Teach Eat Love

Simple & Perfect Panna Cotta

panna cotta

We have had some oven issues, friends. Some of you might remember my departure from the usual content around here to this MSPaint inspired post in which I catalogue the many sins of my appliances (including the oven catching on fire and the refrigerator warming up to 57 degrees the day of my daughter’s birthday party).

Some old friends recently contracted me and said they’d be in town for a long weekend and could they come for dessert and coffee one night to catch up? I made a quick mental note to bake later and then remembered our appliance situation a couple of hours before they came over but after the local bakery and chocolate shop had closed.

I panicked: what worthwhile dessert can I make that doesn’t involve an oven?

italian dessert

Panna Cotta. This recipe takes only 5 minutes to prepare, in addition to the chilling time.

I first had panna cotta in France. The restaurants in the town we were visiting seemed touristy, so we wandered well off the beaten path and found a mini-golf course with that charming French sandwich board advertising the daily menu. We ate a beautiful lunch in an oak shaded courtyard where our white plastic chairs sat on mossy cobblestones next to a forgotten fountain filled with whatever nature had supplied.

And, true to the café’s advertisement, in the distance we could see a dilapidated above ground golf course.

We finished our meal with panna cotta, which is, like so many French foods are, elegantly simple. I thought it would be too hard to make until I stumbled across David Lebovitz’s Perfect Panna Cotta. His version calls for cream or half and half; we don’t eat lots of rich foods, so I thought the half and half version was great. It held its shape nicely, too.

david lebovitz's panna cotta

It can be simple and rustic in pint mason jars and fresh fruit for picnics and the Fourth of July, but this dessert also dresses up beautifully – I served it in martini glasses with sliced Georgia peaches that enjoyed a soak in honey and vanilla beans.

Or you could unmold the panna cotta for a more dramatic presentation and try cherries with a red wine reduction. The possibilities are endless, but however you prepare it, this is the perfect summertime dessert.

easy panna cotta

But will kids like it?

That is the focus of my website, after all. My four year old inhales this when I make it. She hovered over the table when I was taking the photographs for this entry; I think it took all of the restraint she could muster not to just swipe a bowl and run for it. Panna cotta is a great way to expose your kids to something different that’s still sure to be a hit.

perfect panna cotta

Yield: 4 servings, but doubles easily

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 4 hours chill time

Total Time: just over 4 hours

Simple & Perfect Panna Cotta

With only 5 minutes of prep time and just 5 ingredients, this is the perfect summertime dessert. Top with the ripest berries or peaches you can find.


2 cups of half and half

2 rounded teaspoons of gelatin*

3 T. cold water

1/4 cup sugar**

1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

fruit for topping


1. In a bowl or large measuring cup, sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water. Let it dissolve and thicken while you prepare the half and half mixture.

2. In a saucepan, dissolve the sugar into the half and half, stirring frequently. The liquid should get very warm but nowhere near a boil.

3. Stir the vanilla extract into the half and half, and then pour the half and half into the gelatin, whisking well to make sure the gelatin is fully incorporated. Don't whisk too vigorously, though - you don't want to make lots of foam.

4. Pour the liquid into ramekins, tea cups, wine or martini glasses, or whatever you'd like to serve the panna cotta in. Alternatively, you can lightly oil a container and unmold the panna cotta after it firms up. David said that American refrigerators run cooler than their French counterparts and that it can be eaten after two hours, but I've found that it's best if you wait four hours. The flavor is better and the firm panna cotta consistency is more pronounced.

5. Top with fresh fruit and call it a day or dress it up with a fun reduction or homemade fruit syrup.

*If you're looking for good quality gelatin, I buy this Grass Fed Gelatin. It's great, and it comes from grass fed and finished cows.

**I also tried honey for a more natural sweetener. It worked well, but the flavor wasn't as pleasant as with cane sugar.


perfect panna cotta


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