Pumpkin and Coconut Milk “Panna Cotta”, or on being accidentally vegan and gluten free!


Sometimes a kitchen mishap can turn into a beautiful inspiration, like the other day when I overcooked a Thai dessert. I was making one of my favorite desserts from childhood, a sweet soup with chunks of pumpkins swimming in creamy coconut milk sweetened with palm sugar. The trick of it is to cook the pumpkin pieces just so that they are softened and cooked through, but still remain in tact – true to the Thai name of this dessert, “ordained pumpkin”. The orange pumpkin chunks are shrouded in white – white cloth being the cloth of ordained nuns – hence the name, you see? The overcooked soup – with broken bits of pumpkin tainting the white coconut milk a pretty shade of orange – was still good, but it could no longer be called ordained.

The color of the overdone soup was so pretty however, and the flavor no less delicious, that I thought I could play with this and turn it into something. So I pulled out the stick blender and puree the ingredients into a smooth cream, added a little bit of gelatin, et voila, a brand new dessert. It’s a sort of Asian take on the Italian classic Panna Cotta. It retains the traits of Panna Cotta, cooked cream thickened ever so slightly with gelatin, cooled, then unmolded into a quivering mass, a spoonful of which melts into nothingness as it touches the tongue.


This pumpkin-coconut “panna cotta” has nearly the same silky texture, unmolds into just as trembling, quivering mound, but with an added bonus of being dairy free (for your lactose intolerant guests) and could even be vegan if using Agar Agar powder to thicken instead of gelatin. If you didn’t want to bother with unmolding it to serve, just pour the warm mixture into old jam jars or small glasses instead of panna cotta molds. When it’s cooled enough to set and serve, stick a spoon in it and call it a Pumpkin Pot de Crème.

With Thanksgiving festivities coming up, this dessert could be a delicious alternative for your finicky and dietarily restricted guests.

Poured into a pre-baked gluten free pie crust, cooled in the fridge until set, it will make a gluten free and dairy free pumpkin pie that even the most die hard butter and cream lovers can adore.

Use a vegan pie crust instead, and Agar Agar to thicken in place of gelatin, you’ve got yourself the smoothest and creamiest vegan pumpkin pie you’ll ever have.

I love it when a mistake turns into such pretty, delicious, versatile – if accidental – invention.

Pumpkin and Coconut Milk “Panna Cotta”
  • 2 heaping cups of pumpkin, peeled, seeded, and cut into small cubes
  • This should be about 10oz or 300g of pumpkin. You can also use one cup of pumpkin puree instead. I use Kabocha or Potimarron, but I’m sure any pumpkin would work just fine.
  • 1.5 cups (3.5dl) coconut milk
  • 1 cup (2.5dl) water
  • 1/2 (packed) cup (100g), palm sugar or brown sugar
  • 1tsp salt
  • 1 packet powdered gelatin, or 5g of sheet gelatin, or 1 tsp Agar Agar powder*

If using powdered gelatin, mix it with half the cup of water and let stand five minutes. If using sheet gelatin, soak the sheets in enough water to cover until soft. Remove the gelatin sheets and squeeze out excess water and set aside.

In a medium pot, add the cubed pumpkin, coconut milk, sugar, salt, and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to simmer for 20 minutes, or until the pumpkin cubes are very soft. Add the gelatin water, gelatin sheets, or Agar Agar powder. Puree the mixture with a stick blender until smooth. You can also transfer the ingredients into a stand blender to puree, then pour the liquid back into the pot. Continue to simmer for five more minutes. Remove from heat and pour into panna cotta molds or jam jars, (or a pre-baked pie crust.) Let cool in the fridge until set. Unmold to serve or just stick a spoon in it!

*A little note on Agar Agar powder: desserts thickened with gelatin will melt at much lower temperature than dessert thickened with Agar Agar. The plus for Agar Agar is it will unmold easier, and your panna cotta stays in shape for a long time even at room temperature, whereas the one thickened with gelatin should be served soon after it leaves the fridge. Beware that panna cotta thickened with Agar will not melt in your mouth and give you the same creamy mouthfeel as one that uses gelatin. But if you are particular with animal products, from which gelatin is made, then Agar Agar will be a good solution for you.

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  • http://www.restaurantreviewworld.com foodette

    I love that bright color! It sounds delish, too.

  • http://holybasil.wordpress.com HolyBasil

    I’ve tried with little success to use agar-agar in place of gelatin. This recipe sounds great and I will certainly try it very soon. Thank you for all the tips. Alors, bravo.

  • Jimmy-in-Seattle

    Wow…such a “60′s” photograph. Brilliant! Intense! Beautiful!! Good-job P. I love it…can you tell?

