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Vanilla panna cotta with fresh cherry sauce.

August 7, 2015

Vanilla bean panna cotta with fresh sweet cherry sauce.

Don’t you just LOVE when desserts look like murder scenes?

Panna Cotta is one of the most perfect summertime desserts. Not only does it take about  5 ingredients, but it’s a dream to make, and you can make it ahead of time. Oh, and it requires only about 10 minutes on the stove! And it’s impressive to say. Panna cotta.

Panna cotta is kind of what would happen if Jell-O and vanilla pudding had a baby. It’s gelatinous, yet creamy. Almost flan-like. In Italian, “panna cotta” means “cooked cream,” and that’s essentially what it is. With sugar, vanilla, gelatin and yogurt. In Italy it’s traditionally eaten with chocolate sauce or fresh berries, or both. Some types of panna cotta can hold their shape when unmolded, this particular one is a crap shoot. If you leave it in longer than overnight, in a very cold spot in the fridge, you might be able to unmold it.

However- forget it if it’s a hot, humid day, or if your custard cups have an unusual shape. It ain’t gonna happen.

Vanilla bean panna cotta with fresh sweet cherry sauce.

The first time I made this recipe, my mother asked for it for her birthday. I made two types; the original Ina Garten recipe with balsamic strawberries, and some with just mini-chocolate chips mixed in before chilling it. Since then I’ve made it many times over- usually for her, since it’s one of her favorite things- and never really deviated from that.

But this year I made some fresh cherry sauce with all of those beautiful Rainier Fruit Company cherries I received, and I thought that would be a delicious variation to spoon on top.

And I was correct. And you should make it too, if you were smart like me and froze some of those gorgeous cherries.

Vanilla bean panna cotta with fresh sweet cherry sauce.



  • 1/2 packet (1 teaspoon) unflavored gelatin powder (like Knox)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cold water
  • 1 1/2 cups heavy cream, divided
  • 1 cup plain whole-milk yogurt
  • 1 teaspoon pure bourbon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped OR a vanilla bean grinder
  • 1/3 cup sugar


  1. In a small bowl, sprinkle the gelatin on 1 1/2 tablespoons of cold water. Stir and set aside for 10 minutes to allow the gelatin to dissolve. 
  2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup of the cream, the yogurt, vanilla extract, and vanilla bean seeds. If using the vanilla bean grinder like I did, grind about 1 teaspoon’s worth and add to mixture.
  3. Heat the remaining 3/4 cup of cream and the 1/3 cup of sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Off the heat, add the softened gelatin to the hot cream and stir to dissolve. Pour the hot cream-gelatin mixture into the cold cream-yogurt mixture and stir to combine.
  4. Pour into 4 (6 to 8-ounce) ramekins or custard cups and refrigerate uncovered until cold. When the panna cottas are thoroughly chilled, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
  5. To serve, either simply spoon the sauce on top of each panna cotta, or try and unmold them: run a small knife around each dessert in the ramekin and dip the bottom of each ramekin quickly in a bowl of hot tap water. Invert each ramekin onto a dessert plate. Surround the unmolded panna cotta with the fresh cherry sauce, and serve.

Fresh sweet cherry sauce.



  • 2 cups fresh (or frozen) sweet cherries, pitted, stemmed and halved
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch


  1. Add cherries to the sugar and let sit for one hour. Add mixture to a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat.
  2. Add other ingredients and bring to a boil for three to five minutes. Stirring occasionally, reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for about two to three more minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and serve warm or store in an airtight container until ready to serve. Then, warm slightly or allow to come to room temperature before serving.


My vanilla bean grinder is one Jay brought me home from Germany. It’s so convenient to use! Much easier than scraping vanilla beans; however now I don’t buy beans so I can’t make my own vanilla extract. Darnit.

Back to the panna cotta: it would also be delicious served with those mint julep peaches I made last summer, or even sliced fresh peaches. Or really any fresh fruit or fruit sauce that you can imagine! Alternatively, it’s also fantastic with chocolate ganache or chocolate sauce; both milk or dark.

Vanilla bean panna cotta with a sweet cherry sauce.

You can even do a kind of layered pudding with this, and make some flavored with lemon or chocolate, and some vanilla. Just chill them separately in layers. You could even just add the sauce on top after the panna cotta is firm, then put it back in the fridge for a while to firm up, and it would become almost like a cherry jelly layer.

And you know what? It’s even delicious all on it’s own.

Vanilla bean panna cotta.

Suggestions for use: Serve topped with- with mint julep peaches, fresh peaches/plums/nectarines/balsamic strawberries, fresh berries, dark chocolate sauce, chocolate ganache, freshly grated lemon zest, lemon curd.
Soundtrack: Katy Perry – “Dark Horse”
Sources & Credits: Pyrex Flamingo pink & gold rimmed plates; vintage, custard cups; vintage, unknown maker, 16 oz Ball jar;
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