Capture the true essence and taste of spring with this delicious floral Lilac Panna Cotta recipe made with rich creamy coconut milk and wild blueberries to give it a lovely purple lilac hue.
Panna cotta is an Italian dessert that translates to “cooked cream” and it is just that – gently cooked cream is sweetened and mixed with gelatin to set it into a lusciously silky smooth creamy dessert. It is one of those super simple yet elegant desserts and is perfect for summer.
The heavenly sweet scent of lilacs is notoriously difficult to capture. Infusing lilac blossoms into fat such as cream or coconut milk is one way to capture their wonderful essence. The fat molecules grab onto the aromatic molecules of the edible flowers allowing the cream to become strongly infused with the scent and flavor of lilacs in the purest form. The resulting lilac panna cotta is out-of-this-world delicious and beautifully encapsulates spring.
Table of contents
Ingredients and Substitutions
Coconut Milk – Rich creamy coconut milk is the base for this dairy-free panna cotta. Look for full-fat canned coconut milk made with coconut and water only. Substitutions: Heavy cream may be used to make a traditional panna cotta. Other nut milks may be used as long as they are high in fat, such as cashew milk.
Lilac Flowers – Lilacs are the star ingredient of this recipe. Use fresh, in-bloom lilac blossoms. Pinch off any green stems which can give off a bitter taste. Substitutions: Try other fragrant edible flowers such as sweet violets, peonies, elderflower, chamomile or roses in this recipe. Lavender panna cotta is lovely as well, but be careful with the amount of lavender you use as it is very strong.
White Sugar – White granulated sugar or caster sugar is best to use as the sweetener for this panna cotta to preserve the purple color of the wild blueberry syrup. Unrefined raw sugars and maple syrup will muddy the color. Substitutions: Try using very light-colored honey or agave nectar as an alternative to white sugar.
Wild Blueberries – Frozen wild blueberries will produce a stronger purple color than highbush blueberries found in the produce section of supermarkets. The amount of blueberries used does not overpower the panna cotta and compliments the lilac flavor ver nicely. Substitutions: Omit the blueberries to create a white panna cotta. Infuse other natural colorants like butterfly pea flower powder, violet flowers, blue malva flowers into the coconut milk or cream plus a tiny bit of lemon juice to create a purple hue. Or use purple taro powder or ube powder to naturally color the panna cotta.
Kosher Salt – A bit of salt will round out the flavors and sweetness of the panna cotta. It can be omitted if you prefer. Substitutions: Use any salt you like aside from iodized table salt as it may impart a bitter taste.
Gelatin – Gelatin is used as the gelling agent in traditional panna cotta recipes. You want to add just enough gelatin so that the panna cotta sets but still quivers at the slightest touch. Use powdered gelatin or gelatin sheets. I used powdered fish gelatin with a 250 bloom when testing the recipe. Substitutions: Vegan gelatin powder may be used as a vegan alternative to gelatin, but does not need to bloom, instead mix it dry into the sugar before making the blueberry syrup. Agar agar may also be used as a vegan alternative to gelatine, but needs to come to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes to activate its gelling qualities. The issue with that is cooking the lilac-infused coconut milk for that length of time will break down its delicate floral taste. If you want to use agar agar, add it when preparing the blueberry syrup and cook the syrup for 5 minutes then immediately combine it with the strained lilac-infused coconut milk.
How to Make Dairy-Free Lilac Panna Cotta
Step 1: Make lilac-infused coconut milk
First, pick lilac blossoms off of their stems. Make sure to only use the flowers as any green stems may impart a bitter taste.
Stir the lilac blossoms and coconut milk together in a bowl or large jar then cover it and refrigerate the mixture for 24 hours to let it infuse and allow the coconut milk to absorb the flavor and fragrance of the lilac flowers.
Step 2: Bloom the gelatin
Sprinkle powdered gelatin over a small ramekin of cold water or place gelatin powder or gelatin sheets into a small bowl and cover them with cold water to bloom the gelatin. Set it aside.
Step 2: Make a wild blueberry syrup
Heat frozen wild blueberries, white sugar, and kosher salt in a small saucepan to dissolve the sugar. Then strain the mixture through a fine sieve into a small bowl pressing the blueberries with the back of a spoon to release as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids.
Step 4: Heat the lilac coconut milk mixture
Transfer the lilac coconut milk mixture to a medium saucepan and gently heat it over medium heat to a scalding temperature, which is just before it comes to a boil. Do not let it boil as that can break down the delicate flavor of the lilacs.
Strain the coconut milk through a fine-mesh strainer into a liquid measuring cup or pitcher with a pour spout. press the lilacs with the back of a spoon or rubber spatula to release as much liquid as possible. Discard the solids.
