I love panna cotta desserts and you should too! Take this vanilla bean panna cotta recipe: it’s made in small Mason jars, glasses, or any small cups so that when it comes time to serving, all you need is a spoon and some fun toppings. In general, I like to serve panna cotta topped with berries and fresh fruit, granola clusters, homemade milk crumbs, and simple slice-and-bake crystallized ginger cookies. You can also drizzle panna cotta with chocolate sauce, homemade jams, like plum jam in the late summer, rhubarb juniper berry jam in the spring, spiced apple jam in the fall, or even three fruit marmalade or salted caramel sauce in the dead of winter when you are craving comfort. Really, anything goes! And panna cotta makes a great tart filling too like in the recipe below.
How do you make a panna cotta?
Panna cotta is such an easy dessert. Truly! For any panna cotta recipe, you will use a combination of milk and cream, or just milk for a lighter option (I made these vanilla bean panna cotta with skim milk even). The milk is sweetened with your favourite sugar, whether that’s plain old granulated sugar, maple syrup, brown sugar, etc. Panna cotta is a blank canvas, mostly dairy, so panna cotta is perfect for playing with flavour: you can infuse the milk with herbs, spices, or even tea, like I did below. The flavoured milk is warmed then mixed with gelatin to set it into a dessert that can be served in jars or that can be unmolded onto a plate. You can also pour the panna cotta mixture into tart shells to make panna cotta tarts, like in this recipe.
Steps to make panna cotta desserts
- Infuse the milk with flavour by heating the milk with a flavour source, which can be
- vanilla bean, split in half, scrape the seeds, and add pod and seeds to the pot
- tea leaves, like Earl Grey tea, black tea, also matcha tea
- fresh herbs, like mint or basil
- spices, like cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, star anise, etc.
- coffee, like Turkish coffee, instant espresso powder
- Sweeten the milk: you can use a very flavourful sugar or a less flavourful sugar. If you are using granulated sugar, brown sugar, or coconut sugar, make sure the sugar is fully dissolved before proceeding. Panna cotta can be sweetened with:
- granulated sugar (no flavour)
- maple syrup
- brown sugar, the darker the sugar, the more caramel notes your panna cotta will have
- coconut sugar, which has a very pronounced flavour (make sure you like it before you go with this one)
- Melt the gelatin in the sweetened infused hot milk mixture
- Pour into molds or tart shell (see below)
- Chill in the fridge for several hours to set the panna cotta
- Remove tarts from tart pan before serving
For these tarts, I originally tested a panna cotta recipe with less gelatin (3/4 tsp), but unfortunately the resulting panna cotta filling was riding the line between set and unset, as you can see in the following picture. I liked it that way, but I don’t think that it was “technically correct” so I retested the panna cotta filling with a little more gelatin (1 1/4 tsp) and the set was perfect. The filling is still luxuriously creamy, but properly set so it doesn’t ooze when you cut into it. I think I could even have gotten away with just a teaspoon of gelatin.
This pâte sablée is one of my favourites because it makes a great, not-too-sweet crust for these tarts, but it also makes yummy cookies. I could have played around with the panna cotta filling recipe so that it would fill all 8 tart shells, but instead, I made 6 tarts and used the rest of the dough and cut out cookie hearts so that I had something to nibble on while I patiently waited for the panna cotta to set. Cookie hearts are necessary when you have to wait overnight for dessert. Remember to use tart pans with a removable bottom (like these on Amazon) so you don’t stress about unmolding the tarts from the tart pan: check out my tips for how to pop tarts out of tart pans. If you prefer to have panna cotta without the tart shell, feel free to make the panna cotta and divide it into glasses (greased if you’d like to unmold them).
Earl Grey Panna Cotta Tarts Recipe
Earl Grey panna cotta tarts
These little Earl Grey panna cotta tarts are decorated with dried rose petals and dried cornflowers, served with honeycomb. The Earl Grey panna cotta is infused with loose-leaf Earl Grey tea for a gorgeous simple dessert
- 250 mL 2 % milk 1 cup
- 1 tbsp loose leaf Earl Grey tea
- Zest of 1 lemon
- 125 mL 35% cream 1/2 cup
- 28 grams granulated sugar 2 tbsp
- 1 1/4 tsp Knox gelatin powder
- 35 grams white chocolate 1/4 cup, melted
- 6 pre-baked tart shells
- Optional: edible dried flowers honey comb for decorating finished tarts
- Warm milk in a small saucepan with the looseleaf tea and lemon zest (heat but don't boil). When the milk is hot, remove from the stove and let infuse 1 hour.
- Strain the tea-infused milk then place in a medium saucepan with the cream, sugar, and sprinkle the Knox gelatin overtop. Let stand 10 minutes, then heat the mixture while whisking on medium-low until the sugar and the gelatin have dissolved (I heated the mixture to 125ºF, knowing that gelatin melts at 104ºF).
- Strain the mixture into a pouring jug or a big spouted measuring cup. Let cool 30 minutes at room temperature, whisking every so often, then in the fridge (still whisking intermittently) until the panna cotta is below 100ºF.
- Meanwhile, brush the 6 pre-baked tart shells with the melted white chocolate and place on a rimmed sheet in the fridge to set.
- Pour the cooled panna cotta into the shells and refrigerate overnight to set.
Note that I used 3/4 of the pâte sablée that I made. I made cookies with the rest of the dough.
Pâte sablée tart shells
This recipe for pâte sablée can be used to make sweet tart shells or little cookies. The dough is made with a little ground almond which adds a nuttiness to baked goods.
- 125 grams Stirling Creamery Churn 84 salted butter 1/2 block, room temperature
- 94 grams icing sugar 3/4 cup
- 50 grams ground almonds 1/2 cup
- 1 large egg
- 208 all-purpose flour 1 2/3 cup
- Extra butter melted, for greasing the pans
Make the dough
Cream the Stirling butter with the icing sugar and the ground almond.
- Add the egg and mix until smooth.
- Add the flour and mix until the flour is blended in but don't overmix.
- Pat the dough into a disk, wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
Blind bake the tart shells
Divide the disk of dough into 8 equal pieces and roll each piece into a ball.
Roll out each on a floured surface into a circle of about 5 to 6 inches and line removable bottom tart pans (like these on Amazon), trimming the edges as needed. I only needed 6 tart shells for the panna cotta tarts, so I made cookies with the rest of the dough.
- Chill unbaked shells 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Dock pastry with a fork, top each with a square of parchment and fill with beans.
- Bake 15 minutes with the beans, then at least 10 minutes without or until the edges are golden brown.
Let cool completely, then unmold from tart pans.
Want to bake more with tea? Try these recipes!
I do my best to bake with the finest ingredients. Stirling Creamery, a Canadian company, has provided the butter for this post.
Janice Lawandi is chemist-turned-baker, working as a recipe developer in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. She studied pastry at Le Cordon Bleu in Ottawa and cooking at l’Académie Culinaire. She has a BSc in Biochemistry from Concordia University and a PhD in Chemistry from McGill University.