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White chocolate panna cotta with agar agar

When I published my vegetarian panna cotta recipe, a reader asked if it would work as a white chocolate version. I couldn’t get the idea out of my head, so I decided to investigate. Turns out that a few tweaks are all that are required to make this incredibly delicious white chocolate panna cotta with agar agar.

White chocolate panna cotta with agar agar

This panna cotta uses milk, cream, white chocolate and agar agar powder as the key ingredients. It has a lovely rich white chocolate flavour that truly elevates an already delicious dessert. While you could serve this treat all year round, I’m posting it as part of my Valentine’s Day/Easter menu.

This is a vegetarian recipe as it uses agar agar instead of gelatin. Agar agar is a vegan alternative to gelatin made from seaweed. It is tasteless, colourless and odorless. Although it works differently to gelatin, it is an incredible ingredient that is straightforward to use once you get the hang of it.

An aerial image of three white chocolate panna cotta on a scalloped white plate atop a white marble table. The panna cotta are topped with cooked strawberries with a bright red sauce

White chocolate notes for your white chocolate panna cotta

The single most important ingredient in this panna cotta is the white chocolate. During testing, I discovered that the white chocolate chips I was using made for a very pasty and floury tasting panna cotta. I did a bit of digging and realised that poor quality white chocolate uses vegetable fat instead of cocoa butter.

The easiest way to identify this vegetable fat chocolate is to read the ingredients. In some countries, it is apparently illegal to call white chocolate made with vegetable fat white chocolate. Supposedly, it needs to contain cocoa butter to use that name. I didn’t find this to be a hard rule here in Australia, as the chips I used (Nestle) were called white choc baking chips.

All this to say: make sure to choose a brand that uses cocoa butter and not vegetable fat. You can identify suitable brands where you live by reading the labels at the supermarket or online.

In Australia (be sure to double check labels in case this has changed since time of writing):

  • Cadbury baking chocolate is made with cocoa butter
  • Cadbury Caramilk is made with cocoa butter
  • Cadbury dream white chocolate is made with cocoa butter
  • Cadbury white chocolate baking chips are made with vegetable fat so not suitable (this is the variety that I originally tested)
  • Woolworths brand baking chocolate is made with cocoa butter
  • Lindt white chocolate is made with both, so I wouldn’t risk it personally
  • Nestle Baker’s choice chips are made with vegetable fat, so not suitable
  • Milky Bar is made with vegetable fat and thus not suitable
A side on image of a white chocolate panna cotta on a white plate in contrasting sunlight. The panna cotta is topped with a strawberry coulis and icing sugar that is being sprinkled from the top of the image

Substitution notes for white chocolate panna cotta

There aren’t many! I have not tested and can’t guarantee the results for any white chocolate alternatives – sugar free, vegan or anything else. You’re welcome to test it, but I have no idea how it will come out.

I haven’t tested a vegan or plant based milk version either, which means there is not currently a dairy free recipe.

I have tested a couple of batches of this recipe using all milk and no cream. It works and is delicious, but I did find that the white chocolate formed a little crust on the base of the panna cotta. I need to do a bit of work to find out why this is, so stay tuned.

Three white chocolate panna cotta topped with strawberry coulis on a white scalloped plate atop a dark steel backdrop

FODMAP notes

TLDR: this is not a low FODMAP recipe. White chocolate contains a large amount of lactose. As such, this is not the recipe for you if you malabsorb lactose. My original panna cotta (not white chocolate) is easily made low FODMAP.

Tips for using agar agar powder

  • Agar agar comes in different forms – flakes, strips and powder. They are not interchangeable and work differently, so use the powder for this recipe.
  • Agar agar powder needs to be added to cold ingredients so it doesn’t clump up when it hits the liquid. Whisk it in thoroughly before turning the heat on.
  • It is really beneficial to allow the agar sufficient time to gel up on the heat. I found that allowing this panna cotta mixture to come to the boil over a low heat for 15-20 minutes was the best method to get it to gel. The heat needs to be low – not only for the white chocolate, but also so that the agar is sufficiently heated to gel up.
  • Agar that has not had enough liquid added tends to taste a bit gritty.
  • The tricky part about using agar agar is that there aren’t too many obvious signs that the mixture is ready to set. My best advice is to slowly get it to boiling point and then keep it there for a minute or so.
  • The best part about agar agar is that you can boil it again if something is amiss. In one test, my panna cotta had not set in the fridge after 3 hours. I simply reboiled the liquid and returned it to the silicon muffin tin and it set up almost instantly.
A side on image of a white chocolate panna cotta on a white plate in contrasting sunlight. The panna cotta is topped with a strawberry coulis and icing sugar that is being sprinkled from the top of the image

Another note on using agar agar

There are a few notable quirks when it comes to using agar agar, I have found. One that I discovered when using it to make my low FODMAP vegan mozzarella was that it seems to become firmer with more liquid, as opposed to less.

Logic would dictate that you would use less liquid for a firmer set. This is not the case with agar agar! In fact, I found the firmest set panna cotta used the most liquid.

