June 13, 2021 — Birthday Party

Panna Cotta Cake

  • 3 houts
  • 10 PEOPLE
  • hard

This is possibly the best chocolate dessert I have ever made. It is a version of WDC’s famous raspberry panna cotta cake.

Dad's amazing chocolate panna cotta cake.

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Share this yummy recipe with a friend on WhatsApp

Follow us on Instagram — @WhatDadCooked

What you need

Equipment needed

24 cm springform cake tin

23 cm spring form cake tin

Cheese slicer or very sharp vegetable peeler

Marble slab – or similar

For the flan base

3 large eggs separated (at room temperature)

100g sugar

50g plain white flour (preferably fine sponge)

30g cocoa powder

20g cornflour

pinch of salt

1 tsp vanilla

2 tbs hot water

Softened butter for the flan tin

For the panna cotta

1 vanilla pod cut down length then cut in half

500ml double cream

200ml whole milk

80g caster sugar

150ml full fat fromage frais

3tbs Madeira

4 leaves gelatine

For the ganache

125g dark chocolate

125ml double cream

30g light muscovado

1 tbs golden syrup or corn syrup

For the chocolate curls

200g dark chocolate


Dad's Recipe Tales

Where do new recipes come from?

Well, if you believe, that there is indeed any such thing as a new recipe, then they are likely to happen as much by accident as by design. In this case, I set out a staggered lockdown Tuscan barbecue-feast for my birthday. This was the menu:


  • Traditional Tuscan chicken liver
  • Aubergine, mushroom, lentil, pine nut (v)
  • Cannellini bean with wild garlic (v)
  • Smoked salmon, chives

Grilled vegetables

  • Corn on cob
  • Courgette
  • Aubergine
  • Glove artichokes
  • Roasted red peppers
  • Tomatoes, basil, mozzarella


  • Sourdough white and brown
  • Lingue


  • Orecchiette with scallops, chilli and rocket


  • Marinated Flame grilled king prawns
  • Mixed salad


  • Florentine steak
  • Tenderstem broccoli


  • Panna cotta with berries and coulis

Clearly, I was possessed with an epic culinary mission. Well, it was my birthday… Naturally, with so many courses, it was obvious that I would need to end the meal on a lighter note. I described my plans to Mrs WDC, but she replied back without missing a beat, “What about the cake?” Ah… Did she mean birthday cake? That de rigueur – nay, essential element of any birthday gathering? What was I thinking…? Was I was so possessed I did not even register the need for my own birthday cake? In my defence, birthday cake is not usually haute cuisine and I was trying to plan something special. Having acquiesced to the concept of cake, I did, however, venture that the meal would still need something light to end, and that the usual chocolate affairs would be too much. How about a cake AND panna cotta. I’ll put the panna cotta on top. But not on top of sponge – still too heavy – perhaps a flan base as in the lighter German küchen-type flans…

And this is how I got the idea of a panna cotta cake. Okay, maybe not the of knock-me-over-with-a-feather kind of originality, after all, there are many mousse-type cake recipes with mousses assembled over sponges. However, a panna cotta is not a mouse – it’s a wet creamy jelly that takes hours to set. How to construct such a thing? The answer is with difficulty, which is why this recipe gets a ‘hard’ rating on the blog. It took me three attempts to get near a workable solution.

The key to the success of the dessert is the taste: the startling surprise of panna cotta on top of a flan-like base. It is packed with flavour, cool, but very light, fresh and not too sweet. A perfect end to a birthday meal and a rather perfect cake.

How Dad Cooked It

The trick to this recipe is to contain the panna cotta whilst still in a liquid state over the flan base. This does not seem to be an issue with mousse-sponge cakes, and I believe the reason is because a sponge does not shrink in the cake tin as much as a flan base. There is proportionally more stabilising flour in a sponge cake than the lighter flan base which relies on egg whites for aeration, rising and lightness. Unfortunately, egg whites also shrinks rather a lot – which means if you work through the process it will be impossible to hold the panna cotta in the same tin as it will flow away throught the shrunken gaps. My solution is to work with two springform rings. The flan is baked in the larger tin and then the panna cotta is set on top using the smaller ring. No doubt when Marks and Spencer’s steal my recipe they will use professional sets of bespoke rings.

The sponge is best made with sufficient material to make beating and mixing easier. However, the quantity is a little too much for my ideal balance and design. I therefore, suggest cutting the flan base down by a quarter after baking.

Panna cotta means ‘cooked cream’ and that is pretty much the basis of the dessert. Though, clearly with so many chefs needing their own panna cottas, many have made the journeys into ‘my recipe’ adaptation, and so any number of variations are now published. The key differences are whether the cream is left as cream or adapted with other dairy products (to make either lighter or richer), the other is how long the cream is cooked (which can give more or less custard flavour). The setting is acieved with gelatine and this comes in powdered or sheet form. I’m not convince all products are universally produced in equal units, so the only way to be sure is to keep making the recipe and adapting the gelatine to suit. Some versions are very wobbly – even runny, but none are set firm like an actual jelly. Finally, the gelatine is dissolved in a liquid, flavouring, or alcohol – and can add a little more flavour and sweetness. My version is similarly adapted, and uses fromage frais to give a lighter and fresher taste. I have made it a little more set, to hold up on top of the cake base.