  • http://www.mostlyeating.com Sophie

    Yum! This sounds great. I thought it was going to be a savoury, starter type dish when I read the title – I wonder if an unsweetened version would work out well too

  • http://www.bounteous-bites.blogspot.com Evelin

    I’m particulary in love with all kinds of dishes, both desserts and savoury ones, that include coconut milk. I can only imagine how I’d adore this dessert!:) I’m going to add it to my must-make list when we have pumpkin at home.
    Thank you!

  • http://FreshAdriaticFish.blogspot.com Sanja

    I was just looking for pumpkin desserts yesterday. I did find very interesting Pumpkin “Creme Brulee” but yours Pumpkin “Panna Cotta” seams much simpler solution. I’ll try it today for sure! Thank you for shering this great recipe with us.

  • http://www.handtomouthkitchen.wordpress.com B

    That looks delicious!
    However if I was making it into a pie, I don’t think I prevent myself from adding some cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves… although I wonder how that would work with coconut flavours?
    Although there are some things you can’t make ‘undelicious’ no matter how hard you try.

  • http://riya-kitchen.blogspot.com/ riya

    looks yummy!

  • http://aioliandco.blogspot.com Laurent

    I love panna cotta. One of my favorites, served at Yakitori Totto in New York, is made of tofu, gelatin and flavored with apricot. They also serve a green tea version.
    But I had never thought about a recipe that would contain pumpkin and coconut milk. It looks delicious and sounds like a good idea for Thanksgiving indeed. Will try it some day.
    Thanks for this lovely recipe.

  • http://caseyellis.blogspot.com Casey

    The color is absolutely gorgeous. What a great save of an almost-failure.

  • http://spicedish.typepad.com/spice_dish/ EB

    Come this time of year I am a pumpkin whore! This I will definitely have to try!

  • Diane

    The pumpkin/coconut milk dessert is also my favorite! Plus, it’s easy, so I can (and do) make it at home, unlike some of the more complicated ones. This looks like a lovely twist on that, and I will definitely make it this holiday season.

  • http://eggbeater.typepad.com/ shuna fish lydon

    Inventive and brilliant! Hurrah for squash desserts!
    A few other notes, if I may add:
    powdered gelatin sets pannacotta very differently than leaf gelatin. Powdered will soften at room temp but sheet will hold up a bit longer. If one wants to use Agar Agar, please don’t do what I did: do not get the all natural one. It will make your desserts taste of seaweed. Now, of course, this might be right up your alley…
    Also I imagine if one were to play a bit more with the ratios, there could be an argument for using the natural starch-thickening power of the squash to make all the necessary “set-up” action happen…

  • Poopo

    Wow … c’est vraiment jolie !
    The colour and texture look amazing.

  • http://tastewiththeeyes.blogspot.com/ Lori Lynn @ Taste With The Eyes

    I love that you serve it plain, with no garnish. Beautifully simple.

  • http://nookandpantry.blogspot.com/ Amy

    This sounds wonderful! Love the use of coconut milk.

  • http://wheatlessbay.wordpress.com wheatlessbay

    Very nice. I’d like to try steeping kaffir lime leaves in the cream up until the gelatin step. Just to see. That might be too green for a dessert, or it might be a pleasant surprise.

  • http://www.cakespy.com Cakespy

    This looks like something that truly transcends labels…it may be vegan and gluten free, but foremost is good!

  • http://afaustianbargain.blogspot.com faustianbargain

    hola, pim…we have a similar dessert..sans the agar agar and its dairy. thanks for this..vegans will appreciate this version. i know that i am going to include this in the fall menu..maybe set in blanched and hollowed out baby pumpkins..i’d probably add cardamom because i am like that…a cardamom freak….nicely done, lass.
    p.s. i am testing a script blocker…sorry if this is being posted multiple times.

  • http://www.cookthink.com Claire

    What a gorgeous little dessert! And I love the suggestions of cinnamon and cardamom…I’d add a little ginger powder, maybe? I love my pumpkin with just a little ginger – I wonder if it would work with the gelatinous texture. Love the concept, though – especially turning disaster into delicious.

  • http://kitchenmusings.typepad.com veron

    I just made saffron panna cotta recently and put them in a little jars similar to yours. Wonderful save on that thai dessert.

  • http://familystylefood.com Karen

    How beautiful!
    My better half is dairy-free; he will love this.

  • http://www.godairyfree.org Alisa

    Ah, coconut milk to the rescue! That looks wondeful.

  • http://afaustianbargain.blogspot.com faustianbargain

    claire..wow..yes..ginger and pumpkin. extending it..a touch of saffron with the ginger/pumpkin will add another dimension.. would intensify the colour and add a layer of warmth between the mellow pumpkin and the sharpness of the ginger..

