I should preface this by saying that I am not terribly fond of Panna Cotta. In Italy, it’s a ubiquitous dessert found in every second rate pizzeria, where it tends to be too dense and the vanilla flavouring too fake. It became popular in the ‘80s although it has been around for centuries, in one form or another.

I haven’t been able to trace an agreed upon birthplace but Panna Cotta (which translates to “cooked cream”) seems to have originated in Piedmont. Cows that fed on the hillsides of the region no doubt produced outstanding cream that was probably cooked and flavored, although not with sugar and vanilla as they didn’t enter the picture until recently –  sugar was a scarce and extremely expensive commodity until the 1800s.

Boiled fish bones were most likely used as a thickener, before the advent of gelatin, as they produced a glue like substance that was still used when I was a child (please, no comments on my age).

So I never quite understood the craze over panna cotta in the US where it did become popular a few years ago and still persists on many menus. But I do enjoy the creaminess and tanginess of this particular recipe, compliments of the Pastry Chef who trained me, Mama Erin. The amount of gelatin is just right so not to render the cream too jello-like and the acidity of the lemon prevents it from becoming a generic sweet custard. It’s lovely served with fresh berries or a berry compote. When in season, the delicate flavor of Meyer Lemons really shines in this dessert. And if you have guests, no standing at the stove or baking custard in the oven which, in today’s LA heat, seems like a really good idea.


1 3/4 C                Buttermilk

2 T                        Meyer Lemon Juice (or regular lemons if Meyer are not in season)

1 1/4 C                Heavy Cream

2                           Lemon Peels

1 C                       Sugar

2                           Gelatin Sheets, bloomed in cold water

(Sheet gelatin can be found in specialty stores – otherwise use 2 1/3 ts powder gelatin)

1. Combine buttermilk and lemon juice. Set aside.

2. Heat cream and sugar with lemon peel to a simmer – do not boil. Remove from heat and allow the lemon to steep about 20 mins (and cool slightly).

3. While mixture is cooling, bloom gelatin by submerging sheets in ice cold water until very soft. With powder gelatin, pour just enough cold water over it in order to saturate the granules and allow them to plump and soften.

4. Strain and add bloomed gelatin by squeezing the water out with your hands and add it to the lemon cream, stirring gently using a rubber spatula until completely dissolved. Avoid incorporating air by over stirring.

5. Cool mixture over an ice bath until it reaches room temperature, stirring occasionally.

6. Stir in buttermilk and lemon juice. Continue to chill over the ice bath until completely cool to the touch.

7. Pour liquid in 4 oz ceramic ramekins or glass cups – if you are planning to unmold it, spray the ramekins well.

8. Allow to set overnight or at least 8 hours.

9. If you wish to unmold, dip the ramekins in hot water for a few seconds and gently pull the sides of the panna cotta away and invert over a plate. Otherwise, serve in the containers.

10. Pair it with a berry or citrus compote or fresh berries.


Filed under food


  1. Pingback: NO BAKE DESSERTS – COCONUT SEMIFREDDO | The Accidental Chef

  2. Annamaria

    I adore Panna Cotta and this seems the “perfect one”.
    Can you please indicate the quantities in italian?
    For exaple, when you mention 2 lemon peels you mean the peel of 2 lemons or two slices?
    I have a dinner in a week or so and I really would like to serve it to my friends.
    thank you

    • Ok, I did my homework and here we go. First of all, you won’t be able to find buttermilk in Italy. My suggestion would be to increase the amount of lemon juice to 4 tablespoons to compensate for the lack of tartness of the buttermilk. Use regular milk instead (but full fat milk not skimmed)
      3 dl 1/2 of milk
      3 dl of cream (panna liquida da montare)
      225 sugar
      6 grams of gelatin powder (or two sheets of colla di pesce although I am not sure how big they are in Italy. Our gelatin sheets are 3 grams each)
      Does that help? Let me know how it turns out. Taste it before you pour it in the ramekins and adjust the lemon accordingly. Oh, and it’s the peels of two whole lemons – because I use Meyer, that don’t have the bitter white pith, try and separate the lemon peel from the pith as much as you can.

  3. Annamaria

    thank you!
    No idea of what a Meyer is, but I normally use a potato peeler to make sure the bitter white stays on the lemon.
    What is buttermilk? the dictionary tells me “latticello”. Is it right?

    To return your kindness, I suggest you a wonderful book: “All that I am” by Anna Funder. It’s a true story wonderfully written.


    • You were not kidding…you are an insomniac! Meyer lemons have a softer rind and are less acidic and a bit sweeter than regular lemons. If blood oranges are still in season, they are great for that recipe too (do we call them “tarocco”? I forget). Buttermilk used to be the liquid left over from the cream once butter was made. Nowadays, it’s obtained by adding bacteria to the milk, making the end result look like soured milk – it is pretty tart which goes very well with lemons. On second thoughts, you should probably reverse the ratio of milk to cream as you are losing some of the thickness of buttermilk. In Italy panna cotta is made with just cream or milk and cream.Thanks for the book suggestion. Will take you up on it.

  4. Annamaria

    yes, yes yes, with age I became an insomniac! No way to sleep until very late and wake up several times during the night… a nightmare.
    But let’s talk serious: the panna cotta.
    Oranges are still in season and I will try also with the tarocchi (yes, you remember well).
    I agree with you, I will reverse the ratio of milk to cream even because the quantity of colla di pesce is small compared to the italian standards.
    Will let you know.

    About the book, you know I read a lot and that is the best book I read in a copule of years or so.
    Thank you again

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s