Step 5: Combine the panna cotta ingredients and fill cups
Add the bloomed gelatin or gelatin sheets to the still-hot lilac coconut milk followed by the warm blueberry syrup and whisk until the gelatin is completely dissolved.
Pour the panna cotta mixture into glasses or ramekins on a quarter sheet pan for easy transferring, cover them with an inverted quarter sheet pan or plastic wrap. Refrigerate the panna cotta for at least 2 hours or until it has set.
Step 6: Garnish and serve the panna cotta
Garnish the set lilac panna cotta with fresh lilac blossoms and serve in the glasses. Or to release it from molds or ramekins run a thin knife around the edges and invert them onto plates. Tap the ramekin to release the panna cotta them lift off the ramekin. If you plant to unmold the panna cotta lightly oil the ramekins first.
Hint: Watch the step-by-step video below.
Panna cotta may be stored for up to three days in the refrigerator. Cover the cups or ramekins with plastic wrap to keep them fresh.
Tips for Harvesting or Foraging Lilac Flowers
All varieties of Lilac Syringa spp. (the common species is vulgaris) are edible. Lilacs were originally brought to North America by European immigrants and can now be found growing wild in abandoned lots and old gardens. If you don’t have lilacs growing in your own yard you can forage for them in said abandoned areas or if you see them in a neighbor’s yard it never hurts to ask if you can clip a small bouquet. If you do the latter it is nice to offer payment to the owners.
Remember that when you clip off lilacs you are pruning them so only take a few stems from each plant. Be mindful of where you are foraging and that the area has not been sprayed with pesticides or is in the path of water runoff from roadways.
To make a vegan-friendly version of lilac panna cotta with this vegan gelatin. Use the same amount as listed in the recipe card but do not bloom it in water. This vegan gelatin does not need to be bloomed. Instead, mix the dry powder into the sugar and heat it up when making the blueberry syrup. Bring the syrup mixture to a boil then continue with the recipe.
As a general rule cooked leftover food should only be kept for up to 3 days and properly stored in the refrigerator. This applies to panna cotta. Just be sure to wrap the cups of panna cotta well with plastic wrap so they don’t absorb odors.
Yes! If you want to extract the aroma and taste of flowers use fragrant edible flowers such as roses, peonies, sweet violets, elderflowers, or chamomile. Strong-smelling flowers such as lavender or other herbs work well too but use a lesser amount as their taste and scent are potent.
Panna cotta is often served with fresh berries and seasonal fruits or sauces like berry coulis. This lilac panna cotta recipe is perfect on its own but you could serve it with more of the blueberry syrup spooned over top.
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- 25 g lilac blossoms 1 1/2 loosely packed cups, stems removed
- 400 ml canned coconut milk 395g
- 4 g gelatin 1 1/2 teaspoon, 250 bloom
- 100 g white granulated sugar 1/2 cup
- 140 g wild blueberries 1 cup
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- Add lilac flowers and coconut milk to a bowl or large jar and stir to combine. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours to let the lilacs infuse into the coconut milk.
- The next day, bloom the gelatin by sprinkling it over water in a small bowl or ramekin and set it aside.
- Heat the wild blueberries, sugar and salt together in a small saucepan over medium heat until the sugar is completely dissolved after about 3-5 minutes. Strain the blueberry mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a small bowl pressing the blueberries with the back of a spoon to release all their liquid. Set the blueberry syrup aside.
- Pour the lilac coconut milk mixture into a medium saucepan and bring it to scalding temperature or just before boiling point over medium heat. Do not let it boil. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer into a liquid measuring cup or pitcher, pressing the lilacs with the back of a spoon to release all of the milk.
- Add the bloomed gelatin and still-warm blueberry syrup to the hot coconut milk and whisk until the gelatin is fully dissolved, about 1 minute.
- Pour the panna cotta mixture into 4 glasses or oiled ramekins or molds if you plan to serve them unmolded. Arrange the glasses on a quarter sheet pan first so they will be easy to trnafer to the fridge.
- Cover the glasses with an inverted quarter sheet pan or with plastic wrap and refrigerate them for at least 2 hours until the panna cotta has firmed up and set.
- Garnish the tops of the panna cotta with lilac flowers. To unmold them from ramekins run a thin knife along the edges and place the plate over the top of the ramekin then flip it over and shake gently but firmly to release the panna cotta from the molds.
- Store panna cotta wrapped and refrigerated and enjoy within 3 days.
- To make a classic panna cotta use heavy cream in place of the coconut milk
- To make vegan panna cotta use vegan gelatin as a 1:1 replacement for gelatin in this recipe, but do not bloom it. Mix it into the dry sugar when preparing the blueberry syrup.