  • http://chewonthatblog.com Hillary

    I think you’ve won me over. I’ve been obsessed with coconut milk anything lately…AND I’ve been craving pumpkin. Maybe I will try “accidentally” making this too :)

  • http://www.matochvin.com Marc DiBiaso

    Can you suggest a couple of good brands of coconut milk?

  • http://www.chubbypanda.com Chubbypanda

    Some of the best food products were the result of mistakes. Take champagne for example.
    “Oh no! We screwed up the wine!”
    “Ooooh… Fizzy…”

  • http://afaustianbargain.blogspot.com faustianbargain

    chubbypanda, i completely agree with you that the best food products are a result of mistakes….altho’ fizzy wine isnt one of them..and it was by an englishman..not dom perignon!..i dont even think he came up with the idea of fizzy wine in the region of champagne..altho’ he did contribute a lot to the process and technique…
    i’d like to think of the tarte tatin as a nice example of a culinary mistake with a happy ending…what do you think?

  • http://chezpim.typepad.com Pim

    It’s delicious, if I may say so myself. ;-) You should try.
    Thanks, and cheers.
    Making it savory sounds like an interesting idea. I have to try it sometimes.
    I guess you could sprinkle some sugar on top of this and brulee it, if you want a pumpkin creme brulee.
    I don’t see how the spices would clash with coconut milk. It’s a good idea.
    I love Yakitori Totto.
    Thanks. It really was that bright orange – no photoshop or anything.
    I’m right there with you.
    It is really simple. Do it!
    Thanks for the note about gelatin and agar agar. I use the Agar powder from the telephone brand from Thailand, I’ve never got a seaweed taste from it at all. It’s really quite neutral.
    Lori Lynn,
    It’s so gorgeous by itself I didn’t feel the need to garnish.
    I’m not sure about Kaffir leave, but do try and let me know how it turns out.
    Faustian dear,
    Cardamom will be great I’m sure.
    Or perhaps just add a slice or two of ginger during the cooking?
    I’m sure the saffron panna cotta was gorgeous too.
    I’m sure he will.
    Yes, do try.
    I use Mae Ploy or Chao Koh.

  • Simon

    I followed your recipe and it was delicious! My one year old son kept saying “encore! encore!” after eating his full serving.
    I put a teaspoon of crème d’érable on my serving and it wasn’t too shabby either. A crème d’érable is a cream-based liqueur which has maple syrup as an ingredient. I used Désirable, made by the Vinerie du Kildare.
    Thanks for the recipe, that one’s a keeper!
    Pim says….
    That’s so great. I’ve never heard of crème d’érable, only sirop d’érable. Learn something new everyday. Thanks.

  • http://handtomouthkitchen.wordpress.com N

    What a gorgeous picture. It looks like a Pucci.
    Pim: the recipe is fantastic. I passed it to a friend of mine, who is also the president of my book club. He bakes for all our meetings, and this was one of his biggest hits yet. So your panna cotta pairs wonderfully with Anne Sexton’s “Transformations.”

  • http://www.zenkimchi.com/FoodJournal ZenKimchi

    I just made it tonight, and my girlfriend, who usually criticizes my Western desserts as being “too sweet” licked one cup clean before it had a chance to cool down.

  • susan

    Your panna cotta looks amazing. I made the veganized version using 1 tsp agar agar powder (expensive bulk stuff from my co-op) and found that the agar powder made the panna cotta taste very very salty. I was so sad because right before I put the agar powder in I tasted the mix and it was heavenly, then when I tasted it after it had set, it was like eating a creamy salt lick. Last week I tried coconut milk panna cotta with agar flakes and the flakes did not impart any saltiness so I’ll try this again with flakes instead of powder… when I have a pumpkin again. Thanks for this yummy panna cotta though.

  • http://www.thelemonplum.com Kristi

    My mom would adore this lol. She loves pumpkin type foods and coconut milk. Ill pass it on to her!

  • bryan from texas

    This is my first time to your blog and I love it. I am from Texas and although I love southern food I also like to explore other cultures cuisine. The pumkin and coconut Panna Cotta was wonderful. Thanks and you have a new loyal reader

  • http://profile.typekey.com/chefngirl73/ chefngirl73

    I’m a huge fan of pumpkin. Over here in the UK it seems quite an under utilised veg. I’m thinking of staging a one woman pumkin coup starting with this lovely dish! Thanks Pim.

  • Soudalay

    The color looks so rich, beautiful!! yum yum pumkin does go well with coconut, will love to try it soon!

  • jasmine

    the color looks wonderful!it’s like an art more than food!

