This panna cotta recipe is made with agar agar, a gelatin substitute derived from red algae. While the dessert is traditionally made with gelatin, this gelatin-free version makes it vegetarian as well as stable at room temperature.
What is Panna Cotta?
Panna cotta (Italian for “cooked cream”) is a dessert made of milk, cream, sugar, and a gelling agent (gelatin or agar agar). You heat the mixture so the sugar dissolves and the gelling agent activates. You then let it cool slightly, pour it into molds, and chill it before serving.
People often add flavorings like extracts or spices to give the dessert a unique taste.
It’s a refreshing recipe and requires very little preparation to make.
I substitute agar agar, a natural gelling agent, for the animal-based gelatin typically found in the dessert.
To make this recipe, you’ll need:
- Whole milk
- Heavy cream
- Agar agar powder
- Vanilla bean paste (I like the look of vanilla bean specks in my dessert, but you can also use pure vanilla extract.)
I top the finished dessert with macerated strawberries, but any berries, fresh mint, or fresh lavender work perfectly as a garnish.
Which Agar Agar Should You Use?
I recommend using the powder, but you can always grinding agar agar flakes in a spice grinder before using them. If you don’t grind the flakes first, you may see some flakes in your panna cotta.
If an otherwise vegetarian recipe calls for gelatin and you want to substitute agar agar, you can typically substitute gelatin with powdered agar agar in equal amounts.
How to Make Panna Cotta with Agar Agar
Place all ingredients in a saucepan over medium high heat and stir occasionally until the agar agar has dissolved completely, about 10 minutes. Agar agar melts at 185 F (85 C), so you’ll want to make sure that the mixture reaches that temperature and is fully heated through. Avoid boiling the mixture if at all possible.
Let the mixture stand for about 10 minutes at room temperature and then pour into ramekins or silicone molds.
Refrigerate until the mixture sets, 2-3 hours.
Serve in the ramekins or molds you used or carefully invert onto a plate.
Vegetarian Panna Cotta With Agar Agar
- 3 cups whole milk
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon agar agar powder
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 8 teaspoons vanilla bean paste substitute with vanilla extract; 8 teaspoons = 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons
- Place all ingredients in a saucepan over medium high heat and stir occasionally until the agar agar has dissolved completely, about 15 minutes. Do not let the mixture come to a rapid boil.
- Let the mixture stand for about 10 minutes at room temperature and divide into four ramekins or silicone molds.
- Refrigerate until the panna cotta sets, 2-3 hours.
- Serve cold, garnished with macerated strawberries, fresh fruit, fresh mint, or fresh lavender.