Dark chocolate gelee and caramel panna cotta verrine

Feb 9, 2015 at 6:18 a.m. ET

My ideal Valentine's Day dessert is a contradiction. I want the decadence of chocolate but I don't want to be weighed down by cream. I want intensity and clarity of flavor but I don't want to sacrifice delicate balance. I want to feel like I indulge but I don't want to show proof by means of a bulging belly. After all, I want to look good and feel great on Valentine's Day. I thought my ideal dessert did not exist until today.

I present you: dark chocolate bourbon gelee and caramel panna cotta verrine.

I never thought of putting chocolate and gelee together. There is homely chocolate pudding, voluptuous chocolate mousse, sophisticated chocolate pots de creme. But a gelee made of only top quality dark chocolate, water, sugar and bourbon? I was intrigued. Of course Herve This long ago took away my fear of splashing water on chocolate as long as the proportion is right. But the idea of chocolate gelee still challenged my preconceived notion that gelee must involve fruit juice or puree. I had to find out.

Using Gourmet Traveller’s recipe as a starting point, I began experimenting. I started with using only 2 teaspoons of powder gelatin and my gelee stubbornly refused to set after a whole afternoon. I added another teaspoon of gelatin and it was still nowhere close to solid. Finally, another 2 teaspoons of gelatin, and four hours later my dark chocolate bourbon gelee finally set into a delicate wobbly state.

Taking a cue from the caramel undertone of bourbon, I added a second element to my verrine with caramel panna cotta. The Kitchn's Faith Durand wrote at length about the basics of panna cotta. At its heart, this is sweetened half-and-half set with gelatin. I cooked the sugar into an amber caramel and added warm half-and-half along with bloomed gelatin. A teaspoon of vanilla bean paste contributed another layer of flavor complexity. It took a grand total of 10 minutes including cleanup. How easy is that?

The two-tone layered dessert looked quite stunning on its own thanks to a simple trick of setting the layers in a tilted glass. However, it was still missing something. I went for a flamboyant garnish of spun sugar nest and my ideal dessert was complete.

Each wobbly spoonful embodied everything I looked for in a Valentine's Day dessert. The intense dark chocolate flavor shone without being muted by dairy. The bourbon and caramel mingled and complemented. The delicate panna cotta added a touch of richness without being overwhelming. Best of all, this light dessert satisfied instead of being overly indulgent.

Now if only I can find a Valentine to share this sweet treat...