Lemon Blackberry Panna Cotta - Vegan!

Oh my. I have a treat for you! 

Panna cotta is a traditional Italian dessert typically made with heavy cream, sugar, and gelatin, which makes it not even vegetarian. I love the custard texture of a panna cotta, but I dislike all the unhealthy ingredients in it. 

This version swaps out some of the unhealthy ingredients for healthier options. However, it is still a dessert, so it has quite a bit of sugar in it. It isn't something I eat every day, but it is perfect for entertaining since it is done ahead of time.

Instead of the heavy cream, I used a mixture of cashews and silken tofu. Both of these ingredients, when pureed, resemble heavy cream but without all the bad fats and high cholesterol. I do recommend soaking the cashews overnight to get the creamiest texture possible. I made this without soaking them once and it still had some tiny cashew bits that interfered with the texture. Also, be sure to use the silken tofu, which is most commonly found in the vacuum sealed containers next to the soy sauce. Silken tofu will give you the creamy texture we're looking for. 

Instead of gelatin (which is made from bones and other left over meat parts), I used agar agar and cornstarch. Agar agar was a new ingredient to me. I had heard of it, but never worked with it. Agar agar is a type of dried seaweed that acts as a coagulator. I found it in the grocery store next to the other dried seaweed. Cornstarch also acts as a thickener. I did try making this with arrowroot powder instead of cornstarch and the texture was more like thin yogurt than thick custard. Therefore, I recommend using cornstarch and not substituting anything else for it.

For sweetener, I use agave nectar and just plain old sugar. With all the lemon juice in this dessert, it needs a bit of sugar to balance the sourness. 

I love the combination of lemon and blackberries, but feel free to substitute your favorite berries instead! 


Lemon Blackberry Panna Cotta (vegan!)
8 servings | 1 hour (plus chilling time) | Print

3 tablespoons raw cashews
2 large lemons, juiced (3/4 cup) and zested (2 tablespoons)
1 pkg (10 oz) silken firm tofu
2 tablespoons agave nectar
1 pint blackberries
1 tablespoon aged balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons cornstarch (no substitutions!)
2 teaspoons agar agar
1 3/4 cup water
1 3/4 cup sugar
  1. Place the cashews in a small bowl and cover with water. Let soak overnight and drain.
  2. Place lemon zest, cashews, tofu, and agave nectar in a food processor. Blend until silky smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides as needed. 
  3. Reserve 8 blackberries for a garnish. Toss the remaining blackberries with the balsamic vinegar and set aside.
  4. Mix together 1/2 cup lemon juice, cornstarch, and agar agar in a small bowl. Let sit for 2 minutes. 
  5. In a small saucepan, bring to a boil the water, sugar, and remaining 1/4 cup lemon juice. Whisk in the cornstarch mixture. When it boils again, turn heat down to medium-low and let simmer for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.
  6. Pour the warm cornstarch mixture into the food processor and pulse until well blended. Transfer to a spouted measuring cup for easier assembly.
  7. To assemble: Divide the blackberries evenly among the eight 1-cup containers. Top each container with an even amount of the panna cotta. Let chill for at least 4 hours, preferably overnight. Before serving, top each serving with a reserved blackberry.

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