Panna Cotta

“Cooked” Cream

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Appears in

Great Italian Desserts

By Nick Malgieri

Published 1990

  • About

Despite this dessert’s name, the cream is not cooked at all beyond being heated. It is really a cream jelly poured into a caramelized mold and results in a lighter and more flavorful version of a baked custard.

To dress up the panna cotta, prepare it in a ring mold and fill the center with mixed berries or with mixed cut fruit sprinkled with a tablespoon or two of white rum.



  • ½ cup sugar
  • ½ teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons hot water


  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
  • 4 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Zest of 1 lemon, stripped with a vegetable peeler
  • 3-inch piece of cinnamon stick


For the caramel, combine the sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan. Mix well with a metal spoon (a wooden spoon might carry traces of grease, which could make the sugar crystallize as it melts) and place over low heat. At the first sign of smoke, stir occasionally until the caramel is deep golden in color. Add the water, allow to return to a boil, and cool the caramel for about 1 minute. Pour the caramel into a -quart ring mold or eight 6-ounce ramekins. Swirl the caramel around inside the mold or ramekins and pour out the excess. Allow the caramel to set while preparing the cream.

For the cream, pour the milk into a bowl and sprinkle the gelatin on the surface. Allow to stand 5 minutes, until the gelatin absorbs the milk and softens.

Combine the cream, sugar, lemon zest, and cinnamon in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat, cover, and allow to stand 5 minutes so that the cream absorbs the flavor from the lemon and cinnamon. Stir in the softened-gelatin-and-milk mixture and return to a boil, stirring to dissolve the gelatin. Strain the mixture into the mold or ramekins, then refrigerate until set, at least 6 hours. Overnight is best.

To unmold, dip the mold or ramekins briefly in hot water. Loosen the top of the dessert by inserting the point of a sharp paring knife between the cream and the mold or ramekins, about ¼ inch below the top of the cream, scraping it against the mold all around. For the ring mold, place a platter on the dessert and invert. Tap the mold at the top and lift it off. For the ramekins, unmold each onto a dessert plate. Refrigerate until serving.