Dairy-free Coconut Panna Cotta {2 Ways}--A Fancy Yet Oh-So-Easy Dessert

This Coconut Panna Cotta is a surprisingly easy dairy-free dessert looks super fancy, but it's so easy, you simply won't believe it! You only need a few simple ingredients to have this on the table in no time. Plus here are 2 great versions--regular and blended with a fruit puree.

It's such a flexible recipe too including a great vegan option. This easy healthy dessert works for just about any special diet. Whether you're paleo, keto, vegan, gluten-free or AIP, this coconut panna cotta recipe is sure to be a favorite in your home.

coconut panna cotta in dessert cups

I love making easy healthy desserts like this one. I mean, healthified fancy desserts like chocolate chip cheesecake cupcakes and chocolate coated pumpkin truffles are fun, but let's face it. Mom life can be crazy and some days we're lucky that we've gotten out of our PJs, so I say bring on the healthy easy stuff.

4 ingredients. Super pretty and delicious. Enough said.

What Is Panna Cotta? 

Panna Cotta is a light and creamy molded dessert with a custard-like texture that is a classic Italian dessert. Traditional Italian panna cotta is made from heavy cream (also known as heavy whipping cream), sugar, and unflavored gelatin and is served either in its molded shape (similar to how you might serve flan or jello) on a plate or in small dessert containers.

This coconut milk panna cotta, however, is made from coconut milk and a whole food and/or low-carb sweetener instead for a healthy dessert that's special enough for dinner parties, but easy enough for every day.

Ingredients

  • full-fat coconut milk
  • sweetener
  • gelatin (or agar agar)
  • optional vanilla, fruit, puree, or sauce, garnishes
ingredients for diary-free coconut panna cotta

Directions

Dissolve gelatin in coconut milk (Photo 1)

Let it sit (Photo 2)

step by step image of melting gelatin in coconut milk

Puree fruit with sweetener and add it in the mixture (Photo 4)

step by step image of adding puree in coconut milk mixture

Cool the mixture (Photo 5)

Pour the mixture into dessert cups (Photo 6)

step by step image of cooling the mixture and adding it in dessert cups

Like an eggless custard, it has a firmer set than most puddings, thanks to the gelatin.

This Italian specialty satisfies cravings for something sweet and creamy.

panna cotta in dessert cups

What's Great About This Dessert

1.  It's allergy-friendly (paleo with GAPS options).

2.  It's easy to make.

3.  It sounds elegant. (imagine telling your family and friends that you've just made some "panna cotta" for dessert :).

4.  It contains simple, inexpensive ingredients.

dairy-free panna cotta in a dessert cup

How to Make Vegan Coconut Panna Cotta

If you're avoiding animal products, then here's how you can make a vegan panna cotta instead by simply using agar agar flakes instead of the gelatin.

Agar agar is a thickening agent, like gelatin, but it's made from red algae.

You can use 3 3/4 tablespoons of agar agar flakes instead of the gelatin in this recipe.

Note that agar needs to be boiled in order to dissolve (you can't bloom it like you bloom gelatin), so add it directly into the pan with the coconut milk, sweetener, and salt and bring the liquid to a boil.

Whisk often as the coconut milk boils to prevent burning, for 2-3 minutes until the agar flakes are dissolved.

The rest of the directions are the same, but agar doesn't need to be refrigerated to set. Also, if you use agar powder, you'll use less than the recommended amount.

Note that agar agar comes in two forms: flakes and powder. Agar powder is more concentrated than the flakes. If you use the powdered version, you’ll need to use much less than what is called for here.

Tip: You can typically find agar agar flakes near other seaweed products in your local store.

How to Remove Panna Cotta From a Mold

If you decide to put your panna cotta in molds, instead of small dishes or dessert cups, here are tips for getting the panna cotta out of the molds.

  1. Dip the panna cotta molds, one at a time, into a heat-proof bowl filled with several inches of hot water in it. Hold the mold with the base in the water for about 5 seconds, keeping in mind that some molds will take longer than others. You'll have to experiment with your type of mold to see how long it takes you.
  2. Using a butter knife, trace around the inside part of the mold.. 
  3. Invert the mold onto the serving plate, tapping the sides gently, if needed, until the panna cotta releases from the mold.
  4. To make this a bit easier, you can also coat the inside of the mold with a healthy non-stick spray or a small amount of a light cooking oil (a light olive oil, avocado oil, or even a light coconut oil would all work well.)
scoop of coconut panna cotta

FAQs & Tips

Coconut Milk: For best results, you'll want to use the right kind of coconut milk for this recipe. You could truly use any type, including homemade coconut milk but full-fat coconut milk will work better than light coconut milk for this recipe.

Sweeteners: You can use whatever sweetener works for you. Whole food sweeteners like maple syrup, honey, and coconut sugar are all great choices. If you're eating low carb, then a monk-erythritol blend, xylitol, allulose, and stevia are great choices.

two versions of panna cotta in dessert cups with text overlay

No matter whether you make the plain or blended variety, I'm sure you'll be pleased with yourself that you made something with a fancy pants name like "panna cotta" without batting an eye.

