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Key Lime Panna Cotta

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Easy and quick

A Twist on Key Lime Pie

If you are a Key lime pie fan, you will love this dessert. Lime infused panna cotta is topped with a graham cracker and oatmeal crumble, creating an inverted Key lime pie. 

Versatile Panna Cotta

Panna cotta is one of my favorite desserts. This deceptively delicious dessert is Italian in origin and roughly translates to "cooked cream." A smidgeon of gelatin is added to the hot cream to give it shape and density. The cream is steeped with a length of lime peel and some vanilla paste. This recipe is a particularly rich panna cotta that uses cream, whole milk and yogurt. Hey, you've got to live big on occasion!


Panna cotta is a wonderful blank canvas to which you can add a variety of seasonal flavorings and toppings. Like many of my panna cotta recipes, this version is a riff on a traditional dessert, in this case Key Lime Pie. Check out some of my other panna cotta recipes: Cherry panna cotta, Pain Killer panna cotta (after the famous Caribbean cocktail), Lemon on lemon panna cotta, Bananas Foster panna cotta and my favorite: Mario Batali's strawberry, balsamic and pepper panna cotta.


Once you make panna cotta, you will find all kinds of ways to personalize this simple, but elegant dessert with your favorite toppings. 

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Make Ahead

The beauty of panna cotta is that you can make the cooked cream a couple days in advance. For this panna cotta, I make the graham cracker crumble in advance, but wait to top it right before I serve it so the crumble stays crisp and fresh. 

Zesting Tools

If you have followed me for a while, you know I use citrus zest in just about everything: salad dressings, desserts, rice, marinades, sauces and salsa. Citrus zest adds flavor an pizazz to your food without adding calories. It is one of the ingredients I outline in my article 12 ingredients that make food delicious. The key to cooking with citrus zest is to remove the zest without removing the bitter pith. For fine zest, like I use in this recipe, I use a microplane.

Microplane | Something New For Dinner 

 I also steep a long strip of lime peel in the cream. You can use a paring knife to cut the strip or a sharp vegetable peeler like this one:

 Deiss Vegetable Peeler | Something New For Dinner 

Food Processor or Rolling Pin

A food processor makes quick work of the graham cracker crumb topping, but you can also crush the crackers with a rolling pin and mix the topping by hand.

A Word on Vanilla

There are four types of vanilla:

  1. Vanilla beans - This is the real McCoy and is a delight to cook with, on the pricey side, a little messy and takes an extra step or two to prepare.
  2. Vanilla extract - Is made from vanilla beans and alcohol, has a nice fragrance and is very convenient to use, but does not provide the attractive  little vanilla seeds you get from a vanilla bean.
  3. Artificial vanilla - Is supposed to be chemically the same as real vanilla, but is made from a variety of products including: clove oil, pine bark, coal tar, bran, and on rare occasions from the excretion of beavers' perineal gland. Seriously, check out this Snopes article for verification. 
  4. Vanilla paste - This product, made by Nielsen-Massey, is made from vanilla extract, vanilla seeds, sugar and a natural thickener. I love this product for its flavor, fragrance, the visual appeal of actual vanilla seeds and convenience of use. If you are a heavy user like I am, consider purchasing it in the quart size, rather than 4-ounce bottles. You get 8 times the product for 3 times the cost.

Vanilla Paste | Something New For Dinner


I am never a big fan of cooking with artificial products, but if you are trying to economize, artificial vanilla is best used in baked goods with strong flavors, such as chocolate chip cookies. When making ice cream, custards, eggnog or panna cotta, don't skimp on the vanilla, as it will make a notable difference in these desserts.



Key Lime Panna Cotta

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An inverted twist on Key lime pie. Lime infused panna cotta is topped with a Graham cracker and oatmeal crumble topping.

  • Author: Something New For Dinner
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 20 minutes
  • Total Time: 40 minutes
  • Yield: 6 1x
  • Cuisine: New American


  • 1 packet Knox unflavored gelatin
  • 46 limes to make 1/2 cup lime juice plus zest (see instructions)
  • 2 cups cream
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 t vanilla paste or extract
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 4 graham crackers
  • 2 T brown sugar
  • 2 T melted unsalted butter
  • 1 t lime zest
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 T powdered milk
  • 1/4 c walnuts
  • 1/4 cup rolled oats
  • 6 lime slices for garnish (optional)


  1. Remove the zest of one lime to form one long peel. This can be done with a knife or a sharp vegetable peeler. Use a fine microplane to zest one or more limes to make 1 t finely grated zest. Juice the limes to make 1/2 cup lime juice.
  2. Put the lime juice in a small bowl and sprinkle with Knox gelatin. Allow to soften for about 15 minutes.
  3. Put the milk, cream, vanilla, strip of lime peel and sugar in a heavy bottomed sauce pan. Heat over medium high until the mixture just comes to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Remove from heat and let steep for 15 minutes. Remove lime strip and discard.
  4. Whisk the gelatin and lime mixture into the cream to dissolve. Whisk in the yogurt and divide between 6 ramekins or glass cups. Allow to cool to room temperature and cover each cup with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least three hours or overnight.
  5. Heat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, whirl the graham crackers until they are finely crumbled. Add brown sugar, melted butter, lime zest, salt and powdered milk and whirl again to combine. Add walnuts and oatmeal and whirl briefly to combine.
  6. Press the mixture onto the bottom of a baking sheet. Bake about 8 minutes, remove from the oven and stir. Return to the oven for another 3-4 minutes. Allow to cool and store in an airtight container until you are ready to serve.
  7. When ready to serve garnish each panna cotta with a couple heaping spoonfuls of the graham cracker crumb mixture and a slice of lime.


Allow three hours to chill before serving. Can be made several days in advance. Add oatmeal crumble right before serving.






  1. Jessica says:

    This sounds AMAZING! I’m going to make it for friends this weekend!

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