This deliciously creamy and light espresso panna cotta is an easy and almost effortless Italian-style dessert! It can be made in advance which makes it perfect for dinner parties and gatherings, or celebrations like birthdays, Easter, Mother's Day, or Father's Day, and holidays.
What is Espresso Panna Cotta and Why To Make It
Panna cotta is an Italian expression for 'cooked cream'. It can be described as a light and creamy dessert made of cooked cream, milk, sugar, and gelatine. Panna cotta is often flavored with vanilla or coffee (in this case, espresso) and served with sauces (chocolate, caramel), fruit compotes, fruit, or liquor. Once set, panna cotta becomes jelly-like and typically wobbles in the center when you shake it. It can be shaped into various molds or served in a glass.
You will love this recipe for its simplicity. It contains only 7 basic ingredients and takes less than 10 minutes to prepare (plus setting time!). You can make it ahead and keep it in the fridge until you're ready to eat it.
Lastly, you can get super creative with panna cotta - use different molds, bowls or glassware each time you make it, add different sauces or toppings, and surprise your guests over and over again!
Key Ingredients For Espresso Panna Cotta
This easy homemade espresso panna cotta can be made from seven items that can be found in most kitchen cupboards. Here they are:
- Double cream (heavy cream) - this full-fat dairy product is an important part of every panna cotta recipe. The fat helps to turn the cream into a jelly when mixed with gelatine.
- Milk is used to lighten up the consistency, otherwise, the panna cotta would be too dense (almost of cheese-like texture). Use semi-skimmed (which I used) or full-fat one.
- Espresso gives this dessert a delicate coffee (latte) flavor, without it being too overpowering. This is my preference, as I don't like desserts that taste just like coffee - I like to enjoy having a cup with them. If you feel like having a punchy, strong coffee-tasting panna cotta, look at the Top Tips section.
- Vanilla extract - vanilla is traditionally part of the recipe. I am using vanilla extract, you can also use a vanilla pod, please see below how to add it to this pudding.
- Sugar is added to provide a bit of a sweet flavor. This recipe doesn't need much of it, a few teaspoons will do.
- Gelatine helps bind the ingredients together. I used gelatine powder, for tips on adding gelatine leaves, see the section below.
- Cocoa powder makes the second layer look darker. It also adds a delicate, almost chocolatey flavor. Add more cocoa if you prefer, but remember to also add sugar otherwise the dessert could taste slightly bitter.
These ingredients are divided into two parts in the recipe card - each of them makes one layer. You can mix them all and create just one layer, or separate it into more parts and create 3 or more layered panna cotta - use your imagination and create an eye-catching masterpiece every time you make this dessert! 🙂
For serving, I added shaved dark chocolate and whole-roasted coffee beans - this decoration is purely optional.
Substitutes & Variations
This fancy dessert is fairly flexible in terms of ingredients. Here is a list of suggestions on ingredient swaps in this recipe:
- Use instant coffee or cold brew instead of espresso - just ensure the coffee is strong (make it at least double the strength than you would do if you were to drink it, ie. 2 teaspoons of instant coffee in 140 ml of hot water), and keep the volume the same as of the espresso. Good quality decaf coffee will work here too - this is about the taste, not the caffeine.
- Add Greek yogurt or plain natural yogurt instead of cream - preferably, use full-fat yogurt to make sure the dessert sets properly. If using 0% fat yogurt, add whole milk to help set it, or add more gelatine.
- Feel free to use gelatine leaves (sheets)- make sure you follow the instructions on the packaging as they are slightly different from using gelatine powder.
If you have dietary needs, then you have some options too:
- Replace regular cream and milk with their plant-based alternatives for a dairy-free panna cotta (ie. coconut milk, oat, or almond milk and yogurt).
- Add vegan-friendly gelatine instead of regular gelatine (typically made from pork or beef). Follow the instructions on the packet as these may vary from the instructions in this recipe.
For exact measurements and details, see the recipe card at the end of this post.
You are welcome to play with the flavors of this panna cotta as you like! If espresso or coffee flavors are not your favorites, try also:
- Chocolate - add more cocoa or chocolate-flavored syrup to the cooked cream, or serve it with cocoa dusting, or a drizzle of chocolate sauce.
- Caramel (toffee) - add some toffee sauce or salted caramel sauce to the cotta or make the panna cotta plain (just with vanilla) and have the caramel sauce ready for serving).
- Cinnamon will turn this dessert into a luxury! Serve it with caramelized apples or pears.
- Summer berries and fruit - strawberry, raspberry, blueberry, cherries, peach, apricot... all make a great companion to a panna cotta. Use fresh, frozen, canned fruit, or fruit compote.
- Tropical fruit - mandarin, clementine, orange, kiwi, mango, and pineapple will taste great with this simple dessert too!
As you can tell, there are literally thousands of various panna cottas in the world - let me know in the comments what is your favourite one!
Probably the most fantastic thing about this recipe is that this is a no-bake dessert. You only need to warm up the cream and milk at the start, and then let the gelatine do its job. Here is how to do it:
- Divide the ingredients into three groups - layers one and two, and toppings.
