Love and Olive Oil

Sparkling Meyer Lemon & Passionfruit Panna Cotta

Layered Sparkling Meyer Lemon & Passionfruit Panna Cotta

I’d like to call this adult jello, but that sounds rather, uh… unsavory.

But really, isn’t that what panna cotta is, afterall? Milk jello. For grownups.

Taylor said all it needed was a bit of whiskey and then you’d have a whiskey sour panna cotta. Well, a whiskey sour passionfruit panna cotta. Which actually sounds kind of awesome.

Layered Sparkling Meyer Lemon & Passionfruit Panna Cotta

This version makes for an impressive presentation, and all it takes is a little advance planning. Really, it’s not nearly as complicated as it looks, I promise. In fact panna cotta is one of those desserts that I’d file under the looks-like-I-spent-much-longer-on-this-than-I-really-did category.

And, lucky for you, I already made the mistakes you might have made, working out the kinks in the process, so all you have to do is set your timer and wait for further instructions.

Sparkling Meyer Lemon & Passion Fruit Panna Cotta, set with stunning diagonal layers

The problem with lemon in panna cotta is that you can’t actually add any lemon to the milk layer itself. Remember that homemade ricotta you love so much? Not so great when your panna cotta becomes panna cotta ricotta. The acid is what causes the curds to separate from the whey, and since lemon juice is (most definitely) an acid, well, you can see why it doesn’t exactly work.

So I turned it into a layered dessert, which allowed me to still have the creamy (unseparated) panna cotta, but also a bright lemon flavor, by way of the second layer: a gorgeous yellow lemon and passionfruit gelée (code for fancy jello). While I used a sweetened passionfruit puree (made for professional bartenders), you could also use passionfruit juice or concentrate or even passionfruit soda in place of the club soda as well. Just note that if your passionfruit product is unsweetened, you may want to increase the sugar in the top layer to make up the difference. The same goes if you use regular instead of Meyer lemons: you’ll likely want to increase the sugar to make it palatable.

What does the club soda do? No, the gelatin layer isn’t actually fizzy, but I feel it gives it an effervescent brightness that you don’t get with just plain water.

Layered Sparkling Meyer Lemon & Passionfruit Panna Cotta

This dessert is all about timing. While it’s not difficult, some of the steps require some pretty precise times that, if ignored, won’t produce the clean layers you see here. Might I suggest setting your phone alarm to remind you when it’s time for the next step? I know my memory often fails me and that thing that was supposed to cool for 2 hours ends up sitting on the counter for 5. I get it. Unfortunately, such forgetfulness is not conducive to this dessert.

How to make layered panna cotta

To create the layers, the white panna cotta layer is poured into glasses propped at a slight angle, allowing the mixture to set up at a dramatic diagonal angle. (Tip: use a muffin tin, filled with paper towels or aluminum foil if necessary, to hold your jars or glasses firmly at your desired angle).

Once the bottom layer is fully set, the jars are returned to their level state, and the yellow fruit layer is then poured on top. Be sure you let the warm liquid cool thoroughly, otherwise the warm gelatin will upset the layer underneath, creating some truly unappetizing white floaters. Think egg drop soup… gelatinized. Yeah, not appetizing. But by letting the liquid cool to lukewarm (you’re shooting for about 85 degrees F), the white layer stays perfectly crisp and whole underneath.

At the same time, don’t let it cool too long or it will set up before you can pour it. Mine took about an hour before it was cool enough to pour on top. Set your timer and don’t rush this step. Trust me on this one.

The cherries on top also take some precise timing. I found I had to let the top gelatin layer chill in the refrigerator for exactly 2 hours; at that point the gelatin was set enough to support the cherry but still allow it to ‘melt’ partially into the top layer. If you accidentally put them in too soon, your cherries will just sink a bit lower, no biggie. If necessary, use a few toothpicks to hold the stems in perky upright positions while the gelatin sets completely.

