TWD: Nutella-Banana or Biscoff Panna Cotta
Each month, Steph posts on Tuesdays with Dorie to ask for nominations for the next month's baking. I decided to take a look through the remaining recipes while preparing to bake for March. I discovered that the Nutella-Banana Panna Cotta was still on the baking menu. I cast my vote for this dessert knowing I'd be in for a challenge trying to make it dairy-free.
I was transported to the summer of 2011 when I spent a month studying the history of culture and food in Italy and learning about/how to fresco paint at the Umbra Institute in Perugia. My roommates and I bought fresh bread twice a week from the bakery down the street mainly so we could consume Nutella. Breakfast. Lunch. Snacks. Nutella was one of the three major food groups--alongside gelato and pasta--we ate that summer. The combination of fresh bread and Nutella was heaven after a long day in the art studio. It wasn't until after returning to the US, and struggling to identify the cause of my stomach issues for four years, that I would realize that Nutella was part of the issue because of its skim milk. Using Nutella was out of the question, but I felt confident I could make some substitutions and be able to eat panna cotta.
My immediate reaction was to use Peanut Butter & Co.'s Dark Chocolatey Hazelnut Spread. While it's not the quite the same consistency as Nutella, I figured it'd turn out fine. I was set to add hazelnut spread to my shopping list, but then I saw Dorie's bonne idée: Biscoff spread. I could omit the banana and substitute 1 cup of Biscoff spread for the Nutella. The next step was to figure out what dairy substitutes to use. The recipe calls for 1.5 cups of whole milk and 1 cup of heavy cream. I replaced the whole milk with Sprout's coconut cream and the heavy cream with Califia's Betterhalf coconut cream and almond milk. I've never made panna cotta before, so I couldn't be sure my milk alternatives had the right fat content, but I went with it anyway. I lightly greased 6 coffee cups and hoped for the best.
The panna cotta has to set for at least 3 hours before eating. I opened the fridge after the minimum suggested time and gently touched the center of one of the desserts. It was firm but still had a bit of wiggle. I knew my first attempt at making panna cotta was a success.
To serve, you can leave the panna cotta in the dish, but I wanted to see if the dessert could stand on its own. I ran a knife around the edges of the coffee mug and flipped it onto the plate. It took a bit of work to get it out, but after a few seconds of jiggling the mug, the dessert popped out. Because I opted for Biscoff over Nutella, I decided to follow another of Dorie's suggestions and serve it with the Bittersweet Chocolate Sauce. This sauce is an all-purpose chocolate sauce. It's made with equal parts heavy cream, whole milk, and water, plus some sugar and chopped bittersweet chocolate. I usually have bittersweet chocolate on hand**, so I couldn't resist. I cut the chocolate sauce recipe in half since I was drizzling it on the panna cotta which meant we didn't have any chocolate sauce leftover but if we had, I would have used it to make hot chocolate.
**Allergy Note: I used the bittersweet chocolate that I buy in bulk. There's always a risk of cross contamination when buying in bulk; however, the ingredients on the bittersweet chocolate bin did not include milk. I've been buying this bittersweet chocolate as needed (and used it in the Simple Loaf Cake a few weeks back) and haven't had any reactions to it. I can only assume this is because the bittersweet chocolate in my previous bakes hasn't been the main ingredient in the dish. It took a few panna cottas before I realized the chocolate sauce was giving me a reaction. This note is a reminder that while buying in bulk might be more economical, sometimes the allergy-friendly packaged option is the way to go.