Here's a terrific make-ahead dessert for dinner parties and holidays.
Credit: Chef John

An easy but elegant Italian custard dessert, panna cotta ("cooked cream" in Italian) is creamy and luxurious. Here are several delicious spins on a very simple dessert.

How to Make Panna Cotta

No fooling, panna cotta really is very easy to make. The only part that isn't quick is chilling the panna cotta in the fridge. (You'll want to chill it for at least 4 hours.) Here's how to make it:

Prep the gelatin. Stir powdered gelatin into cold water until it turns jelly like. It takes about 5 minutes.

Add cream and sugar to a sauce pan. You can use heavy cream, or whole milk, or half and half, or even buttermilk.

Heat over medium heat. Stir the cream and sugar occasionally until it just begins to simmer.

Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients. The cream doesn't require much cooking time at all. Right when the cream starts to simmer, remove the pan from the heat. Add your flavorings.

Add the gelatin. Stir the gelatin into the cream until it melts into the hot cream.

Strain the cream and fill ramekins, fancy cups and dessert dishes, or other serving containers. Wrap in plastic and chill overnight.

To serve, garnish with fresh fruit or a tasty sauce or drizzle of honey. If you chilled your panna cotta in ramekins, turn them out onto a plate. It helps to warm the ramekins in hot water first. Then give the ramekins a gentle shake until the panna cotta pops out. Panna cotta can be a little grabby, so you may need to run a butter knife around the edges of the ramekins before the panna cotta will unmold onto plates.

Some Favorite Panna Cotta Recipes

You'll only need a few ingredients in making a panna cotta. But there are some fun and delicious variations on the basic cream and sugar theme. Here are some top recipes.

A creamy, luxurious treat flavored with lemon zest and a little vanilla. A few simple ingredients come together to create an elegant dessert. Add a little buttermilk at the end for a touch of tanginess.

"A traditional, easy, and delicious Italian custard," says CHERYLA33. "I had a difficult time finding a good and easy recipe on the internet, so I made up my own recipe. It tastes just like the panna cotta served at Italian restaurants. Serve with warm hot fudge sauce and fresh raspberries on top. This keeps well for several days in the refrigerator."

Panna Cotta
Photo by Allrecipes

"A creamy vanilla gelatin-based dessert that is easy, quick, and very tasty," says Military Cook. "Make the berry sauce an hour before serving."

Panna Cotta with Berry Sauce
Photo by LatinaCook

A creamy white chocolate panna cotta topped with stewed strawberries.

White Chocolate Panna Cotta with Stewed Strawberries
Photo by Kim's Cooking Now

"Panna cotta is sort of the Italian version of creme brulee," says Camilla Saulsbury. "This is an easy, creamy custard dessert with Costa Rican flavors: dark brown sugar, rum, coffee, coconut and bittersweet chocolate."

Costa Rican Coffee Panna Cotta with Bittersweet Chocolate-Rum Sauce
Photo by AllieGeekPi

Here the traditional Italian dessert gets a purple makeover, thanks to ube. "Ube is purple yam," says Diana Moutsopoulos, "a popular sweet treat in the Philippines, which is made into jam, cookies, and more. Here I've taken ube and made a delicate panna cotta that not only tastes divine, but is shockingly gorgeous thanks to its natural purple hue!"

Check out our collection of Italian Dessert Recipes.