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A dark chocolate twist on the original, Chocolate Panna Cotta is an impressive dessert that’s surprisingly simple to make.
If you've had room for dessert after a meal at your favorite Italian restaurant, you may have ordered panna cotta (meaning 'cooked cream' in Italian). Hailing from the Piedmont region of Italy, it is traditionally a creamy vanilla dessert that is molded and then plated. Chocolate Panna Cotta is as decadently creamy as the original, but embellished with rich, dark chocolate.
Panna cotta is typically served as a molded dessert that requires you to dip ramekins in hot water before you invert each dessert over a serving plate with a hope and a prayer that they come out in one piece. I skip this process and serve it in small, clear glass tumblers instead. This way, it can be served straight from the refrigerator and looks just as pretty, especially when crowned with a dollop of whipped cream and a shower of chocolate shavings.
That said, if you prefer the molded appearance, go for it! This panna cotta recipe will work well for that too. (See recipe notes for specific instructions.)
Ingredients you need to make Chocolate Panna Cotta
Despite Chocolate Panna Cotta's elegant appearance, it's very easy to make. It's just a few simple ingredients and though it's custard creamy, you don't need eggs or a strainer to prepare it. In fact, you need no special equipment and it's likely that you have all of the ingredients on hand. You'll need heavy cream, half and half, powdered gelatin, sugar, vanilla extract, and of course the star of it all: high-quality dark chocolate. Missing something? Never fear, this Chocolate Panna Cotta recipe is amiable to substitutions.
Want to lighten it up? Skip the heavy cream and use half and half, whole milk or a blend of the two. For a dairy free version, use coconut milk or nut milk instead. Not a fan of dark or bittersweet chocolate? Good quality semisweet chocolate or milk chocolate also work well. Don't be tempted to use chocolate chips though, they're made to hold their shape and you'll end up with gritty panna cotta.
You'll need just 10 minutes of active time to prepare this, so it's a great make-ahead option for a dinner party or romantic date night in. You’ll need to refrigerate for at least 4 hours for it to set. So make it the morning of or, even better, the night before to free up more of your time the day of cooking the rest of your meal.
Chocolate Panna Cotta is a dessert you can make in minutes that looks like it took hours to prepare. But that’s a secret you can keep to yourself.
More Must Try Italian Recipes
- Pasta Aglio e Olio
- Broccoli Rabe and Sausage Pasta
- Rapini with Raisins and Hazelnuts
- Lemon Garlic Pasta
- Affogato (Another fabulous Italian dessert that's very easy to make!)
How to Make Chocolate Panna Cotta
Step 1: Sprinkle gelatin over cold half and half in a medium saucepan. Place pan over medium-low heat and whisk until gelatin has dissolved (do not boil), about 3 minutes.
Step 2: Whisk heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla into half and half mixture. Increase heat to medium and cook, whisking constantly until sugar dissolves and mixture is steaming hot, but not boiling. Remove from heat and add chocolate; whisk until smooth.
Step 3: Pour mixture into small glass tumblers or lightly oiled ramekins (if turning out onto dessert plates). Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight.
Step 4: Before serving, in a medium bowl, whip cold heavy cream, sugar, and vanilla to medium-stiff peaks with a hand mixer on high. Top each dessert with whipped cream and chocolate shavings if desired. Serve.
Chocolate Panna Cotta
- 8 4-ounce glass tumblers or ramekins
- 1 ½ cups half and half
- 1 envelope unflavored powdered gelatin about 1 tablespoon
- 1 ½ cups heavy cream divided
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 5 ounces dark chocolate finely chopped, (recipe note #1)
Whipped Cream for Serving
- ½ cup heavy cream cold
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- chocolate shavings optional
- Pour half and half into a medium saucepan off heat, sprinkle gelatin over and let stand 5 minutes. Set saucepan over medium-low heat, whisking constantly until gelatin dissolves, about 3 minutes (do not boil).
- Increase heat to medium and add 1 cup of the heavy cream and sugar to sauce pan, continue whisking until sugar has dissolved and mixture is steaming hot, about 5 minutes (do not boil). Remove from heat and add vanilla and chopped chocolate all at once; whisk until chocolate has melted and mixture is completely smooth.
- Either transfer mixture to a glass measuring pitcher for easy pouring or carefully pour directly from the saucepan into glass tumblers or ramekins (see recipe note #2). Refrigerate until completely set, 4 hours or overnight. (Cover if refrigerating overnight)
- Just before serving, add remaining ½ cup cold heavy cream, sugar and vanilla to a medium bowl. With an electric mixer, beat on high speed until medium stiff peaks form. (You can also do this by hand by vigorously whisking with a wire whisk.)
- Top each serving of chocolate panna cotta with a dollop of whipped cream and sprinkle chocolate shavings over if desired. Serve immediately.
- Use good quality bar chocolate for this recipe. Do not use chocolate chips, they are made to hold their shape and won't melt properly leaving you with gritty panna cotta. I used 70% dark chocolate, but you can use any good quality chocolate you like!
- If you prefer to turn these out onto serving plates, I recommend using 4 ounce / ½ cup ramekins instead of tumblers. Lightly oil the ramekins with a flavorless oil before pouring in warm chocolate panna cotta mixture. When the desserts are set and ready to serve, run a thin knife around the edge of ramekins. Dip each ramekin individually in a bowl of hot water for 5 seconds (taking care not to let any spill over into your panna cotta). Invert a small serving plate over the center of the ramekin. Hold plate and ramekin firmly and turn upside down (so the ramekin is on top). Wiggle the ramekin back and forth to release the panna cotta and lift the ramekin away. Repeat with remaining ramekins. Serve.
- For those outside the US who may not have half and half in your grocery stores, substitute with ½ heavy cream and ½ whole milk. So for this recipe with 1 ½ cups half and half, you would use ¾ each of heavy cream and whole milk.