Creamy and rich with a big taste of fall, Pumpkin Panna Cotta with Caramel Sauce is a surprisingly easy dessert.
How many desserts can you name that are creamy and classy but really simple to make? If you said panna cotta, I’m totally in agreement.
Similar in feel to custard but thickened with gelatin, like easy to make jello… it’s like getting the best of both worlds.
Add in pumpkin puree for flavor and nutrition and Pumpkin Panna Cotta is a perfect fall dessert!
What is Panna Cotta?
Per Wikipedia, “panna cotta (Italian for “cooked cream”) is an Italian dessert of sweetened cream thickened with gelatin and molded. The cream may be aromatized with coffee, vanilla, or other flavorings.”
Do I Need a Special Mold for my Panna Cotta?
A panna cotta is usually made one of two different ways. It can be formed in a mold, then turned out onto a serving dish where it keeps its shape. Or it can be served out of the dish it’s formed in. Either way, it’s a fun and classy dessert!
Now in my opinion, one of the magical qualities of panna cotta is it’s ability to be unmolded and keep it’s shape, yet still be creamy. So I generally prefer to unmold. I found my first vintage aluminum molds at a second hand store, then picked up more on ebay.
I decided to also try this some small wine glasses and thought it looked nice that way too. And for mini-sized desserts, fancy shot glasses would work well. Ramekins or even vintage coffee cups are other options.
Why You’ll Love This!
Tasty. Everything. Pumpkin. And if that’s not enough, top it with a super simple caramel sauce!
Full of fall goodness. With real pumpkin and pumpkin spices, this can rock your fall. I even reduced the fat in the dairy slightly. Still rich but now healthier.
Easy. While it may sound a little intimidating, this is just as easy as the jello molds of the 70s. And everybody, even your aunt-who-can’t-cook, made those!
What You’ll Need
- Gelatin. This thickens the panna cotta. There are versions using agar agar for vegan desserts, but I haven’t tried this.
- Water. This helps the gelatin dissolve.
- Cream. Provide richness and a creamy texture.
- Milk. Supplements the cream but with less fat.
- Maple Syrup. Adds sweetness and flavor.
- Pumpkin Puree. Adds flavor and nutrition.
- Vanilla. Adds flavor.
- Cinnamon (optional). Adds flavor.
- Caramel syrup (optional). I recommend my Easy Caramel Dip recipe.
- You’ll need molds or serving dishes, but something as simple as a ramekin can be used.
Step by Step Directions
Pour the water into a small bowl, then sprinkle the gelatin over. Let it soften for 5-10 minutes.
In the meantime, combine the milk, cream and syrup or sugar in a small saucepan and heat, Remove from heat and add the softened gelatin. Stir until gelatin is fully dissolved, then whisk in the pumpkin, vanilla, salt and cinnamon if using.
If using molds, spray with non-stick spray. Glasses don’t need to be sprayed. Divide the mixture between 4 serving dishes/molds. Place in refrigerator for at least 4 hours.
To unmold, dip the mold in warm water for a minute or two.
Place serving dish on top, flip over, then give a downward shake.
Repeat if panna cotta doesn’t loosen.
How does panna cotta differ from jello?
While jello and panna cotta are both thickened with gelatin, a panna cotta is richer and creamier—closer to custard. An unmolded panna cotta should hold its shape (as should some custards like crème caramel), but it shouldn’t be firm enough to cut with sharp edges like jello.
All of this means that, if you are someone who isn’t fond of jello, you might still really like panna cotta.
I grew up avoiding jello but recently decided to try the coffee jelly that’s all the rage now. It looked fascinating, almost exotic, and, well, it’s coffee. But no, I still don’t like jello. However, I love panna cotta and plan to experiment a lot more!
The cinnamon (or vanilla bean) suspension challenge
While testing I made this Pumpkin Panna Cotta with a few slight variations–and was perplexed to see the cinnamon sink to the bottom in one batch and float to the top in another. In the end I completely left it out, I was so frustrated. Fortunately, that didn’t seem to have a major impact on flavor with the maple syrup and vanilla that are also included.
I was confused enough to check out some baking forums. Here I learned that I’m not the only one this has happened to and that cooling and re-whisking the mixture before pouring into the molds might help. I guess I’ll try that next and update if it works.
In the meantime a good drizzle of caramel hides many sins.
How to Serve
Pumpkin Panna Cotta is a nice dessert for either a formal or informal dinner. And truthfully, I ate more than one for a fun and unique breakfast!
A nice caramel syrup complements the flavors very well. Since I’ve been too often disappointed in commercial sauces I usually make my own. It’s very simple—just boil sugar, butter and water until it turns golden and fragrant, then stir in some milk and vanilla and you’re done. Take a look at my caramel dip post for detailed instructions.
Where I use a combination of milk and cream, some people use all cream. Sometime some buttermilk or even sour cream can be included.
I’ve even made a yogurt based panna cotta.
Tips & FAQs
This makes four servings and my small batch caramel syrup recipe works well for that amount. If you’re serving a crowd double (or triple) both.
Pumpkin Panna Cotta will continue to thicken as it sits. This means anything left the next day will be stiffer.
Pumpkin Panna Cotta with Caramel Syrup
- 1 ½ teaspoon gelatin
- 1 ½ Tablespoons cool water
- ½ cup cream
- ½ cup milk
- ¼ cup maple syrup or brown sugar
- ½ teaspoon cinnamon optional
- ½ cup pumpkin
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- pinch of salt
- few Tablespoons caramel syrup optional
- Pour the water into a small bowl, then sprinkle the gelatin over it, trying not to let it clump. Let it soften for 5-10 minutes.
- In the meantime, combine the milk, cream and syrup or sugar in a small saucepan and heat, stirring occasionally until small bubbles form. Do not let it boil.
- Remove from heat and add the softened gelatin. Stir for a couple minutes until gelatin is fully dissolved. Then whisk in the pumpkin, vanilla, salt and cinnamon if using. Let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes, then whisk again.
- If using molds, spray with non-stick spray. Glasses don’t need to be sprayed. Divide the mixture between 4 serving dishes/molds. Place in refrigerator for at least 4 hours.
- To unmold, dip the mold in warm water for a minute or two. Place serving dish on top, flip over, then give a downward shake. Repeat if panna cotta doesn’t loosen.
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