“You take two cups of milk and two cups of cream and warm it on the stove,” Tim’s saying to me from the dining room.
I place a saucepan on the back burner.
“Okay, then what?” I call back to him.
“Add half a cup of Sucanat and stir until it dissolves.”
While the unrefined sugar combines with the milk and cream, I set out a bowl and fill it with six tablespoons of water, then toss five teaspoons of gelatin over the top.
I return to the stove. A couple minutes and a few stirs later, the sugar has totally dissolved, and I remove the saucepan from the heat.
I add vanilla extract and almond extract, stir, and pour the saucepan’s contents into the gelatin mixture. I stir, and let it all dissolve.
“Then I just pour it into the cups?” I say to Tim, thinking aloud that this has been too simple, wondering if we’ve somehow skipped a step.
He’s in the kitchen next to me now, right beside me while I divvy up the mixture, pour it into oiled ramekins and set them in the fridge.
“I told you it was easy,” he responds, his back to me now while he begins washing dishes and setting them to dry.
This is not the first time I’ve made panna cotta, nor is it Tim’s, but it is the first time we’ve made it together.
Also, more notably, it’s the first time the process has been so easy that as soon as we’re done, I find that I’ve got it memorized. Repeating the whole process back to Tim minutes later when we settle in on the sofa, and I take out a piece of paper and write it down.
Tim made this exact same recipe for me a few weeks ago. One or the other of us had heard someone say “panna cotta,” developed a craving, and quickly passed the obsession along to the other. Pretty soon, both of us were regularly saying out loud, “Doesn’t that sound so good? I wish we had some right now!”
But it wasn’t until late one night, when the sky had already grown dark, that we finally made good on these daydreams. When the cooking was done, sitting side by side on the couch with a Netflix movie on the TV, we ate rich, luxurious, creamy bowl after bowl of it, licking our lips as we went.
I have to warn you now that once you’ve tasted it, a craving for this type of panna cotta isn’t the kind that abates when you feed it. It isn’t the kind that allows you to make a batch for yourself one night, and give it nary a thought for months afterward, after the bowls are clean.
No, this panna cotta is the chocolate chip cookie of the magical custardy world: with every bite you take, you just want more.
So that’s how we found ourselves in the kitchen tonight, with a batch chilling in the fridge while we clean the kitchen and return to our laptops, eagerly anticipating the sweet treat to come.
It’ll be past 10 p.m. when the desserts are finally set enough to warrant sharing one, and the next morning when we finally get to turn two out onto plates and top them with sliced fresh figs and honey.
But even after we do, after we’ve consumed dish after dish after dish between the two of us, with the rich cream cut by the sweet and caramel-like milk layer with fresh figs on top, after every last bite is gone less than a full day after we made it, we will look at each other and still think the same thing:
Let’s make more!
Panna cotta with fresh figs and honey is a showstopping make-ahead dessert that’s elegant and surprisingly easy to prepare.
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 6 tablespoons cold water
- 5 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin
- 2 cups whole milk
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1/2 cup unrefined cane sugar (Sucanat)
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
- 5 large figs, sliced (about 2 cups)
- 2 teaspoons honey
- Grease four 4-inch ramekins with olive oil and set aside.
- In a medium bowl, add cold water and sprinkle gelatin on top. Set aside to hydrate for 3-5 minutes.
- While the gelatin blooms, in a medium saucepan over moderate heat, warm the milk, cream, and Sucanat. Stir until the sugar has completely dissolved. This will take about 5 minutes.
- Stir in vanilla and almond extracts until combined. Pour the warm milk mixture into the gelatin mixture. Stir until well-combined.
- Divide mixture evenly between the 4 ramekins. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours, or until fully set.
- Serve either in the ramekins or turned out onto a plate, topped with sliced figs and a drizzle of honey.
- Prep Time: 10 minutes
- Cook Time: 5 minutes
- Category: Custard
- Method: No-Bake
- Cuisine: Dessert
Keywords: panna cotta, honey, fig, gelatin, no-bake
Cooking by the Numbers…
Step 1 – Slice Figs and Measure Remaining Ingredients
Slice the figs with a sharp knife and set them aside.
Measure out all of the remaining ingredients as listed on the ingredients list.
Grease four 4-inch ramekins with olive oil. Set aside.
Step 2 – Bloom Gelatin
Add cold water to a medium bowl. Sprinkle gelatin on top.
Let the mixture rest for 3-5 minutes. Don’t wait too long to use it, or it will begin to solidify.
Step 3 – Make Milk Mixture
While the gelatin is resting, add the milk, cream, and Sucanat to a medium-sized saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar has dissolved. This will take about 5 minutes.
Once the sugar has dissolved completely, remove from heat and stir in the vanilla and almond extracts.
Step 4 – Make Base
Pour the warm milk mixture over the gelatin mixture. Stir until everything is well-combined.
Divide the mixture evenly between the 4 ramekins.
Step 5 – Chill
Place the ramekins in the refrigerator to chill for 4 at least hours. The panna cotta should be fully set before you serve it.
Step 6 – Top And Serve
Top the ramekins with fig slices and a drizzle of honey. Or, if you like, you can turn the panna cotta out onto dessert plates before garnishing and serving.
Heat up a knife under hot running water, and run it around the inside of each ramekin before putting a plate on top and then inverting. The custard should come right out.
If it doesn’t, try loosening the edges a little more, and then invert again. As an alternative method, you can also try dipping the base of the ramekins into a bowl of hot water for a few seconds, and then invert onto a plate.
What If I Can’t Find Fresh Figs?
Figs come and go pretty quickly in the summer. It can be tough to track them down in the first place, without them selling out from under your nose.
And when they are out of season? Forget it.
If you are still hoping to make this recipe without the fresh figs, but you’re craving that fig flavor, you have a couple of options:
You can use halved dried figs, either as is or reconstituted in warm water, fruit juice, or a sweet dessert wine. Or you can top them with fig jam if that’s what you have on hand.
This way, you’ll still be able to get the flavor from the fruit that you so desire whenever you are craving this recipe out of season.
Still hungry? Check out some other make-ahead dessert recipes here:
- Strawberry Yogurt Parfaits
- Chocolate Panna Cotta with Oranges and Pistachios
- Coconut Milk Mexican Flan
- Strawberry Gelatin
- Gluten-Free Chocolate Covered Cheesecake Bites
What type of figs are your favorite when fig season rolls around? Tell us in the comments below, and be sure to rate the recipe after you try it.
Photos by Meghan Yager, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published by on September 11, 2012. Last updated: August 2, 2020 at 11:55 am. With additional writing and editing by Meghan Yager and Allison Sidhu.
Nutritional information derived from a database of known generic and branded foods and ingredients and was not compiled by a registered dietitian or submitted for lab testing. It should be viewed as an approximation.
About Shanna Mallon
Shanna Mallon is a freelance writer who holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her work has been featured in a variety of media outlets, including The Kitchn, Better Homes & Gardens, Taste of Home, Houzz.com, Foodista, Entrepreneur, and Ragan PR. In 2014, she co-authored The Einkorn Cookbook with her husband, Tim. Today, you can find her digging into food topics and celebrating the everyday grace of eating on her blog, Go Eat Your Bread with Joy. Shanna lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with Tim and their two small kids.