By Integrative Nutrition
Panna cotta is a traditional Italian dessert made with heavy cream and gelatin, often prepared in a shaped mold and topped with a decadent sauce. This healthier dairy-free version subs unsweetened cashew milk and coconut cream for typical dairy products and adds dark chocolate for an indulgent twist on the classic concept. It’s served in adorable single-serve dishes, making it the perfect ending to anything from a fancy Italian dinner party to a plate of spaghetti shared with your kids.
This paleo coconut panna cotta is admittedly a luscious treat, but it does offer health benefits that aren’t usually associated with a rich dessert. High-quality dark chocolate is a good source of manganese, copper, and magnesium, and actually contains an impressive amount of fiber as well. It is also a rich natural source of antioxidants that can promote brain and heart health.
Coconut cream, although quite high in fat, is antimicrobial, easily converted into energy (meaning you’re less likely to store it as fat anyway), and an incredible plant-based source of essential amino acids. Whether you or a loved one is lactose-intolerant or you’re simply trying to cut down on dairy in your diet in order to reduce inflammation, this recipe is sure to become a favorite.
Coconut sugar is derived from the sap of coconut palms, much like maple syrup and maple sugar. It’s low on the glycemic index and contains more nutrients, minerals, and fiber than white sugar. Due to the increasing popularity of the paleo diet, coconut sugar is widely available and it’s the perfect sweetener to pair with its natural partner, coconut milk.
Pint-size mason jars work perfectly for this coconut milk panna cotta recipe, but you can also use mini ramekins, coffee mugs, or even shot glasses. Top the panna cotta with a dollop of coconut cream, a few fresh berries, a simple fresh berry sauce, or dark chocolate shavings. Use fresh raspberries, sliced kiwi, and coconut cream for a delightful holiday-inspired color scheme if you’re making it for a seasonal celebration. You can get as fancy as you like or allow guests or family members to top their own according to their personal preference.
Indulge in this dairy free chocolate panna cotta this holiday season knowing that you’re promoting good health in your body and mind.
Dairy-Free Panna Cotta (Makes 4 servings)
1 ½ teaspoons unflavored gelatin
1 ½ cups unsweetened vanilla cashew or almond milk
¼ cup coconut sugar
3 ounces dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
3 ounces coconut cream (see Notes)
Pinch sea salt
- Measure ½ cup cashew milk into a small saucepan and sprinkle gelatin over the surface of the milk. Let sit for five minutes, without heating, until gelatin softens.
- Heat mixture over low heat, whisking constantly, until gelatin dissolves. Add sugar and heat until sugar dissolves as well, but avoid boiling the mixture. Add remaining cup of milk and heat until warm.
- In a large microwave-safe dish, microwave chocolate in 30 second increments on low heat until completely melted. Stir in coconut cream and salt.
- Pour ¼ cup of warm gelatin mixture into chocolate mixture and whisk gently to combine. Use a spatula to scoop chocolate mixture into saucepan and stir to completely combine.
- Divide panna cotta mixture between four small ramekins, mason jars, or drink glasses. Place ramekins on a plate, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight (or until panna cotta is set). Serve chilled with suggested toppings.
- Make sure that the chocolate you use is dark enough (70% cacao content or higher) to ensure that it doesn’t contain any milk solids.
- You can buy coconut cream at health food stores and ethnic grocers. Be sure not to buy cream of coconut, which is a sweetened processed product. If you happen to have a can of full-fat coconut milk on hand, stick it in the refrigerator overnight and then carefully open it without shaking it the next day. The “cream” will have risen to the top in a thick layer and can be used in this recipe as well.
- Experiment with adding additional flavoring components if you like. Vanilla extract, mint essential oil, orange essential oil, rum extract, or cinnamon would all make for delicious variations.
- If you have more than four guests to serve, this recipe is easily doubled or tripled.
- Unflavored gelatin is easy to find at most grocery stores – the most common brand is Knox. If you would prefer to use gelatin from grass-fed cows, Great Lakes is an awesome brand that can be purchased online.
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