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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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