You need a good amount of space in the refrigerator. Clear this beforehand to avoid a kerfuffle during the process

The chocolate curls are more difficult than one might imagine. What is important is having right tools for the job. Ideally a cheese slicer for scraping chocolate off a marble surface. I have marble, but no cheese slicer; I managed – just – with a blunt vegetable peeler. A sharp one will do the job much better.

For the flan base

  1. Preheat the oven to 190C, Gas 5.
  2. Butter the inside edges and base of a 24cm springform tin. Using a pastry brush, cover the surfaces liberally with butter. Grease the inside surfaces of a 23cm springform tin liberally with light vegetable oil.
  3. Beat the whites in a bowl with a pinch of salt. Beat to the soft peak stage, then add one third of the sugar and continue beating until the whites form stiff peaks.
  4. In a separate bowl, combine the yolks with the remaining sugar and vanilla, beat for two minutes then add the hot water (not boiling) and continue beating until the mixture forms a light smooth foam.
  5. Sieve the flour, cocoa powder and cornflour.
  6. Add the whites and flour to the yolk mixture alternating in three stages, folding carefully after each stage.
  7. Spread the mixture onto the tin and level.
  8. Bake in the middle of the oven for 10-15minutes or until golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted into the flan comes out clean. Leave to cool slightly, then remove from the tin and place on a wire rack.
  9. When completely cool, cut about one quarter of the flan from the top horizontally using a long carving knife or bread knife. Brush off the crumbs. Place the base on a serving dish and position the ring only of a 23cm springform (in closed position) over the base.

For the ganache filling

  1. In a heavy-based saucepan, heat the cream over a low heat. Break up the chocolate and add along with the sugar and the syrup.
  2. Stir constantly with a spatula until the ganache is smooth and amalgamated.
  3. Using the spatula and a spoon cover the flan with ganache paying particular attention to the edges to ensure a water-tight seal all around the ring and edge of the flan. Do not over apply the ganache, only use enough to cover and provide a good seal. Leave to cool and set and then cover the springform with cling film and place the cake in the fridge.

For the panna cotta

  1. Heat the cream, milk, vanilla pod and sugar in a large heavy saucepan over a medium heat, gently bring to a boil and then set to a simmer. Whisk the cream mixture regularly and continue to simmer for 10 minutes. Take off the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes.
  2. Put the gelatine leaves in a bowl of water and let soak for 5 minutes.
  3. Put the Madeira in a small heavy-based saucepan. Take the gelatine leaves and gently squeeze out most of the water and place the leaves in the Madiera.  Put the pan of Madeira and gelatine on a very low heat, slowly heat the gelatine until it is completely dissolved – do not boil.
  4. Remove the vanilla pod from the cream mixture, rinse, let dry and keep for later use – such as flavouring sugar in a jar.
  5. Whisk the fromage frais into the cream mixture and then add the gelatine, whisk well. Pour a little of the cream mixture into the gelatine pan and then scrap back into the cream mixture to ensure all the gelatine is transferred.
  6. Allow the panna cotta to cool to room temperature and then put in the fridge for about an hour – or until it is beginning to thicken and set and is quite cold.

Assembling the cake

  1. Remove the cake and panna cotta from the fridge and remove the cling film from the cake. Carefully pour the panna cotta into the springform covering the flan base and ganache. Cover the springform again with cling film and place in the fridge.
  2. Refrigerate the cake for at least 4 hours or ideally overnight.

Making the chocolate curls

We are not tempering the chocolate so it just needs melting.

  1. Melt all the chocolate in a bowl, set over (but not touching) simmering water.
  2. If using a cheese slicer, allow the chocolate to cool a little then spread the chocolate thickly over the marble. Just before it is set, scrape with the slicer to form curls. If using a vegetable slicer, pour the chocolate out in two or three long mounds on the marble. Just before it is set, scrape with the peeler to form curls.

Presenting the cake

  1. The trick now is to remove the ring from the cake whilst not upsetting the contents. As with all panna cottas, they can have a mind of their own as to whether and when they will relinquish their moulds. This cake (unlike the other variants) is sealed with ganache, so it may need extra encouragement to free itself from the ring. Moisten a tea towel and heat in a microwave or put in hot water and wring dry. Then wrap the towel around the base of the rings, gently repositioning and evenly warming the ring. Using a very thin sharp knife work around the top of the panna cotta and gently ease the ring off the cake. Do not be tempted to unlock the springform, this might split off bits of cake and panna cotta. It’s best to coax, twist and slide the ring off. The chocolate may smear over the panna cotta, a wet kitchen towel can help tidy.
  2. Sprinkle the curls over the top and serve. NB: The cake should remain in the fridge until just before serving – so if preferred, remove the cake from the ring in advance and then decorate and serve later. In this case, clean the ring in its open position and replace over the cake, cover with cling until ready to serve.
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