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I'm a London-based food writer, stylist and author. Click here to see more about me and my work

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Vanilla bean panna cotta

Since Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, here is another sexy little dessert to whip up from ‘Meals in heels.’ Panna cotta, a classic Italian dessert, is essentially thick cream and vanilla seeds set with a bit gelatine. It’s wondrous on its own or even better topped with a sweet/sour fruit like passion fruit, oranges, baked rhubarb or balsamic drizzled strawberries. Their acidity cuts through the rich cream for a lush combination. Although its a very quick dessert to throw together, getting the texture right isn’t always easy. If made with the right amount of gelatine, it’s texture is jiggly but firm enough to stay together. Likewise, if too much, it turns rubbery and looks a bit fake. Err, sort like the difference between a good and bad boob job. (Not that I would know.) Aim for a natural wobble. Lucky for you, I’ve done the experimenting, so just follow the recipe without the stress. Usually its turned out by dipping the mold in hot water. But why not just pour the mixture into pretty little glasses and leave it at that. Unless you’re dying to show off a bit more, what does it matter?

Vanilla bean panna cotta with oranges and honey
preparation time 20 minutes cooking time 10 minutes
makes 6

3 teaspoons powdered gelatine
250 ml (9 fl oz/1 cup) milk
700 ml (24 fl oz) cream
60 g (21/4 oz) caster sugar
1 teaspoon lemon or orange zest
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
2 blood or navel oranges
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons toasted and chopped pistachios

Combine the gelatine and 125 ml (4 fl oz/1/2 cup) of the milk in a small bowl and leave to absorb for 10 minutes. Place the remaining milk, cream, sugar, zest and vanilla bean and seeds in a heavy-based saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat, mix in the gelatine mixture and whisk until completely dissolved. Cool to room temperature, then strain into a jug and pour into six 250 ml (9 fl oz/1 cup) capacity glasses. Cover and refrigerate for 5 hours.

Cut the ends off both oranges and slice all the skin off including the white pith. Cut out the orange segments, drain on kitchen paper and refrigerate until required. Just before serving, top the panna cottas with a couple of orange segments, pistachios and drizzle of honey.

Recipe, food and prop styling Jennifer Joyce Photo Mowie Kay


  1. OMG Jen – that’s so funny about the natural wobble! These panna cottas were *divine* – I loved them x

  2. megi says:

    This looks so pretty, I love the orange segments and the pistachios, a nice finishing touch.

  3. Suzannah Butcher says:

    Hi Jennifer,
    I’m currently on the diploma at Leiths and met you last week when you came in for Lulu’s food writing course and also for the food styling and photography dem with Mowie (which was terrific by the way…I’ve had so much fun looking for props in 2nd hand shops!)

    I’ve done a bit of work experience with a couple of food stylists before starting at Leiths and loved it. I wondered if it would be possible for me to email you my CV should you ever need a spare pair of hands?

    Either way, I am loving the blog and I think the tiramisu in teacups are going to be desert on Valentine’s Eve for a lucky guy!

    Best wishes,

  4. mealsinheels says:

    Hi Suzannah,
    email me on my and we can talk!

  5. Delishhh says:

    What a great blog you have. Just stumbled here and love it. I just did a chocolate panna cotta but this one looks fabulous!

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