Well, maybe you will bat an eye. But only one eye and only once, I'm sure.

dairy-free panna cotta in dessert cups

Dairy-free Coconut Panna Cotta 2 Ways--The Perfect Easy Fancy Dessert

This Dairy-free Coconut Vegan Panna Cotta Recipe sounds fancy, but it's a very easy recipe. Easily made sugar free & low carb too!
Print Pin Rate
Course: Dessert, Snack
Cuisine: AIP, Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, Grain-Free, Keto, Low-Carb, Paleo, Vegan
Keyword: coconut panna cotta, sugar free panna cotta
Servings: 6
Calories: 251kcal

Ingredients

  • 2 cups coconut milk (full fat; divided)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons gelatin (unflavored)
  • 1/2 cup low carb sweetener (or raw honey or other sweetener as desired--see recipe notes for details)
  • 1/2 cup fruit (optional--raspberries, cherries, mango, or blueberries are great choices)
  • fresh citrus zest and/or shredded coconut (optional, for garnish)
  • additional fruit puree or fruit sauce (optional, for garnish)

Instructions

Fruited Panna Cotta

  • Dissolve 1 1/2 teaspoons gelatin in 1 cup coconut milk.  Let sit for 5 minutes to fully hydrate the gelatin.
  • Heat the coconut milk and gelatin over medium heat, being careful not to let it boil.  Stir continuously until the gelatin is fully dissolved, which will take around 5 minutes.
  • Puree fruit with sweetener and stir this into the warm coconut milk until evenly combined.  Remove the mixture from heat and let cool for 10 minutes.
  • Pour the warm coconut milk mixture into half of the ramekins / jars / dessert dishes, making sure they stay level.  Reserve the other cups for the second batch.   Chill uncovered for 30 minutes, then cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or more.

Plain Coconut Panna Cotta

  • Pour the other cup of coconut milk into a clean saucepan.  Dissolve 1 teaspoon of gelatin into this milk.
  • Heat and stir coconut milk mixture as in step 2.  Stir in 3 tablespoons of sweetener (or stevia to taste). Remove coconut milk mixture from heat and let cool for 10 minutes.  Pour the warm mixture into serving containers.
  • Chill the second batch of panna cotta for 30 minutes uncovered and then cover and refrigerate for 2 hours or more.
  • Before serving, garnish with colorful citrus zest, shredded coconut, fruit puree or fruit sauce (like this Sugar-free Blueberry Syrup), or edible flowers (optional).

Notes

The above recipe instructions and measurements are for making 3 servings of each type of panna cotta; 3 plain and 3 blended. If you wish to make 6 of only 1 type, then simply double the ingredients for the type you want make.
If using an alternative sweetener to maple syrup or honey, keep in mind that they're sweeter than sugar. More information is in this post on baking with honey.  You'll need to use less of those for this recipe.

Nutrition

Calories: 251kcal | Carbohydrates: 29g | Protein: 4g | Fat: 16g | Saturated Fat: 14g | Sodium: 18mg | Potassium: 377mg | Fiber: 3g | Sugar: 17g | Vitamin A: 83IU | Vitamin C: 58mg | Calcium: 63mg | Iron: 3mg | Net Carbs: 26g

Nutritional information is provided as a courtesy and is merely an approximation. Optional ingredients are not included and when there is an alternative, the primary ingredient is typically used. We cannot guarantee the accuracy of the nutritional information given for any recipe on this site. Erythritol carbs are not included in carb counts since they have been shown not to impact blood sugar. Net carbs are the total carbs minus fiber.

Note: This post was originally written in April, 2014. The photos were reshot in May 2022. This is a previous image for reference. I love the citrus cup idea, but to make this recipe easier, I decided to make the new version easier so you don't have to scoop out lemons. But go for it, if you'd like to!

This recipe was developed by Julia Baurain from Swirls and Spice. She makes great dairy-free recipes and is pretty handy with car repairs too ;).


Have you ever tried or made panna cotta before?

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16 Comments

    1. Hi there. I suspect that it won't since boiling destroys the properties of the gelatin. Did it work at all?

    1. Hi Carol! Good question! The steps aren't 100% identical. One is for plain panna cotta, while the other is for a blended fruit panna cotta.

      I redid the photos for this recipe (as you can see at the bottom of the post) and redid a bit of the post, but will be completely overhauling the direction and more soon. I just made all of the more clear in the recipe card. Do let me know if everything is clear now. I'll be adding a complimentary recipe as well--stay tuned :).

      Thanks for asking--you helped me make the post better. I was on the fly trying to get this out there for Mother's Day and had a soccer game to watch too---so whew.....missed making the recipe more clear. Would you believe you are the first person after all these years to ask that?!

  1. Back when I still liked sweets, I loved panna cotta, but since my taste has changed, I'm afraid to try. But hubby would love it!

      1. It probably corresponded with this whole issue of my health going on a downward spiral and my body reacting by wanting only what is best for it. I crave only the foods that are the densest, most rich with vitamins and minerals and other nutrients, like bone broth and sweet potatoes and butter and such.

  2. Love that you gave agar as an alternative. I'm not a vegetarian, but I don't like the idea of eating gelatin. This looks amazing and I can't wait to try some!

    1. I'm glad you like the recipe. While gelatin is making a comeback as a health food, it's not for everyone. It would be great to hear how the panna cotta turns out for you.

  3. This reminds me of a Cornish dessert recipe called Russian Cream. Why it is called Russian Cream when it is from Cornwall England? I have no idea. The only difference I see is no eggs in today's recipe and other than substituting coconut milk for the dairy milk.

    Since my husband can't have dairy, this panna cotta is perfect for a dessert for him. Looks like a lovely spring dessert.

    Adrienne, how is your father-in-law?

    1. How funny about the cream! My father in law appears to be dying. We have no official updates, but suspect his time here on earth will be short. Thank you so much for asking.

    2. I think you and your husband will enjoy this. Now I am curious about Russian Cream. It sounds delicious too!