Hazelnut panna cotta for Valentine’s Day! Drizzled with a rich chocolate sauce and sprinkled with hazelnut praline, this luscious dessert is infused with flavor every step of the way.
Translated from Italian, panna cotta means “cooked cream.” A much simpler version of it’s custardy cousins, creme brulee or flan, equally delicious, yet much less fussy.
But you wouldn’t know from its appearance on the plate!
Since panna cotta do not contain egg, and are not baked in a water bath in the oven, they are a cinch to put together.
All they require is a few hours in the fridge, and that makes them one of my favorite kinds of desserts, a do-ahead! Simply budget four hours day of- or maybe even easier, prep the night before and let them set up overnight.
There are as many versions of panna cotta as there are ice cream. For this feature, I created a hazelnut-infused, cream-topped version with a silky chocolate sauce. The marriage of hazelnuts + chocolate has to be one of the best flavor combos of all time.
Simply warm cream, milk, sugar and hazelnuts in a saucepan, and leave to steep so that the mixture absorbs the nutty essence. Strain, then add gelatin and vanilla, pour into ramekins and refrigerate.
Sounds too easy to be this delicious! The chocolate sauce couldn’t be more simple either. Warm the cream in a small saucepan then add bittersweet chocolate. After it sits a few minutes to melt the chocolate, stir until smooth and creamy.
I’m telling you, this is one of the best and easiest desserts out there, and your valentine – sweetie, kids or friends – will swoon with delight.
Praline is the unsung hero, providing a welcoming textural contrast, and nudging this sweet treat toward “elegant evening”. It is the part of the recipe requiring the most attention, so if you’d rather skip, don’t sweat it, the dessert will still be incredible.
The trick to successful praline is this; after the nuts are warm and toasty in the skillet and you add the sugar, DON’T STIR. Let the sugar melt, tilting the pan if it’s melting unevenly, until lightly browned. (Be very careful when working with melted sugar of any kind, as it is extremely hot and can cause serious burns.) After it is melted, use a silicone spatula to scrape the mixture out onto a parchment lined sheet or silicone baking mat and let cool completely before chopping. This can be done several days in advance and stored in an airtight container.
I know you will all love this – happy Valentine’s day!
Hazelnut Panna Cotta with Chocolate and Praline
For the panna cotta
- 1 ½ teaspoons unflavored gelatin
- ½ cup hazelnuts toasted and loose skins rubbed off
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup whole milk
- ½ vanilla bean or use 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- Canola oil or other neutral oil for the ramekins
For the chocolate sauce:
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate chopped
For the praline:
- ⅔ cup 75 grams superfine sugar
- ¼ cup 50 grams toasted hazelnuts, loose skins rubbed off
- Coat four 6-ounce ramekins with oil and set aside.
- Combine the gelatin and 2 tablespoons of water in a small dish and let soften.
- Chop the hazelnuts and place in a saucepan with the sugar, cream and milk. Bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve the sugar, then cover and remove from the heat. Let it steep for at least 20 minutes and up to an hour.
- Strain the mixture through a fine mesh sieve and press on the solids to remove as much liquid as possible. Add the vanilla bean seeds, scraped from the pod, or vanilla extract.
- Turn the heat back on to low and add the gelatin. Warm the mixture gently, stirring so that the gelatin dissolves, but do not let it come to a simmer. It should take just a few minutes for the gelatin to incorporate. Pour into the ramekins and refrigerate.
- Meanwhile, make the praline. Place the hazelnuts in a dry skillet over medium heat. Once the pan is hot, but not so hot that it is smoking, sprinkle the sugar over the nuts. Let the sugar melt, without stirring, and cook until it is an amber color. You can tilt and swirl the pan if the sugar isn’t melting evenly, but resist the urge to stir. Before the sugar darkens too much, pour the nuts out onto a parchment lined sheet or silicone baking mat. Let cool completely, then crush the nuts in a food processor coarsely, or chop finely.
- Make the sauce just before serving. Heat the cream just to a simmer in a small saucepan, then turn off the heat and add the chopped chocolate. Let it sit for a minute or two, then stir gently.
- To serve, slide a sharp knife around the edges of the ramekins and unmold the panna cotta onto the plates. If it is not sliding out evenly, dip the ramekin in a bowl of warm water to loosen it. Drizzle with the chocolate sauce and sprinkle with the praline, passing extra sauce and praline at the table.