I love custard, and panna cotta–a creamy, luxurious, Italian stovetop custard (no baking! no eggs!)–is one of my all-time favorites. It’s also one of the BEST make-ahead desserts when you have freiends or family over for a meal. It can be made a full day ahead, looks elegant, and everyone (children & adults) love it.
However, if I have friends over who are vegan, vegetarian, or Paleo, I am out of luck, since traditional panna cotta relies on gelatin (vegan & vegetarian friends, out) and dairy (Paleo friends are out, and a second strike for vegan friends).
So how about a solution that will please everyone? Yes, please! Moreover, the recipe is incredibly easy, with just 3 ingredients. Hurrah!
To replace the heavy cream, I turned to a reliable favorite: full fat, canned coconut milk. It delivers the traditional, unctuous texture that characterizes a great panna cotta. It has a divine flavor of its own, but it’s also simple to change it up, with extracts, citrus zest, a splash of booze, or spices.
To replace the gelatin, use agar agar instead. It is a flavorless gel, derived from cooked and pressed seaweed and sold as flakes or a powder.
It so happens that agar-agar has two bonuses that make it worth trying, regardless of vegetarian or carnivore status. First, whereas gelatin takes several hours to set, agar-agar takes about 1 hour. Procrastinators rejoice! Second, unlike gelatin, it does not require refrigeration to set.
Keep in mind that highly acidic ingredients, such as lemons, strawberries, oranges, and other citrus fruits, may require more agar-agar than the recipe calls for. Also, enzymes in fresh mangoes, papaya, fresh ginger and pineapple break down the gelling ability of the agar-agar so that it will not set.
I like to keep it simple and pile fruit or other toppings on top. Happy eats, everyone!
- 1 13.5 ounce can full-fat coconut milk
- 2 tablespoons maple syrup (or honey, if not vegan)--or more, to taste
- 1 teaspoon agar powder OR 1 tablespoon agar agar flakes
- Optional: pinch of sea salt
- Optional: fresh berries, cut fruit, or any topping you prefer!
- In a medium saucepan combine the coconut milk, syrup, agar, and optional salt. Let stand 5 minutes. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low. Simmer, uncovered, whisking occasionally, 2 to 3 minutes for powder or up to 8 minutes for flakes (simmer until flakes dissolve).
- Immediately pour into 3 small ramekins or decorative glasses. Transfer to refrigerator. Cover and refrigerate 1 hour until set (it can set up quickly, but allow 1 hour to thoroughly chill)
- Serve with toppings of choice.