Coconut “Panna Cotta” with Orange-Pomegranate Pearls

Have you heard about Cara’s gluten free and vegan Valentine’s Day bake-off yet over at Fork and Beans? Winners will be chosen from the sea of applicants, each winning a $75 gift card to the store of their choice! 

  1. The recipe must be gluten-free and vegan: Raw desserts are absolutely acceptable too!
  2. It must be an original recipe: By all means, be inspired by what is out there! Just make sure you do your own twist.
  3. The recipe must be geared towards Valentine’s Day.
  4. You must submit a photo (it does not need to be professional, but it must be yours!) and a recipe to enter.
  5. Anyone is welcome to submit!
  6. Multiple submissions are welcomed.
  7. There are 3 categories that the recipes will be judged on:
  • The Most Creative
  • The Best Tasting Recipe
  • The Best Allergen-Free Recipe (free of Wheat, Soy, Nuts, Milk, Eggs, and Corn)

With the Valentine’s day bake-off soon approaching, I’ve been wracking my brain trying to come up with gluten free and vegan goodies to submit for the baking contest. Though the entries are due by Feb 6th, I only have a week or so more to come up yummy treats because I have my hands full with the yogurt store and I really need to be focusing on all the last-minute to-do’s 🙂

I’ve had big ideas and several have resulted in complete and frustrating failures while a couple have had more success. I am used to gluten free baking but when I was focused on the vegan aspect, it was a little more tricky for me! After two attempts, I was much more satisfied with this vegan coconut “panna cotta” and homemade agar agar pearls, all while having fun with new recipes. My first batch was too stiff from amount of the agar used; decreasing the amount to 1 tsp of agar powder resulted in the softer texture I was aiming for!

So here you have it, a light dairy free coconut milk-based dessert with no artificial colors and a Valentine’s Day theme 🙂 Any jello mold could be used here, I opted for simple silicone muffin cups that I already had on hand, a heart shaped one would have been even better!

Since I saw the balsamic vinegar pearls on Sonia’s salad over at The Healthy Foodie, I envisioned dessert-like fruit pearls that would be delicious on a sweet treat. I’ll have to try my hand at the balsamic pearls someday too but dessert has been on the brain. These were surprisingly easy to do – and I think they turned out pretty and fun! I found a recipe online at The Lone Baker’s blog for Strawberry Agar Pearls so I had a starting point!

Coconut Panna Cotta


1 (14.5 oz) can of full-fat coconut milk (I used Thai Kitchen brand)
3-4 Tbsp agave
1 6-oz container of So Delicious plain coconut milk yogurt (or other vegan yogurt)
1/2 tsp pure vanilla
pinch of sea salt
1/4 tsp coconut extract, optional for more coconut taste
1  tsp agar agar powder (not flakes, if using agar flakes increase to 2 Tbsp)

For topping/decoration, optional
orange-pomegranate agar pearls (recipe below)
1 orange, peeled, sectioned and  cut into three pieces
orange-pomegranate agar jelly hearts (recipe below)


1. Add all ingredients to a blender and mix for 15 seconds. Let sit for 5 minutes.
2. In a medium saucepan, add the coconut-agar mixture and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to low, keeping mixture at a simmer, stirring constantly for 3-4 minutes and ensuring all agar agar is completely dissolved.
3. Remove from heat and let mixture cool for a few minutes minutes, then divide mixture into 6 silicone cupcake/muffin liners or jelly molds. Let mixture cool more at room temperature for 15 minutes, then carefully place in refrigerator and let sit for 2 hours or even overnight (or until mixture is set).
4. To serve, place a serving plate or vessel over the mold and flip it over. The panna cotta should slip out. If not, peel back and loosen the mold (if using silicone) or run a knife carefully around the edges to it slips out. Top with orange sections, orange-pomegranate pearls (recipe below) and agar heart (recipe below). I drizzled the juice from the un-molded agar jelly over the dessert but it is completely optional!

Makes 6 muffin size panacotta (less if using larger molds or ramekins)

Orange-Pomegranate Agar Pearls/Jelly


3/4 cup no pulp orange juice
1/4 cup pomegranate juice (I used POM brand)
1/4 tsp beet powder, optional for added color
1 tsp agave
pinch of fine salt
1/3 tsp agar agar powder (not flakes, if using agar flakes, increase to 2 teaspoons)

1 cup of neutral flavor oil like canola or grapeseed, chilled for 4-5 hours or overnight

Directions for Pearls

1. In a blender add all ingredients and mix to combine. Let sit for 5 minutes.
2. In a small saucepan, add juice- agar mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly bring the mixture to a boil.
3. Reduce heat to low, bringing mixture to a simmer, stirring constantly and ensuring all agar agar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and let the mixture stand for 6 minutes.
4. Add mixture to a bottle or a syringe with the juice mixture and add to the chilled oil… drop by drop. If the pearls drop immediately to the bottom, the mixture is too warm. Wait a 1 -2 minutes and start again.
5. Carefully strain the oil from the pearls (I used a fine mesh strainer) and rinse with orange or apple juice to remove oil. Store pearls in apple or orange juice until ready to use.

Side Note: When pearls are left in the air without moisture for an extended period of time, they will shrink dramatically. For more photos, see Lone Star Baker’s page here for her strawberry agar pearls!

Directions for Jelly (no chilled oil is required)

1. In a blender add all ingredients and mix to combine. Let sit for 5 minutes.
2. In a small saucepan, add juice- agar mixture over medium heat, whisking constantly bring the mixture to a boil.
3. Reduce heat to low, bringing mixture to a simmer, stirring constantly and ensuring all agar agar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and let the mixture stand for 6 minutes.
4. Add mixture to a jelly mold or muffin cup and chill in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or overnight before unmolding. Once molded, you can very gently remove and cut out shapes***

***This recipe makes a softer jelly, for a stiffer texture more reminiscent of jello, increase the agar agar to 3/4 tsp.


23 thoughts on “Coconut “Panna Cotta” with Orange-Pomegranate Pearls

  1. Wow, that looks so pretty! I’ve been meaning to experiment with agar agar, I’ve had some in my cupboard for longer than I want to admit. I love the idea of making a vegan panacotta and it sounds delicious 😀 I hadn’t heard of the bake-off but that looks like so much fun!

  2. What a pretty Valentines dessert – I like that those colours are all natural too! I’m actually not a fan of panna cotta, but I think I would like your vegan coconut version better! Good luck in the contest 🙂

    • Thanks so much Genevieve! I’m all about avoiding food coloring when possible 🙂 I’ve actually never had the real version of panna cotta, I wonder if I would like it? Btw, your roasted beet and squash salad looks incredible as do your banana and peanut butter cookies!

      • Thank you! And its more of a texture issue with the panna cotta…but maybe I should give it another chance… I think you’ll like my entry for the contest too – another naturally pink dessert!

  3. So coooool! And this looks so delicious! Your pictures are just incredibly pretty, they have this great girly romantic feel to them. I like! 🙂

    Now I just HAVE to try making the pearls at home. And I have to find a way to use the balsamic vinegar pearls on a dessert.

    • Thank you Sonia! 🙂 And thanks for inspiring me with the pearls! Ooooo balsamic pearls would be awesome with a strawberry or cherry dessert…I bet they would be fun with a mousse, cake, cupcakes, cheesecake — I hope you try it out soon! I always love the combos you come up with 🙂

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