Meyer Lemon & Passionfruit Panna Cotta

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For Panna Cotta Layer:

  • 2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 3/4 cup cream
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For Gelée Layer:

  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice (from about 4 medium lemons)
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) passion fruit purée*
  • 1 12-ounce can club soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (increase if using unsweetened passion fruit)
  • 8 maraschino cherries, drained on paper towels


  1. Place 1/4 cup cool water in small microwave-safe dish. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons gelatin over top. Set aside and let soften for 5 minutes.
  2. To prepare containers, prop eight small 6-ounce jars in a muffin tin on an angle. If necessary, crumple a bit of paper towel or aluminum foil underneath the jars to support them. You can test out the angle of the jar with water, and adjust as necessary. (Alternatively, if you don’t want a fancy angled design, just set the jars on a flat plate or rimmed baking sheet).
  3. Combine milk, cream, and sugar in a medium saucepan set over medium-low heat. Gently warm milk, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved and mixture just starts to steam. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.
  4. Microwave softened gelatin for 5 to 8 seconds, then stir until smooth. Whisk in to warm milk mixture. Divide among prepared jars. Carefully transfer to the refrigerator (you don’t want the liquid sloshing up the sides) and place on a flat level surface. Let sit, undisturbed, until fully set, at least 6 hours or overnight.
  5. To prepare the gelée layer, again place another 1/4 cup cool water in small microwave-safe dish. Sprinkle 1 1/2 teaspoons gelatin over top. Set aside and let soften for 5 minutes.
  6. Combine lemon juice, passion fruit puree, 3/4 cup of club soda, and sugar in a medium saucepan (note that if your passion fruit is unsweetened you may want to increase the sugar quantity to taste). Stir over medium heat until mixture is warmed and sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat.
  7. Microwave softened gelatin for 5 to 8 seconds, then stir until smooth. Whisk in to warm juice mixture along with remaining club soda. Transfer to a heat-proof bowl or large measuring cup with a spout (for easy pouring) and let cool for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, until just barely warm to the touch (approximately 85 degrees). DO NOT rush this step: it is essential for the second layer to be lukewarm before pouring on top of the first layer, otherwise the warm gelatin will melt the layer under it and you’ll end up with a chunky mess. Trust me. At the same time, don’t forget about it or the gelatin might set up too much, making it impossible to pour.
  8.  When gelatin mixture is just barely lukewarm to the touch, remove jars from fridge. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet, they will be sitting level now. Carefully pour gelatin mixture on top. Refrigerate for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until gelatin is partially set, then place cherries on top. They should sink ever so slightly into the partially-set gelatin. If they sink too far, let the gelatin set up a bit more and try agin. If they don’t sink at all, well, you can’t exactly ‘unset’ the gelatin so just place the cherries right on top. Refrigerate until completely set, another 4 to 6 hours, before serving.

*I used Monin passion fruit puree here, which is a sweetened syrup used for cocktails and bartending. You can also use passion fruit juice or concentrate, or even fresh passion fruit if you are lucky enough to have it. You could also swap out the passion fruit and club soda and use passion fruit soda instead. Depending on the sweetness of your passion fruit, you may need to increase the sugar, just taste and use your best judgement as far as how sweet you like it.

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  1. This was so so so good! I love passion fruit so I didn’t use any lemon juice (just a cup of the passionfruit purée mixed with the amount of water to equal the liquid in this recipe – plus sugar to taste).  I got a big tub of passionfruit purée on Amazon and was looking for recipes to use it up when I stumbled upon this!  Also, for those of you in a hurry like I was, you can speed up the process by putting the Panna Cotta layer in the freezer to firm up quicker.  I had it in the freezer for about an hour and 45 minutes and then transferred it to the fridge.

  2. Recipe leaves out direction to add vanilla to the warm milk mixture. Talk about frustrating. I only realized once my cups were already slanted in fridge. Disappointing.

  3. This is Beautiful! 

  4. I don’t know how Aubrey’s turned out in the end, but I initially misread the measurement of the gelatin (for the gelée) as 1/2 a teaspoon instead of  1 1/2 teaspoons. The font you are using makes the numbers half sized which is quite hard to read within the text. Perhaps this is what went wrong in hers? I caught it in time and mine gelled up perfectly. 

