I have seen recipes for panna cotta for years, and frankly, I didn’t understand the point of it. Sweetened cream, set with gelatin? Ew. But when we were in Siena several years ago, I tried it for the first time. OH. MY. This is definitely something whose description doesn’t do it justice. Not at all. It’s just, frankly, wonderful.

It’s the perfect light dessert after a rich meal. It’s just the right touch of sweetness, and when you add berries as I have, you have a light, sweet/tart dessert, the perfect end to a perfect meal. What more can you ask?

Well, I personally can ask that it be easy. OK, this is that. It takes only a few minutes to prepare, and I make it in little verrines, so that I don’t have to un-mold it. This presentation is not only pretty but it’s also (even better) almost totally do-ahead. I usually have an Italian almond cookie to put on the side, and maybe a pretty edible flower. When the weather’s hot, there’s nothing better to end a light meal.


1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup (scant) sugar
1/2 vanilla bean
2 sheets gelatine (3.5 – 4 g total)

To serve:

  • Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries or any other tart berry macerated in sugar to draw out the juice.
  • Soak the gelatine sheets in cold water while you prepare the cream. Put the cream, milk, sugar in a saucepan. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Add these to the cream mixture, and whisk to break up the vanilla seeds. Heat gently till just beginning to steam–don’t let it boil! Don’t even let it simmer. Keep it gently steaming for about 5 minutes to allow the vanilla to steep.
  • Pour into 4 small verrines or pretty glasses, and chill for 8 hours or overnight. To serve, spoon over berries and add a dab of whipped cream if you like.

Serves 4 if they like it and 10 if they don’t.


  • You can make this in a larger bowl and unmold it onto a plat at serving time. Surround it with berries or fruit coulis and serve.
  • You can also make individual servings and unmold each of them. This is really pretty, especially if you have some pretty dessert plates.
Kate McNally

Kate McNally

Born and raised in Atlanta, with degrees from UGA and UT Knoxville, Kate never lived above the Mason-Dixon line. That is, until she moved to Belgium. She now lives in the Belgian Ardennes, near Germany and The Netherlands, in an area where three cultures clash and co-exist. She used to have a stress-filled life, living in Washington DC and working as a management consultant all over the US and Canada. About 9 years ago, Kate and her husband Dan quit their jobs and moved to Europe. Now they teach English as a second language to business people there. They went there for two or three years. They're still here. Kate loves to cook, to travel, to paint and to write. She tries to do all of those as often as she can, and she shares tales of her life there in her blog. Kate says, "My blog is called 'Serendipity'. That pretty much sums up our life here in Belgium: serene with a little ‘dipity’ added. You’ll find here tales of our life as we sometimes struggle with other languages and other ways. You'll also find some paintings. And more than a few recipes, because I love to cook. My husband loves to eat. Perfect!" You can find her blog at http://serendipity-kate.blogspot.com/