This recipe for Chocolate Hazelnut Panna Cotta is super easy to whip up and makes a delicious, elegant dessert! Velvety, intensely chocolatey and hiding a special surprise.
This silky Italian dessert stole my heart while dining cliffside in the Cinque Terre.
What is Panna Cotta?
Panna Cotta is a classic Italian dessert that literally translates to "cooked cream," only that's slightly misleading because the cream isn't always cooked. Panna Cotta is a thick, pudding-like dessert that can be flavored in a number of different ways. It's smooth, creamy, melts in your mouth and like most Italian desserts, it's usually not too sweet. It's always thickened with gelatin, rather than other similar desserts that are thickened with eggs, flour or cornstarch.
Panna cotta is essentially the Italian version of Jello pudding... which is to say that it's made with much better ingredients and therefore tastes a million times better. The name "Panna Cotta" sounds so foreign and fancy, but it's actually a really simple recipe to master.
How do you make Chocolate Hazelnut Panna Cotta?
This recipe mixes semisweet chocolate, chocolate hazelnut spread and a splash of hazelnut liqueur to create a luxurious and rich chocolate pudding. The hazelnut liquor (such as Frangelico) is optional, but adds another layer of flavor that makes this Chocolate Hazelnut Panna Cotta really sing.
First, the gelatin is dissolved in cold water, then added to scalded cream. Melted chocolate, hazelnut liquor and chocolate hazelnut spread (such as Nutella) are added, then the mixture gets poured into ramekins and refrigerated until set.
But wait! Inside, there's a little surprise. I like to chop up pieces of chocolate hazelnut candies, such as Baci or Ferraro Rocher (or even a chocolate hazelnut candy bar) and add them to the bottom of each ramekin before pouring the liquid over top. The little bits of candy add another element of texture and flavor that make this recipe extra special. Be sure to get more candy than you need for this recipe, or you'll run the risk of eating them all before they make it into the bowl (Guilty!).
What is unflavored gelatin and how do I use it?
Most people have made a box of Jello or Jello pudding at some point in their lives, but many have never worked with unflavored gelatin. It's basically the same thing - there's no need to be afraid of it.
Gelatin is a thickening agent derived from animal parts and is a form of collagen. It's required for making any kind of Panna Cotta because it's what makes it set and get thick. Without gelatin, it wouldn't be Panna Cotta. It's colorless and flavorless, and is typically sold as a powder, which is what this recipe calls for. Gelatin is also available in translucent sheet, but they aren't commonly available in grocery stores and are mostly used by culinary professionals. Look for unflavored powdered gelatin in the baking aisle of your grocery store or next to the Jello products.
To use powdered gelatin, it must first be dissolved in cold water. Be sure to sprinkle it evenly across the surface of the water so that each granule is able to fully hydrate, then let it sit for a few minutes. Once the gelatin is dissolved, you can add it to a warm or hot liquid which will activate the collagen molecules, however the gelatin must be thoroughly chilled after this step in order for it to thicken. If you've ever made Jello before, it's a very similar process.
Can Panna Cotta Be Made Ahead?
Yes! In fact, it has to be made ahead. Panna Cotta needs at least 6 hours in the refrigerator to set up, otherwise it will be too loose and liquidy. Panna Cotta can actually be frozen, too, with good results. It's perfect for entertaining because you can make it several days in advance and then just pull it out of the fridge when you're ready.
The hardest part of this recipe is having to wait for the Panna Cotta to firm up in the fridge!