Coffee Panna Cotta with a thick chocolate sauce is the perfect make ahead dessert that is surprisingly easy to make. Just a few simple ingredients and a little hands-off time are all you need. This mocha panna cotta is so lusciously creamy with specks of real vanilla, and the thick chocolate sauce is just like the icing on the cake - delicious!
I think a coffee panna cotta with chocolate sauce is perfect as an elegant Valentine's Day dessert. It is minimal effort, yet so pretty with distinguished flavors. And every Valentine's Dessert needs chocolate, so that is why I also love this white chocolate mousse with rose and pistachio, or a homemade box of chocolates.
What is panna cotta?
Panna cotta is an Italian dessert that is made from simple ingredients like heavy cream, sugar, vanilla and gelatin. Panna cotta means "cooked cream", which is exactly what it is!
It is similar to a flan or caramel custard as it is a dessert that can stand on its own (it doesn't flow all over a plate). But because a flan's texture comes from eggs, it is a much heavier dessert than a panna cotta, which get its texture from the gelatin. However, I'm sure both will satisfy the same craving for a creamilicious dessert.
All these ingredients are things that any home baker should already have in their kitchen and pantries, so it should be easy to whip up!
- Heavy cream: you can't have a lusciously creamy panna cotta without heavy cream! But that doesn't mean there aren't other options if you so desire, see the variations paragraph.
- Gelatin: the gelatin is what gives this dessert its texture, if not it would just be a next-level coffee with a ton of heavy cream. It makes it creamy, not so firm like jello but not so loose like a pudding, the perfect in-between. For substitutions, keep reading.
- Sugar: my guess is that this dessert would be bland without sugar, but how much you would need depends on your preferences, and yes you can use whatever sweetener you want.
- Vanilla bean: A classic panna cotta is usually just flavored with a luxurious vanilla bean, but why take it out of this mocha panna cotta? Considering there are so few ingredients, I'm keeping it.
- Coffee: Well, the name of this dish pretty much explains why this is here! You can use decaf coffee too!
- Chocolate: I think coffee is always better with chocolate, hence this delish peppermint mocha as well.
Instead of heavy cream
You can use milk or any other less fatty milk products, although it will not have such a creamy mouthfeel. If that is your preference, then it's no problem at all! You can also use coconut milk for a dairy-free option.
Instead of gelatin
As gelatin isn't vegan or vegetarian, some may prefer not to use it. I have not tried any of these, but it is possible to use agar agar powder (in a 1:1 ratio) or even flour to thicken the mixture. I use flour mixed with milk when thickening chocolate pudding, so then this would be more like a coffee pudding - delicious anyway!
Yes, it should be possible to reduce the amount of sugar in this recipe, down or up to your own liking. When I taste-tested this recipe, I found the liquid mixture to be too sweet with ½ cup (100 grams) of sugar, but when it had set and was ready to serve, I found that it was actually an appropriate amount for my sweet tooth.
And yes, you can use other forms of sweeteners too. Use the one you are most comfortable with, and with the appropriate ratio for substituting with regular sugar. Read this sugar substitute guide by The Kitchn if you need more information.
As panna cotta is such a clean flavor in itself, I highly recommend splurging on a vanilla bean. It is easy to split open with a sharp knife, and just scrape out the seeds. Add the bean itself too to the mixture to fully infuse the cream, but discard it once you add the gelatin.
However, if you really want to use pure vanilla extract, use 1 teaspoon.
Other panna cotta variations
So there are endless possibilities when making panna cotta, and you can use this recipe for it as well. Instead of the coffee, add the same amount of heavy cream, and you'll have a classic vanilla panna cotta. This dessert would be perfect with a berry sauce like blackberry sauce, raspberry sauce, or even a salted caramel sauce for an extra decadent treat.
And as mentioned, you could use coconut milk and if you follow the recipe for regular vanilla panna cotta, you will have a vanilla coconut panna cotta - right? So easy! I could go on and on about these variations, but I think you get it now. Endless possibilities.
This is a great make-ahead dessert! As it needs time to set, you can just continue to keep it in the fridge for days. It keeps pretty well for at least 5 days in the fridge, but I would add a plastic wrap directly on top of the panna cotta so that you don't get a thick skin on it.
Make the chocolate sauce right before serving because it thickens considerably in the fridge. It can however be re-heated for a few seconds in the microwave if you want to make it ahead of time.
How to make it
To make this dessert, first, gather the ingredients. Add the gelatin sheets to a bowl of cold water and let it sit for 5 minutes to rehydrate. Cut the vanilla bean open and scrape out the seeds, add the seeds and the beans to a large saucepan along with all the other ingredients apart from the chocolate sauce.
Let it come up to almost a simmer, and take it off the heat. Squeeze the water out of the gelatin and add them to the heavy cream mixture. Stir to combine and then pour the mixture into heat-proof glasses. Let them sit for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator.
Right before serving, chop up some high-quality chocolate (I used 50/50 bittersweet and semisweet). Add heavy cream to a large bowl and microwave it for 30-60 seconds and then add in the chocolate. Let it sit for 2 minutes and then stir until completely melted.
If you want a thinner sauce, use more heavy cream. You can also use store-bought chocolate sauce, I won't judge.
Dollop the thick chocolate sauce onto each serving of panna cotta. I also served it with mascarpone whipped cream (regular whipped cream works too!) and mocha beans as decorations.
And if you liked this recipe, I'm confident you will love this romantic rhubarb custard tart for a spring and summer treat.
Did you like this recipe? Here are more make-ahead Valentine's Day desserts:
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