Panna Cotta

Chilled Set Cream

This delicious Piedmontese specialty is gaining in popularity and fame all over Italy and beyond. You can make it completely plain or add crushed amaretti, coffee, chocolate, soft fruits, lemon or orange peel, liqueur—the possibilities are endless. The skill of this dessert lies in getting it to set without making it rubbery, so just the right amount of sheet gelatin needs to be used. Here is the basic, plain version.


  • 3 to 4 sheets gelatin (colla di pesce)
  • 4 cups light cream
  • 8 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar


  • grated peel of 1 lemon, 1 small cup of espresso coffee, 3 tablespoons liqueur or brandy, or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract


  • 4 tablespoons superfine sugar

To Decorate

  • instant coffee powder
  • grated lemon peel
  • fruit coulis


  1. Soak the sheets of gelatin in enough water to cover and leave until spongy. Remove from the water and squeeze dry gently.
  2. Divide the cream into two halves and bring to just under a boil in two separate pans. Add the confectioners’ sugar to one half of the cream and add the soaked gelatin to the other.
  3. Beat both halves constantly, one after the other, until the sugar and gelatin have completely dissolved and the cream is very hot but NOT boiling.
  4. Pour both halves into one bowl and beat together. Add the flavoring of your choice and stir. Allow to cool completely.
  5. While the mixture is cooling, coat the base of 8 ramekin molds with the superfine sugar and melt the sugar over a low flame to caramelize.
  6. Alternatively, caramelize the sugar in a small pan and then pour it into the molds. Make sure the caramel is only just colored, so that it will not color the set panna cotta at all. Allow to cool.
  7. Strain the panna cotta into the molds and leave to set in the refrigerator until required.
  8. When firmly set dip the molds into boiling water for 5 seconds and turn out onto cold plates.
  9. Decorate with a sprinkling of coffee, a grating of lemon peel, a fruit coulis, or whatever you feel is appropriate.

Serving Suggestion

If you do not feel confident enough to turn the panna cotta out onto plates, serve it in small ramekins or cups instead. You can make a coffee version and froth the cream before setting to look like a cappuccino, served in a coffee cup set on a saucer.

“I’ve learned here that simplicity is liberating. We no longer measure, but just cook. As all cooks know, ingredients of the moment are the best guides. Much of what we do is too simple to be called a recipe – it’s just the way we do it.”

Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun