Our vegan panna cotta is similar to the original Italian panna cotta in both texture and flavour. When we first tried it we were surprised by how simple and delicious it is. You can make it in 10 minutes, without gelatine, dairy-free and nut-free.
You’ll need your plant-based cream of choice and a little agar agar to make this refreshing Italian dessert that everyone will love. We think this is the best vegan panna cotta recipe.
Table of Contents
Panna cotta is an Italian dessert traditionally made of cooked dairy cream, sugar, gelatine and vanilla. It’s widely popular all over Italy – and around the world – where it’s served with 3 main toppings: caramel, chocolate and mixed berries.
Panna cotta has a pudding-like consistency, not too soft and not too firm. It can be eaten with a spoon, but not like a soup, more like sweet pudding. When you put it in your mouth, it should feel silky and smooth, and not creamy like a custard.
We tested this recipe 7 times to get the right texture and consistency. In the end, even my very-traditional non-vegan Italian dad could not tell the difference between our vegan panna cotta and the one from our local restaurant.
For other delicious Italian desserts, check out our vegan strawberry tart, our no-bake no-cashew vegan cheesecake, or our vegan vanilla cake.
Ingredients & Substitutions
- Cream: if you can find it, use vegan whipping cream, without whipping it. If you cannot find that, go for soy cream, rice cream, or coconut cream. Alternatively use coconut milk. To make a lighter, low-fat vegan panna cotta you can simply replace cream with your favourite plant-milk.
- Milk: any type of plant milk will work. We like rice, soy and almond for this recipe.
- Sugar: any sugar will work, but to give it its classic white colour, you’ll need white sugar. You can also use syrups like maple, agave, or other.
- Vanilla: you can use vanilla extract or the seeds of a vanilla bean.
- Agar powder: we use this as a substitute for gelatine, it works perfectly if you get the quantities right, but don’t worry, we are here for that.
IMPORTANT: always read the instructions on the back your agar powder package before using it. For most agar brands, our quantities are correct.
However, we noticed that with some brands, you’ll need to use more or less agar agar. The quantities that you need to use are always indicated in the back of the agar powder package.
What is agar agar?
Agar, or agar agar, is a healthy plant-based substitute for gelatine as it is made from algae, and it does not have any flavour. It is very popular in Asia, and it is becoming more and more common in the western world in vegetarian and vegan cooking.
You can find agar powder in many supermarkets these days, or in health stores, or online. It looks like a fine white powder and it needs to be dissolved in boiling liquid to work. Note: you need agar powder, not agar flakes.
We tested 7 different panna cotta recipes with different quantities of agar powder to find the right amount. We tried making vegan panna cotta with cornstarch, but it really doesn’t taste or feels the same as the real Italian recipe. With cornstarch it’s more like a vanilla custard pudding. So we do not recommend cornstarch for this recipe.
- Sauce pan + whisk
- Silicon molds or small glass jars
- Precision scale to weigh the agar agar.
Mistakes I made
- Not reading the agar instructions: please always read the instructions on the back of your package. I noticed that some brands require you to use a lot less agar powder than the brand I used, so to avoid panna cotta that is hard as a stone, always follow instructions of your agar manufacturer.
- Too much agar agar: in mosto cases you should only use only 1g of agar powder for 100g of liquid. The first time I made this recipe I used 3g per 100g of liquid and the panna cotta turned out as hard as a stone. Note that 1 US tsp of agar agar is equal to 3g.
- Boil 4 times: the best way to know that the agar powder has been activated is to bring the liquid to a boil for 4 times. If agar powder doesn’t boil long enough, it will not thicken your panna cotta.
- Adjust the sugar: depending on the type of cream or milk that you use, you might need to adjust our sugar quantities. For example, if you use an already sweetened vegan whipping cream, or a sweetened plant-milk, it is possible that you need a lot less sugar than mentioned in our recipe. Taste your liquids, then adjust.
Frequently asked questions
There are two possible reasons: 1) you did not use enough agar powder. Read instructions on your agar package. 2) you did not activate the agar powder correctly. To activate agar powder, first dissolve it in the liquids off the heat. Then bring the liquids to a boil for at least 2 minutes.
You most probably added too much agar powder. Read and follow instructions on your agar package.
Some people make it with cornstarch, but in my opinion cornstarch will give you a custard like consistency, not jellied enough for panna cotta. Other people do it with carrageenan, but it is not quite clear if its use is safe for humans, so I’d rather use agar powder, which is 100% safe.
Absolutely. You can use any topping of your choice, made with any type of fruit, chocolate, caramel, etc.
You can store our vegan panna cotta without gelatine in the refrigerator for up to 3 to 4 days. We do not recommend freezing it, due to the fact that agar powder will lose its structure when frozen.
- Mango: peel and cut the pulp of a mango into dice, then blend it till very smooth. Drizzle on top of the panna cotta. This is especially delicious if your panna cotta base is made with coconut milk.
- Caramel: this is actually how original panna cotta was first served. You can either make home made caramel or drizzle with store bough, just read the label to make sure it’s vegan.
- Chocolate: melt about 7 oz or 200 g of dark chocolate bain-marie or in the microwave on low heat, then add about 80 g of your favourite plant milk and stir till smooth. Drizzle over your panna cotta.
Vegan Panna Cotta
- Precision scale to weigh the agar agar
- Sauce Pan
- Glass jars, small glasses, or silicon moulds to shape the panna cotta
For the panna cotta
- 400 g any vegan whipping cream if you can't find that, then coconut cream or coconut milk
- 200 g any plant milk soy, almonds, oats, rice, etc
- 60 g sugar if your vegan whipping cream is already sweetened then you only need half the sugar
- 6 g agar powder read instructions on the back of your agar package, different brands require different quantities.
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
For the topping
- 500 g fresh berries strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, etc.
- 4 tbsp sugar
- In a sauce pan, add all the ingredients for the panna cotta and whisk till the agar agar is dissolved. On medium heat, bring to a boil for 4 times, while whisking continuously. This means, every time the liquid boils, take it away from the heat, then when it stops boiling put it back on, until it boils again. Repeat this 4 times. This is necessary to activate the agar agar.
- Pour the hot liquid into silicone molds, in small jars, or in small glasses, and let set in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.
- Serve the panna cotta:– If you made it in silicon molds, then first go around the edge of the panna cotta with a small knife, then gently take it out of the mold, one by one, and flip it upside down on a plate. Cover with your favourite topping.– If you made it in jars or glasses, go ahead and pour your topping on top of the panna cotta directly in the jar or glass.– We like to serve panna cotta with a bright red topping of strawberry syrup or raspberry syrup and some fresh berries on the side.
For the strawberry or raspberry topping
- In a sauce pan, add your fruit of choice and the sugar. Let simmer for about 5 minutes, adding a dash of water or lemon juice if necessary. When the fruit is soft, blend it, then let cool down and pour it over the panna cotta.You can leave some of the fresh fruit aside to garnish the plates.
However, we noticed that some with some brands, you’ll need to use more or less agar agar. The quantities that you need to use are always indicated in the back of the agar powder package. We use a generic agar powder purchased on amazon and we need 1 gram of agar powder for 100g of liquid. Sometimes, you might need as little as 0.2g of agar powder for 100g of liquid. Read the instructions on your agar package. MEASUREMENTS We recommend using the metric system for this recipe.
Let us know in the comments below if you liked this recipe. Or take a picture and tag us on Instagram @italiaplantbased.