Chocolate pot de crème

Let me warn you, this dessert is eye-rolling good.  Chocolate pot de crème is a fairly simple loose chocolate custard.  It's the kind of dessert I just love, where excellent chocolate takes center stage.  I hope no one takes offense but I think of it as the somewhat more mature, French cousin of the American chocolate pudding or Italian panna cotta.
This chocolate pot de crème is made with dark chocolate, half-and-half, and egg yolks.  All these things combine to make for a rich and silky chocolate dessert that's reminiscent in taste of molten chocolate cake.  A high quality chocolate is recommended for this recipe and I used a chocolate with 61% cacao from Guittard.  I love Guittard - their chocolates are amazingly smooth. 
The custard is baked in a water bath and served slightly warm or at room temperature.  I like it best while it's still just a teeny bit warm.  The texture is creamy and the taste is pure chocolate.  You could serve it with a dollop of lightly sweetened whip cream and some chocolate shavings on top or you can keep it simple like I have and just dig in with a spoon.  The eye-rolling begins with the first bite.  It also smells divine.
This is February and it's all about chocolate (for me, anyway).  If you're looking for something a bit richer than the everyday chocolate pudding for your Valentine's Day dessert, let me suggest this.  It has a very romantic feel and taste to it.  To really drive the Valentine's Day theme home, consider placing a couple of raspberries on top of each pot de crème. 

The recipe that follows comes from one of my favorite baking books, Ready for Dessert by David Lebovitz.  I made half a recipe, which is just enough for two servings filled in 6-ounce ramekins. 

The custards bake in a 350 degree oven.  You'll need a baking dish or roasting pan large enough to fit your ramekins in and some warm water to fill it.

I start with the chocolate.  I used 3 ounces of chocolate for half a recipe, just slightly dialed down from the original recipe.  As I mentioned, I went with an excellent 61% cacao chocolate from Guittard.  The chocolate comes in wafer form and I chopped them up further to facilitate the melting later.   
In a saucepan, heat up a cup of half-and-half, 1 1/2 tablespoons of sugar, along with 1/2 teaspoon of instant espresso powder.  The espresso powder is optional but it helps heighten the chocolate flavor and adds a great aroma.
Stir and heat the mixture until the half and half is quite hot (not boiling).  Pour the hot mixture over the chopped chocolate and whisk together.
As you whisk the chocolate and hot half and half together, you might find that the chocolate is not melting completely.  This was the case for me and I decided to set the mixture over a pan of simmering water and gently whisk until the chocolate is melted. 
You'll see that the mixture thickens quite a bit after doing this.  I think not doing this was the mistake I made when I made that chocolate panna cotta months ago.  The chocolate didn't completely melt and I ended up with grainy looking bits of chocolate in the milk mixture.  So I really recommend taking this additional step if you see the same problem.  Cool the chocolate mixture for a while until it is about lukewarm.  Then you can whisk in 3 egg yolks and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla extract.
I was really happy David mentioned in his book that the custard can be refrigerated for up to 3 days before baking.  I've been baking with lots of egg whites this month and this was a great way to use up a few yolks.  I whipped this custard up and stored it in the refrigerator for a day.  
The next day, when I was ready to bake the pots de crème, I took it out of the refrigerator to let it come up closer to room temperature.  Whisk is a bit and pour the batter into ramekins.  Set the ramekins inside a baking dish and fill the dish with warm water about halfway up the ramekins. 
Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 35 minutes.  They are done when the sides are set and the center is still a bit jiggly when moved.  You can bake this before you sit down to dinner, let it cool while you eat, and it'll be just right when it's time for dessert.
Let the pots de crème cool on a wire rack.  Enjoy them slightly warm (that's the way I like it) or at room temperature.  David says you can refrigerate the baked custards for up to 2 days (bring them back up to room temperature before serving) but they are much better the same day.  I would imagine they will be thicker in texture but still quite good after chilling.

Recipe:
Chocolate Pot de Crème

- Makes 4 servings -

6 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped*
2 cups half-and-half
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder or coffee powder (optional)
Pinch of salt
6 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

* The original recipe actually calls for 7 ounces of chocolate so feel free to use that much.  Chocolate with 60-70% cacao is recommended. 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Have four 5 or 6-ounce ramekins or custard cups ready.  You'll also need a roasting pan or baking dish to set the ramekins in, along with warm water to fill the dish.

Put the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl.  Heat and stir the half-and-half, sugar, instant espresso or coffee powder (if using), and salt together.  Once sugar is melted and the mixture is quite hot, pour it over the chopped chocolate and whisk together.  If you find that the chocolate is not completely melted, set the bowl on top of a simmering pan of water and gently whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture has thickened. 

Let the mixture cool until it is lukewarm.  Then whisk in the egg yolks and vanilla.  (The recipe notes that if the mixture is grainy at this point, whisk it well or puree in a blender.  I heated the mixture as mentioned above and did not have this problem). 

Divide the mixture among the ramekins (you can transfer it into a cup or pitcher to make this job neater).  Place filled ramekins in a baking dish and fill the dish with warm water, about halfway up the sides of the ramekins.  Cover the dish tightly with foil and bake for about 35 minutes, or until the sides of the custards are set but the center is still a bit jiggly when moved. 

Cool on a wire rack and serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

Notes:  You can store the prepared custard in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.  Bring it back to room temperature and whisk the mixture together before pouring into ramekins (if you didn't store them already filled in ramekins) and baking.  If necessary, baked custards can be chilled for up to 2 days and brought back to room temperature before eating but they are much better freshly baked.  It would take a lot of self control to have any leftovers anyway.




2 comments:

  1. Just tried making this tonight from the cookbook, and noticed the same problems with the chocolate not melting/thickening properly and getting grainy. I wish I saw your post before I attempted! Will have to try it your method next time!

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    1. I bet it was delicious anyway! I can never get dark chocolate to melt smoothly in anything but heavy cream. You can do what I did here and I think the other option is to blend the mixture in a blender or with an immersion blender. If you want, you could strain it afterwards...I just put it back on the double boiler this way to save having to clean up more equipment. Good luck and thanks for the comment.

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