  • luis garay aballay

    the panacotha is very delicius, the picture is nice, the colors wonderfull.
    one kiss
    viña del mar chile

  • http://www.missdiane.canalblog.com Miss Diane

    Voilà une excellente idée pour nous qui sommes intolérants au lactose et pour mon “gluten free” mari. Merci Pim, ce pot ce crème se retrouvera très bientôt chez Miss Diane.

  • http://www.oncoffeemakers.com/percolator-coffee-maker.html Michael Cavinta

    Oh my!! This recipe is to die for! I really really love panacotta! Thank you very much for sharing with us this great recipe. I love eating this with my coffee The pics are really great too! Thanks once again! You’re doing a good job!

  • Special pumpkin recipe

    I love panna cotta and colour is fantastic…

  • http://www.goldbulliondealers.net/ gold bullion coin

    congratulations on your recipe I love the combination of ingredients, exotic flavours and unforgettable

  • http://www.medifastreview.net/alternative.html weight loss alternative

    Pumpkin and Coconut Milk “Panna Cotta” look amazing!Beautiful, delicious,
    wonderful words and ingredients are hard to find but worth it

  • redfruits

    I made this last night and had it for breakfast this morning, I was so excited to try it. I scaled back the recipe to 2/3 since I only had 1 cup of coconut milk, used canned pumpkin puree and powdered unflavored gelatin, shortened the first 20 minutes of cooking time a bit and skipped the blender (since the pumpkin was already cooked and pureed the mixture was quite smooth already) and splashed in some vanilla right at the end because I couldn’t resist.
    I am floored. It is delicious and the texture is EXACTLY like pumpkin pie filling. It was also VERY easy to make. I am definitely going to make this again. Thank you for the awesome, awesome recipe!

  • Koffeeluva

    This sounds wonderful. I was thinking I would use canned pumpkin. Do you still simmer the pumpkin, coconut milk, etc… for 20 minutes, since you do not need the pumkin to soften? Please help! I am hoping to make this for Thanksgiving.

  • http://chezpim.com Pim

    No, you wouldn’t need to simmer to pumpkin for that long, but I’d do it for 5 minutes or so at simmer just to get all the taste to blend together well. Depending on how watery your canned pumpkin I might also add a little less water.

  • Koffeeluva

    Thank you so much for your help! I can’t wait to try the recipe.

  • http://twitter.com/mila_casillas Shumila

    You use gelatin, an ingredient derived from boiled down animal skin and bones. Therefore, this can not be called “accidentally vegan”

  • http://chezpim.com Pim

    There’s also an instruction for using agar agar, which is vegan last I checked. No?

    Sent from my iPad

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  • http://hubpages.com/hub/Chef-Basket-Kitchen-Helper Chef Basket

    Thanks for this pumpkin and coconut milk recipe. It sounds (and looks!) great.

  • http://profiles.google.com/kathy.farrey Kathy Farrey

    Looks yummy… I wonder if it would work with honey instead of sugar, for the folks on the SCD Diet.

  • http://profiles.google.com/kathy.farrey Kathy Farrey

    Palm sugar may be SCD legal – not sure.

  • Margo

    have you tried?  im going to try, i’m curious how it came out it you did.  also, do you make your own coconut milk, or have you found an scd legal canned variety?


  • http://chezpim.com Pim

    I’m sorry, but I haven’t a clue what a SCD diet is.

  • http://chezpim.com Pim

    I wouldn’t know, since frankly I have no idea what SCD is…

  • Cherylh777

    Hi, Pim! Love your recipes but pretty sure this is my first time commenting. Just want to tell you that, wanting a lighter holiday this year, we opted for this pumpkin panna cotta recipe (using canned pumpkin, sigh), and it turned out delicious (next time I’ll try it with fresh pumpkin)!  It was so successful, in fact, that we did a second one using 2 slightly overripe bananas, which, like the pumpkin, btw, we simmered for only 5 minutes. We also added some cinnamon & ginger, and it was fantastic! Tasted like a light banana bread or pudding! We served both with some lightly sweetened whipped cream & they were the perfect end to our veggilicious dinner. So thank you so much for this great, simple recipe! It was our first venture into panna cotta but will definitely NOT be our last!

  • Paul Halliday

    Genius! I love it when things go wrong and then a totally awsome thing happens because of it. This is genius! I don’t much like coconut milk but have two cans sitting in my cupboard waiting for inspiration – this is it! Thank you.

  • limo_

    Great recipie!
    I will try it today, but I need to know for how many portions are these proportions?
    Thank you!

  • ana

    I have made this panna cotta with mango coulis instead of pumpkin pulp. The only thing I missed was 27g of sugar content in coulis that should have ispired me to reduce the amount of brown suga from 100 g to 70 g. Anyeay- the final effect is amazing and this recipe will definitely be one of my favpurite recipies. Thank you for such an amazing inspiration.