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Similar to a panna cotta, blancmange (which translates into "white" and "to eat") falls into a category of eggless custard desserts that rely on a stiffener such as gelatin, agar agar, or cornstarch to set the liquid (milk or cream) into a barely-held-together consistency that's delicate, creamy, and jiggly. The main difference between blancmange and panna cotta is the thickener. While panna cotta is uncooked and gelatin-set, most blancmange recipes also use cornstarch as a thickener, in which case the mixture is cooked because cornstarch needs to come to a boil to thicken properly. That being said, a blancmange made with gelatin would be the same as a panna cotta. Say what?
If this sounds confusing (or even boring), don't worry, I'm totally with you. To put it simply, blancmange is a pudding with a fancy name and a restaurant-worthy plated dessert presentation. Due to its lighter and more delicate texture than most standard egg-laden puddings, it makes for a terrific summertime dessert.
For my chocolate blancmange (I'm still flummoxed by the name—it's like saying "chocolate white cake"), I decided to make a cornstarch thickened version to keep it as different as possible from a traditional panna cotta. This dessert is not complicated at all to make (it takes all of 5 minutes to cook up), so my main challenge was to to get good chocolate flavor while still maintaining the light texture and slight jiggle that is the hallmark of a blancmange. The more chocolate you add, the thicker and denser the pudding becomes when it sets. For the 2 cups of milk that I was working with, 3 ounces of bittersweet bar chocolate was the limit. To give the pudding the extra chocolate boost that it needed without wrecking the texture, I whisked in a tablespoon of cocoa powder.
Even though I usually add a pinch of salt to my chocolate recipes, I omitted it here. Salt increases the flavor intensity in such a way that I felt wasn't quite right with this light, cold, and creamy dessert. Once it's chilled, dive into the chocolate blancmange right out of the bowl or ramekin with a spoon (that's how most of mine ended up), or take advantage of what you can't do with most creamy puddings: unmold the quivering, perfectly set chocolate blancmange onto a waiting plate. Complete this super silky dessert with cool whipped cream and fresh fruit.
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About the Author: Yvonne Ruperti is a food writer, recipe developer, former bakery owner, and author of The Complete Idiot's Guide To Easy Artisan Bread. You can also watch her culinary stylings on the America's Test Kitchen television show. She presently lives in Singapore as a freelance writer for Time Out Singapore. Check out her blog: shophousecook.com . Follow Yvonne on Twitter.