- Dissolve the gelatine powder in hot water, according to the instructions on the sachet. Stir or whisk until completely smooth, with no crystals of the gelatine visible.
- Add double cream, milk, vanilla extract and sugar into a saucepan. Add the espresso. Warm up gently, but do not boil.
- When warm enough, stir in the gelatine. Immediately take off the heat, pour into dessert bowls and leave to cool down. Once cold, transfer into fridge.
- Once set and solid, yet jelly-like in the middle, prepare layer 2 and repeat the process before adding it on top of the solid first layer. Allow setting for at least a couple of hours.
- Serve with grated chocolate and coffee beans.
Exact measurements and amounts are specified in the recipe card at the bottom of this article.
If you are looking for more no-bake sweet treats, try also this no-bake Easter egg cheesecake, coconut and chocolate bites, or these luxury chocolate barks. For simple and crowd-pleasing desserts, check out these puff pastry tarts with jam, traybake carrot cake, cherry and almond Madeira cake or semolina porridge.
Panna cotta is a very simple pudding, however, here are several expert tips on how to achieve the best results each time:
- To prevent panna cotta from splitting, ensure to cook the cream and milk slowly on low heat. Avoid boiling the gelatin, as this prevents it from setting.
- When using low-fat products cream, yogurt, or milk, add more gelatine to help it set.
- For an extra strong coffee flavor, add coffee liquor or coffee syrup.
- To help speed up the setting process, place the glasses with panna cotta on a tray of ice.
- To unmold panna cotta easily, gently rub the insides of a dessert bowl (ramekin/glass) with a small amount of cooking oil. Only try to unmold it once it has set and is solid - allow it plenty of time!
- If you are worried about unmolding it, simply serve it in the glassware - just place it onto a dessert plate, add your toppings, fruit or sauce and it's ready to go!
Panna cotta will keep fresh in the fridge for up to 3 days. If you can, cover it with a kitchen wrap, or place it in an airtight food container to prevent it from drying out. Keep it chilled until you are ready to serve it.
Note: Although panna cotta lasts even longer when refrigerated, it will go rubbery on about day 4, so I recommend consuming it before then.
Panna cotta can also be stored frozen. Do not add any decorations and toppings before freezing - just wrap a kitchen film (cling film) around it or place it in a plastic bag, to prevent it from frostbites, drying out, and catching foreign odors. It will last up to 3 months in the freezer.
Leave it to defrost fully and slowly overnight in the fridge. Do not freeze panna cotta that has been previously frozen.
Panna cotta is an Italian translation for 'cooked cream'. This dessert is made of cream, milk, sugar and gelatin. Although similar recipes have been used around Europe for centuries, panna cotta as we know it first appeared in cookbooks in the 1960s and has since grown in popularity worldwide.
Serve it in glassware or unmold it onto a dessert plate (dessert bowl). You can eat this delicate, jelly-like creamy dessert on its own, with fruit, compote, liquoer, or sauces.
There probably wasn't enough gelatine or it wasn't completely dissolved before adding to the cream and milk, and it became lumpy, meaning it wasn't distributed evenly in the mixture. Try reheating it on low heat again. Adding more gelatine.
You probably added too much gelatine and not enough liquid, or you only used heavy cream and perhaps forgot to add milk and coffee.
📖 The Recipe
Espresso Panna Cotta
- 9 g gelatine powder
- 230 ml double (heavy) cream or Greek or plain natural yogurt
- 95 ml semi-skimmed milk
- 2 teaspoon sugar
- 5 ml vanilla extract
- 100 ml espresso or cold brew, strong instant coffee
- 3 g gelatine powder
- 70 ml double (heavy) cream or Greek or plain natural yogurt
- 35 ml semi-skimmed milk
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 2.5 ml vanilla extract
- 40 ml espresso or cold brew, strong instant coffee
- 1 teaspoon cocoa powder
For serving (optional)
- 2 squares shaved dark chocolate
- whole coffee beans
- Divide the ingredients into three groups - layers one and two, and toppings.
- Dissolve the gelatine powder in hot water (50C), according to the instructions on the sachet. Stir or whisk until completely smooth, with no crystals of the gelatine visible.
- Add double cream, milk, vanilla extract and sugar into a saucepan. Add the espresso. Warm up gently on low heat, but do not boil.
- When warm enough, stir in the gelatine. Stir thoroughly so that the gelatine combines with the rest of the mix. Immediately take off the heat, pour the panna cotta mix into dessert bowls or molds and leave to cool down. Once cold, transfer into fridge.
- Once set and solid (after 3-4 hours), prepare layer 2 and repeat steps 2-4, stir in the cocoa and mix until smooth. Pour it onto the same bowls as before. Leave to set for at least 2-3 hours.
- Serve cold with grated chocolate and coffee beans.
- Strong instant coffee or cold brew (also in decaf version), 1:1 ratio.
- Greek yogurt or plain natural yogurt (1:1 ratio), if using 0% yogurt, add more gelatine.
- Gelatine leaves (sheets) - follow the instructions on the packaging.
- Plant-based cream and milk (ie. coconut milk, oat, or almond milk and yogurt).
- Vegan-friendly gelatine - follow the instructions on the packaging.
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