Vegan Macadamia-Coconut Panna Cotta

April 26, 2021
1 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland. Prop Stylist: Veronica Olson. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog.
  • Prep time 1 hour 45 minutes
  • Cook time 15 minutes
  • Serves 6
Author Notes

An ideal panna cotta is just firm enough to stand up on a spoon, yet melts the moment it hits your tongue. It should be rich and creamy, and just sweet enough to be satisfying—but not at all cloying. Panna cotta translates from Italian to “cooked cream.” In the traditional technique, gelatin is dissolved in warm cream to give it that desirable mouthfeel. This recipe is vegan, so you won’t find any cream or gelatin here; still, it hits all the marks with irresistible texture and flavor.

The method I use to achieve the perfect texture in a vegan panna cotta is a combination of agar-agar (a flavorless seaweed derivative that gels once dissolved in liquid) and arrowroot (a powdered root starch akin to cornstarch in texture) dissolved in a creamy, homemade macadamia-coconut milk. Magic happens when the ratios of these three components are spot-on. Once you have this base, you’ll find a multitude of ways to change up the flavors to suit any season—it’s the ideal creamy pillow-in-dessert-form for any fruit you have on hand. Try it with ripe in-season peaches, roasted plums, or crushed berries. You could also make a simple compote with frozen fruit in winter; or just drizzle it with aged balsamic vinegar like you might find in a good Italian restaurant.

The delicate yet rich flavor of this panna cotta relies on the homemade macadamia-coconut nut milk. Be sure to use good quality raw nuts, organic if possible (and make sure they’re fresh—the older nuts get, the more likely they are to go rancid) and dried coconut that’s fragrant and full fat (reduced fat won’t give you the same results). Don’t be tempted to use packaged nut milks here, as even the ones without additives are too watery for this recipe. Here, the nut-to-water ratio is quite high (much higher than packaged nondairy milks), along with the amount of vanilla—all coming together for a sublime texture and flavor in this creamy treat. —Amy Chaplin

What You'll Need
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Vegan Macadamia-Coconut Panna Cotta
  • Macadamia-Coconut Panna Cotta
  • 3 cups plus 1 tablespoon filtered water, divided
  • 1 cup raw macadamia nuts
  • 1 cup unsweetened shredded, dried coconut
  • Pinch sea salt
  • 4 teaspoons agar-agar flakes (or 1 teaspoon agar powder)
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped, pod reserved
  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup (lightest grade)
  • 1 teaspoon arrowroot powder
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • Macerated strawberries, for serving (recipe below)
  • Small strawberries with stems, for serving
  • Macerated Strawberries
  • 2 cups (about 8 ounces, 230 grams) small fresh strawberries, hulled and quartered
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup, plus more to taste
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Place a medium strainer over a medium bowl and line with a nut milk bag, a few layers of cheesecloth, or a thin kitchen towel; set aside.
  2. Add 3 cups of the water, the macadamia nuts, coconut, and salt to an upright blender and blend on high speed for about 2 minutes, or until completely smooth. Pour through the nut milk bag or cloth into the bowl, then gently squeeze the bag to extract as much milk as possible. You should have exactly 3 cups; if not, either remove some or add a bit more water until you’ve reached 3 cups. Compost the nut pulp left in the bag.
  3. Pour the macadamia-coconut milk into a medium pot and whisk in the agar-agar, vanilla bean pod, scraped seeds, and maple syrup. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking frequently. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 10 minutes, or until no agar-agar flakes are visible. Dissolve the arrowroot in the remaining tablespoon of water and slowly drizzle into the simmering milk mixture. Once the mixture returns to a boil, immediately remove it from heat. Remove the vanilla bean pod and compost or reserve for another use. Add the vanilla extract and whisk again. Divide the mixture between 6 small bowls, tea cups, or ramekins and allow it to sit for 15 minutes, or until the mixture cools and begins to set. Carefully place the bowls in the fridge to set completely, at least 1 hour or up to 2 days ahead.
  4. When you are ready to serve the panna cottas, combine the strawberries, maple, and vanilla in a medium bowl and gently toss. Set aside for at least 10 minutes to allow the strawberries to macerate. This can be done up to an hour before serving, but the mixture doesn’t store well. Serve the panna cotta cold, each topped with a spoonful of strawberries and a whole fresh strawberry.

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Amy Chaplin is a two-time James Beard Award-winning cookbook author and vegetarian chef. Amy's approach to cooking is inspired by nature and the healing benefits of whole food ingredients. Her recipes have been featured in T Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and Vogue, among other publications. She divides her time between Brooklyn and Upstate New York.

3 Reviews

[email protected] January 20, 2022
This is one of the most delicious things I have ever made. It works perfectly, and delivers everything you would ever want from a panna cotta. Light, refreshing, holds its shape even when unmolded (which the recipe does not talk about, but it slipped out of the glass and onto the plate more effortlessly than any traditional panna cotta I've ever made.) Flawless. Only one note -- why compost what's left in the cheesecloth?? It is pure subtle snowy wonderfulness -- you may have inadvertently discovered vegan ricotta!
yoshi O. December 7, 2021
I’ve made this a couple of times and it’s always a big hit! It was the first time I’ve used agar agar and it was easy. I’m not the biggest fan of coconut, but you can’t really taste it here. The texture was sublime velvety custard. So perfect for a non dairy dessert!
AntoniaJames June 20, 2021
That should work. I definitely would try that.

It may be a bit richer, given that coconut milk tends to be richer than the coconut + water blend here. (I know, because in Julie Sahni's early cookbooks, going back to the 1980s when you could not get coconut milk in the stores, her recipes call for soaking dried coconut and then blending it - something I did many times.)

Let us know if you do, and if so, how it turns out. Thanks! ;o)