What Is Vanilla Panna Cotta?

Eugene P.

Vanilla panna cotta is a sweet, cold custard from Northern Italy. It is traditionally made from cream, sugar and milk, with vanilla added to accent the cream. The entire cream-and-sugar mixture is eventually added to gelatin and the pudding formed in a small dish. The finished vanilla panna cotta can be served with fruit on top or drizzles of chocolate.

Panna cotta is particularly popular in Northern Italy.
Panna cotta is particularly popular in Northern Italy.

The region where panna cotta is thought to have originated in Northern Italy, an area known as Piedmont, has declared panna cotta as one of its official regional cuisines. It is described as being a very delicate dish, and many chefs agree. Most notably, the texture of the custard when cooked correctly is supposed to look like it can barely support its shape, although it does.

Many panna cotta recipes call for adding fresh vanilla beans during cooking.
Many panna cotta recipes call for adding fresh vanilla beans during cooking.

Vanilla panna cotta is one of many variations that have developed over time. The addition of vanilla to the cream is thought to have a complementary effect, especially when topped with pears or strawberries. Some recipes call for the use of fresh vanilla beans during cooking while others use pure vanilla extract.

Some vanilla panna cotta recipes call for the addition of sour cream.
Some vanilla panna cotta recipes call for the addition of sour cream.

There are numerous variations on the basic vanilla panna cotta recipe. Some of them were developed to try to cut down on the cream content in the dessert. Instead of using all cream, a certain amount is replaced with sour cream, yogurt or half and half. This creates a lighter consistency in the finished dish but also can cause some complications when determining the amount of gelatin to add. For a sharper taste, buttermilk can be added to the cream.

The presentation of vanilla panna cotta is one of the more creative areas of making the dessert. It is normally unmolded from a ramekin-like bowl or dish into the center of a plate and then lightly covered or surrounded in a sauce. Other presentations include forming the custard in a champagne flute and serving it with whole fruit or chocolate shavings in the glass. It also can be left in the bowl or ramekin and have a caramel sauce poured over top to form a layer covering the vanilla panna cotta.

One important thing to remember about making vanilla panna cotta is not to use certain fruits, specifically acidic tropical fruits such as pineapple. These fruits contain an enzyme called bromelin. The fruits, when mixed with the panna cotta, will prevent the gelatin from becoming solid and leave the dessert as little more than a bowl full of liquid.

Chocolate shavings may top vanilla panna cotta.
Chocolate shavings may top vanilla panna cotta.

You might also Like

Readers Also Love

Discussion Comments


Presentation is certainly one of the most important aspects of preparing any meal. Even if you follow the the instructions, a nice presentation can please someone even more. In fact, did you know that some delicious dishes might not taste as good if they're outward appearance is lacking? That's because we use all of our sense when eating, including our eyes.


I have a friend who is from Italy, and she made the dessert before. Also, I had noticed that even though she gave me some instructions on how to make the dish, she also clearly warned me about the different fruits I should be using. Unfortunately though, I didn't listen to her, and had to learn the hard way. In my opinion, it really shows how in the long run, desserts are a lot more delicate than full course meals. You can't just throw something in the oven and expect great results. Remember, the best things take time and preparation, and desserts are certainly no exception to the rule.


To be honest, custard is one of those dishes that I have never tried before. Adding onto that, reading this article, I can definitely tell that custard comes in all sorts of flavors, and has many different varieties. Even though I have never been to Italy before, I do think this dish would be interesting to try out. Not only would it be good for expanding my horizons, but even more so, it really shows how there are many dishes out there are people might not know about, especially if they're not from its country of origin. In this case, it happens to be vanilla panna cotta. Also, I'm assuming one of the best places to find it would be an authentic Italian restaurant.

Post your comments
Forgot password?