the remaining gelatin with the water, and let stand for 5 minutes.
  • Add the raspberries, sugar, and lemon juice, then simmer for 5 minutes until the sugar is dissolved. Use a fine meshed sieve to strain out the raspberry seeds.
  • Let the gelee cool to room temperature, about 10-15 minutes, before pouring evenly over the chilled panna cotta (if the liquid is hot, you’ll melt the panna cotta very easily).
  • Refrigerate for another hour to set the gelee. If desired, serve with fresh berries on top, and enjoy!

Notes

Storing leftovers: Keep covered in the fridge for up to 5 days.
Freezing: Store tightly covered for up to 2 months. To thaw, leave in the refrigerator overnight.
Make-ahead instructions: One day ahead is the optimal time to prepare this recipe ahead of time, though you can do it up to 5 days ahead.
More Gelee flavors: You can make virtually any flavor of fruit gelee that you like. I love the raspberry here, but have also enjoyed strawberry, cherry, orange, passion fruit, and apricot. I’ve even seen people do pomegranate and peach! If using fresh fruit, swap in an equal weight of fresh fruit as the raspberries (6 ounces). 

Nutrition

Calories: 442kcal, Carbohydrates: 34g, Protein: 3g, Fat: 33g, Saturated Fat: 20g, Cholesterol: 122mg, Sodium: 193mg, Potassium: 182mg, Fiber: 2g, Sugar: 28g, Vitamin A: 1390IU, Vitamin C: 13.3mg, Calcium: 107mg, Iron: 0.3mg

Nutrition is estimated using a food database and is only intended to be used as a guideline for informational purposes.

Post updated in February 2019. Originally published August 2011.