Fresh Berries with Panna Cotta

Fresh Berries with Panna Cotta

Berry season is in full flourish here in the Northwest. At the farmers market people are standing in line to purchase flats and half-flats of mixed berries. At their peak it is wise to do the least amount of cooking. A bowl of fresh berries for breakfast is so satisfying, maybe topped with yogurt or cream that there is no need to tamper with their freshness, not even adding sugar. Likewise when at their peak of ripeness I try to create dessert recipes that highlight their bold flavors. Although in early or late berry season I turn to baking or cooking with them.

With this in mind, a few years back when I had a home cooking school I came up with this first recipe. Panna cotta is cold Italian custard that is usually served with berries. Cream is thickened with gelatin, giving it a smooth, velvety texture and pure flavor that is a great accompaniment to ripe berries.

After trying this recipe go on to trying the following updated vegan recipe. Eat as many fresh berries as you possibly can, the season is short!

8 servings


½ cup cold filtered water

1 packet unflavored gelatin

1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise

¾ cup granulated cane sugar

1 cup half and half cream

2 egg yolks

1 ½ cup cultured sour cream

2 or 3 pints of mixed berries (strawberries, raspberries, tayberries, blueberries, and/or blackberries)*


1.     In a non-reactive sauce pan sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water. Scrape the vanilla beans from the split pods. Add the seeds and pods to the gelatin water with the sugar. Mix well.

2.     Heat the mixture over medium high heat until it is clear and simmer.

3.     Thoroughly mix the half and half and egg yolks. Stir into the hot gelatin mixture. Turn down the heat and stir over low heat for about five minutes.

4.     Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a non-reactive bowl. Discard the vanilla pods but leave the beans.

5.     Whip the sour cream into the mixture. Place the bowl into an ice water bath and stir until it begins to gel.

6.     Pour one-half cup portions into dessert cups or molds. Cover and chill at least three hours or overnight.

7.     Just before serving wash the berries and place on top of the panna cotta.

*If you wish to place in a margarita glass as pictured here, place a few berries below, top with cold panna cotta, chill and just before serving top with remaining berries.


The use of tapioca flour (or starch) and coconut milk turns this into a more plant –based pudding with a similar texture to panna cotta. Gelatin is extracted from the connective tissue of cattle. Substituting coconut milk for the dairy products and tapioca flour for the gelatin would make this a vegan pudding. Tapioca flour is the water extracted starch from cassava root grown and used in South America. Coconut milk, honey and vanilla gives this pudding a slightly sweet flavor that pairs well with those fresh ripe berries. Bob’s Red Mill tapioca flour is found in many grocery stores or online. Choose pure coconut milk (not cream) with no added guar gum.

Fresh Berries with Coconut Pudding

8 servings


½ cup local honey

1 cup tapioca flour

cup unsweetened coconut milk

1 vanilla bean

teaspoon kosher salt

4 cups unsweetened coconut milk

2 or 3 pints of mixed berries (strawberries, raspberries, tayberries, blueberries, and/or blackberries)


1.     In a sauce pan mix the honey, tapioca flour, one-third cup coconut milk, and salt together until smooth.

2.     Stir in the remaining coconut milk. (The coconut milk will have some lumps that will melt when heated). Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise and scrape the seeds. Add both the seeds and the pod to the mixture.

3.     Bring to a boil. Turn down to a simmer and cook until the starch is dissolved, about one minute.

4.     Strain through a fine mesh sieve. Cool slightly before pouring into eight serving cups. Chill thoroughly (several hours or overnight) and top with fresh berries. Serve cold.


Linda HierholzerSWEETS