If your panna cotta hasn’t set, it’s not that there is too much liquid in the recipe. It is because you haven’t cooked your panna cotta mixture for long enough. I find around the 20 minute mark is a good length of time to cook the mixture on low. This seems to be sufficient time to allow the agar agar to gel.

An aerial image of three white chocolate panna cotta on a white scalloped plate atop a white marble table. Sunlight shines through glasses of water at the top and bottom of the image.

Troubleshooting your white chocolate panna cotta

The main two things that can go wrong with this recipe. The first is that the mixture doesn’t gel up sufficiently, which is an easy fix. All this means is that you haven’t cooked the panna cotta mixture long enough to activate the agar agar. Luckily, agar agar is very amenable to being recooked, so you can simply return the mixture to the pot and cook it until simmering again.

The second issue is in relation to the white chocolate. If you use a white chocolate with vegetable fat instead of cocoa butter, as discussed extensively above, it will likely have a pasty, floury texture. The solution? Use the chocolate specified in the recipe 🙂

There are a few other issues pertaining to the chocolate, however. The first is that you could overcook it, resulting in a split panna cotta. A milk version I tested had a thin layer of white chocolate at the base of the panna cotta, and I suspect this was overcooked.

Until I figure this out, I can’t recommend an all milk version in good conscience. It might be that a milk version should cook for less time, but I will have to test the theory.

A side on image of a white chocolate panna cotta on a white plate in contrasting sunlight. The panna cotta is topped with a strawberry coulis and a spoon extends from the top of the image to drizzle more coulis over the top

More delicious dessert recipes

A side on image of a white chocolate panna cotta on a white plate in contrasting sunlight. The panna cotta is topped with a strawberry coulis and a spoon extends from the top of the image to drizzle more coulis over the top

White chocolate panna cotta

Makes 6-8 panna cotta, depending on the size of your moulds
I use an 80ml capacity silicone muffin pan and get 7-8 panna cotta
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Prep Time 5 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Setting time 4 hours
Course Dessert
Cuisine Gluten free
Servings 7 panna cotta

Ingredients
  

For the panna cotta:

  • 175 g white chocolate that uses cocoa butter not vegetable fat (see notes)
  • 250 ml full fat cream
  • 250 ml full fat milk
  • 20 g caster sugar to your tastes
  • pinch of fine salt
  • 1.5-2 g agar agar powder (not flakes or strips see notes)

For the strawberries (optional):

  • 250 g strawberries hulled and quartered
  • 2-3 teaspoons white sugar to your tastes
  • 2-3 teaspoons lemon juice to your tastes and the acidity (or lack thereof) of the strawberries
  • 1-2 tablespoons water to create the beautiful sauce (optional)

Instructions
 

For the panna cotta:

  • Very lightly grease the moulds you’ll be using for your panna cotta.
  • Combine all the ingredients in a medium pot. Stir to combine, then place on the smallest hob/burner over a low heat.
  • Stir intermittently and continue to cook your cream mixture. You want it to reach a good simmer (plentiful small bubbles on the surface) without burning the mixture or heating it too quickly. Because of the white chocolate, you will need to bring it up to temperature slowly. I find 15 or so minutes to be the sweet spot with this recipe.
  • If the mixture has not reached this point after 10 minutes, turn the heat up a little.
  • Once the mixture reaches a small bubble simmer, keep it there for another minute or two.
  • Remove the mixture from the heat and carefully decant into a pouring jug. You can pass it through a sieve if any milk skins have formed.
  • Pour the mixture into your prepared moulds and allow them to cool for 10 or so minutes before transferring them to the fridge. Every batch is different, but allow 2-4 hours to cool and set. I recommend making them the night before so you can correct any issues that come up (see the notes below).
  • Serve with the strawberry sauce below, sauce of your choosing or plain. Best eaten within a few days.

For the strawberries:

  • Cook the ingredients in a small pot on a low heat until the sugar has dissolved, strawberries are softened and the mixture has a beautiful red sauce. Taste and adjust as necessary, then set aside to top the panna cotta.

Notes

  • As discussed in the body of the post, the white chocolate you use needs to be made with cocoa butter and NOT vegetable fat. The versions I tried with vegetable fat in the white chocolate turned out pasty and floury. You’ve been warned!
  • Some thickened creams use gelatin, but I am starting to see more vegetarian varieties available. If you can’t find one, use pouring cream or any cream without thickener. I would recommend using the 2g of agar agar if you go this route, to compensate for the lack of other thickeners.
  • Add sugar according to your sweet tooth and what you’re topping the panna cotta with. Note that lactose free milk and cream are sweeter than normal versions, so you might add less sugar if you’re using these.
  • Agar agar comes in a variety of different forms that are not interchangeable. This recipe uses powder and I have not tested other versions.
  • See the body of the post for tips on working with agar agar. If your panna cottas have not set after 4 hours in the fridge (or if they have gritty agar agar bits in the bottom) decant them back into the pot and bring to the boil again. Agar agar is very receptive to being re-cooked if needed. It is likely that you didn’t sufficiently boil the mixture in the beginning.
  • See the body of the post for troubleshooting. 
Keyword panna cotta agar agar, Panna cotta with agar agar, Vegetarian panna cotta, white chocolate panna cotta
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