This buttermilk panna cotta with blueberry compote is the easiest make-ahead dessert for entertaining guests! The whole recipe involves just a few minutes of active prep time, and can be served chilled or at room temperature.
I love hosting dinner parties, but I have a rule about them. I need to be able to spend the majority of time hanging out with my people. Almost everything needs to be done by the time guests arrive. The first few times I hosted dinner parties, I didn’t have this figured out, and the evening was not fun for me.
Now that I’ve got my routine down, I have a few staple recipes I like to break out for guests. This buttermilk panna cotta with blueberry compote is my top pick for a dessert, because it has everything going for it. I can make the entire thing in advance, it’s super easy, it’s tasty, and it looks fancy. It even has a fancy name.
People always think it’s this super complicated dessert that must have taken a lot of effort. It’s not…it takes about 10-15 minutes of prep time, mostly inactive, and then 4 hours in the refrigerator to set. There’s minimal effort involved. It’s like a creamy jello, to be honest. The buttermilk adds an amazing tang.
What is Panna Cotta?
Panna cotta (which translates in Italian to “cooked cream”) is an Italian dessert made sweetened cream that’s been thickened with unflavored gelatin. The cream might include flavors such as vanilla or coffee. Though cream is traditionally used, you can swap out the cream with milk or even non-dairy milk. Other add-ins like buttermilk can be used as well for flavor.
How to Make Buttermilk Panna Cotta
Step 1: Dissolve The Gelatin
In a large bowl, dissolve unsweetened gelatin in a couple tablespoons of warm water. Let it sit for around 5 minutes while you heat up the cream, sugar and vanilla in a medium saucepan until the sugar has dissolved.
Step 2: Add warm cream and sugar to gelatin
Pour the cream into the bowl with the gelatin, whisking to combine. Let cool for around 6-8 minutes until just slightly warm to the touch (mine was 110 degrees F).
Step 3: Whisk in buttermilk
If you whisk in the buttermilk while the mixture is hot, it will curdle. I speak from experience. You don’t need a thermometer, though. Just think lukewarm.
Step 4: Pour into serving dishes and chill
I used mason jars, but you can use anything. Wine glasses, juice classes, whatever you have. It will need around 4 hours to set, but you can make it two days in advance. Just keep it covered in the fridge so it doesn’t pick up any weird flavors.
Step 5: Make the compote (or not)
While the panna cotta is setting, make the blueberry compote, which is just blueberries, some water, and sugar cooked down in a saucepan until it’s a saucy jam consistency. Here’s the thing, though…
If you don’t feel like making the compote, you could simply serve the panna cotta with fresh berries on top. And if you don’t like blueberries, use any berry you like! Strawberries, cherries, raspberries… this will work with any of them.
More Custard Recipes
You can also see my full archive of custard recipes here!
Buttermilk Panna Cotta
For the panna cotta
- 1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
- 1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 cups buttermilk (see notes)
For the blueberry compote
- 2 1/2 cup fresh or frozen blueberries
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, or to taste (see notes)
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Optional if needed: a small squeeze of lemon juice and/or a pinch of salt
Prepare the panna cotta
- Place the gelatin in a large bowl with 1 tablespoon of warm water to soften for 5 minutes.
- In a medium saucepan, bring the cream, sugar, and vanilla to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat and pour into the bowl with the gelatin, whisking to combine. Let cool for around 6-8 minutes until just slightly warm (mine was 110 degrees F). Whisk in the buttermilk. (Note: if you whisk in the buttermilk while the mixture is hot, it will curdle).
- Pour the mixture into 4 glasses or mason jars, then place in the refrigerator and chill for a minimum of 3 hours (until set), or overnight.
Prepare the compote
- While the panna cotta is setting, prepare the compote. Place the blueberries sugar, water, and vanilla in a medium-sized saucepan set over medium heat. Bring the mixture to a simmer, stirring occasionally.
- As the blueberries start darkening and breaking down, gently mash some of them with a potato masher (this is optional but will help release the juices).
- Continue simmering, stirring occasionally, until the blueberries are soft and the liquid has thickened up, about 10 minutes. You can adjust the heat to medium-low if the liquid begins to sputter. Once the compote reaches a thick sauce-like consistency, remove from the heat and cool. Taste and add a squeeze of lemon juice and/or a pinch of salt to balance the flavors if it tastes too sweet. (Remember - it will be balancing a tart custard).
- Spoon the compote evenly over the panna cotta and serve! Leftovers will keep in the refrigerator, covered, for up to 5 days.
Please read my full post for additional recipe notes, tips, and serving suggestions!
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