    The whole thing was a huge hit with both adults and kids… it’s like very posh jello! Thanks for the great recipe.

  5. Hi! I’m making this now, for Easter dessert. I noticed that you don’t mention when to add the vanilla to the panna cotta base.

    I can’t wait to taste it tomorrow, it’s so very pretty. 

  6. Well, not sure what I did wrong, but my gelee layer…pure liquid. Bloomed the gelatin. Whisked into warm juice/liquid. Let cool. Poured into layer on top. Let sit in fridge for 2 hours. Still complete liquid with no sign of gelling. Maybe I’ll at least be able to pour it off the top and salvage the panna cotta. Sad I wasted the passion fruit. :/

    • That is odd. The passionfruit layer isn’t much more liquid quantity-wise than the cream layer. And if your panna cotta layer set, I don’t see why your passionfruit wouldn’t have as well.
      Mine did take longer than 2 hours to set completely, 2 hours was only the point where it was thickened enough I could place the cherries on top. It probably needed more like 6 until it fully resembled gelatin.

  7. These look wonderful. I love the colours snd the design. Could I use sparkling mineral water instead of club soda? Also, I don’t have a microwave. OK to leave the ‘warm up’ step out, or to warm in a pan / double boiler? I don’t usually heat it up again when making panna cotta and it is fine. Thank you for another great recipe. 

  8. I love this idea! Thanks for sharing!

  9. So pretty!

  10. I’m still giggling like a school girl over ‘adult jello.’ I love lemon! This dessert looks great!

  11. Trully stunning! I love how the glass was set up for a dramatic diagonal angle. And I do agree with the precision of time. Time can really make or break the look and taste of the food. Gorgeous recipe! 

  12. These look truly stunning, you must be really pleased with how these came out.  Really tempted to have a go (and I’m not normally a pudding person!). Thanks for sharing

  13. these are absolutely gorgeous!!!

  14. I never think to make homemade panna cotta, but this is just so pretty! Love the flavors you used here, especially your presentation. So gorgeous!

  15. These.are.stunning. I love that you couldn’t add the lemon to the actual panna cotta layer, because the contrast of the white and lemon is just beautiful. 

  16. Wow, these are gorgeous! What a great Spring time dessert :) 

  17. Lindsay, could this be made with splenda?

    • Sure, I don’t see why not! Since the sugar is just dissolved in the warm liquids, changing it out for splenda shouldn’t affect the final set of the dessert. I have not tried it personally though, so please let me know if you try it how it turns out!

  18. These are stunning! I love the layered effect.

  19. OBSESSED. 

  20. This is SO PRETTY! They are almost too pretty to eat :) You got the layers into the jars so neatly and between the dessert and the glassware, truly these are sparkling!

  21. So. Dang. Gorgeous. And I agree…the whisky sounds worth a try!

  22. This panna cotta is stunning, Lindsay! How utterly gorgeous. 

  23. I seriously cannot get over how beautiful these are! The best sunshine in an email a Monday can see. Also…passionfruit reminds me so much of my father!!

  24. Hah! Grown up jello is how I referred to it too! I agree it’s so easy plus it looks like it too longer than it did! Always a plus for get togethers. I always put my glasses in the fridge then pour in the panna cotta. That way, you don’t get slosh lines!

    • If you have space in your fridge this definitely works. I had a hard time maneuvering the measuring cup in mine. Time for a bigger fridge? haha. :)

  25. I’m totally a child of the 80’s, so I’m a jello fan. Which means that I would absolutely love these. I feel like every time I visit your posts I comment with “Gorgeous!!” but good grief, everything you make is so beautiful. Love the pretty layers.

  26. Yum, these looks and sound delicious ! 

    Definitely one to try :) 

  27. I feel like I learned something today! I finally know what Panna Cotta is! This is a great recipe to have on hand to “fancy up” a dinner party. I live in a small town and I can pretty much bet that we won’t have any kind of passion fruit puree.  Where did you find yours and is there any kind of substitute or way to make it homemade?

    • I think Ceres makes a passion fruit juice that would work here too… I’d try online, I had a heck of a time finding anything passion fruit locally, and fresh is even harder to find!

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