Just in time for the holidays, this pumpkin panna cotta is silky, delicate, and yes, vegan! Garnish with the super-easy Pumpkin Seed Brittle topping (recipe below!) for a festive autumn treat.
Traditional Italian panna cotta recipes use milk or cream (indeed the name panna cotta means cooked cream), boiled with gelatin to set the dessert upon chilling. This vegan version’s method uses non-dairy plant milk and replaces the gelatin with agar, an effective gelling agent derived from algae. Used for centuries in Asian desserts, most notably in kanten desserts in Japanese cuisine, this odorless and tasteless vegetarian substitute for gelatin is a valuable tool to have in your vegan pantry’s arsenal.
Serve them as is, or make the recipe below for crunchy Pumpkin Seed Brittle for a more texturally complex dessert. Other options would be to drizzle with a touch of pure maple syrup or pair them with spiced pumpkin preserves.
I love that this dessert can be made ahead of time; it just chills out in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve it. Consider making it for a sweet end to an autumnal dinner party, as a fitting addition to your Thanksgiving dessert line-up, or simply as a “I need pumpkin something…anything…and NOW” treat.
- 2¼ cups plain or vanilla non-dairy milk (I used soymilk, but coconut or almond milk works well, too)
- ¾ cup cooked, puréed pumpkin
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ginger powder
- ⅛ teaspoon clove
- ⅛ teaspoon allspice
- ¾ teaspoon agar powder (be sure to measure this one precisely)
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 Tablespoon coconut oil
- pinch of salt
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ cup unroasted, shelled pumpkin seeds / pepitas
- 3 Tablespoons sugar
- pinch of salt
- Put the milk, pumpkin purée, and spices in a blender and blend on high for at least 1 minute. It's an extra step, but I find that it really helps to break down the pumpkin and spices, making for a silkier end result.
- After blending, pour the contents into a medium saucepan and whisk in the agar powder and sugar, heating over medium-high.
- Whisk in the coconut oil and salt. Stir occasionally until the mixture comes to a boil. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for 3 minutes to ensure that the agar has dissolved. (Keep your eye on the saucepan, as the mixture can overflow when boiling vigorously.)
- After 3 minutes of simmering, remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla extract.
- Pour the mixture into your serving bowls or parfait glasses and allow to cool for 20 minutes on the counter. Afterward, place them in the refrigerator for at least 3-4 hours or even overnight.
- When completely chilled, you have the option to invert the panna cotta from the bowls onto a plate or to leave them in the containers you chilled them in. I find both presentations to be equally appealing.
- While the panna cotta is chilling, make the pumpkin seed brittle by putting the pumpkin seeds, sugar and salt in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat as you stir continuously with a wooden spoon.
- After a minute or so, the mixture will look like pumpkin seeds in wet sand. Keep stirring until you start to hear some of the seeds pop. They should be now starting to turn golden and fragrant. Keep stirring until the sugar dissolves and isn't as grainy. Before the seeds get too dark or burn, remove them from the saucepan onto a small sheet pan and press them somewhat into a flat layer with the back of the spoon. Be careful not to touch these seeds until they are cool, as they are molten hot.
- Once they've cooled, you can store them in an airtight container until you are ready to garnish your panna cotta...just try not to snack on them all before then!
-If using unsweetened non-dairy milk, add 2 Tablespoons of sugar to the ¼ cup already in the recipe for a similar end result.
-If you like things a little sweeter or want an even more decadent presentation, drizzle a teaspoon or so of pure maple syrup on each panna cotta right before serving.
-Cooked and puréed butternut squash or sweet potato would both make great substitutes for the pumpkin.