FRENCH REFINEMENT MINUS THE USUAL HASSLE
The French really do make simple things better. Take chocolate pots de crème. To call this “chocolate pudding” doesn’t do this custard justice. A better description might be “crème brûlée minus the caramelized crust but enriched with dark chocolate.” Pots de crème are incredibly silky and pack an intense hit of chocolate. Classically, this dessert is made in petite lidded pots, but ramekins work just as well. These rich custards are served in small portions because more would be too much.
As the comparison to crème brûlée suggests, recipes can be quite fussy because they require a water bath—a large roasting pan filled with hot water that accommodates all the ramekins and prevents overcooking. Besides being cumbersome, this setup can lead to mistakes. Water splashes every time you move the roasting pan and can ruin individual custards if you’re not careful. And the water bath doesn’t guarantee uniform cooking, so you end up gauging doneness in each vessel and then plucking hot ramekins out of near-simmering water. There has to be a simpler way.
This is where the comparison to American-style chocolate pudding can be helpful. Can’t you just cook the custard on the stovetop and then chill the pots de crème? In fact, you can if you make a stirred custard (aka crème anglaise). The egg yolks, sugar, and dairy are heated on the stovetop, the resulting custard is poured over the chopped chocolate, and then the mixture is gently whisked until smooth. That sounds easy because it is. The whole process takes half an hour and no special equipment is required. This might just be the simplest French dessert anyone can make at home.
WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS
Rich, But Not Too Rich
Which dairy should you reach for when making the crème anglaise, which forms the base of the pots de crème? Most recipes use one or a combination of milk, half-and-half, and heavy cream. For just the right amount of richness and body, we pair half-and-half with heavy cream.
Yolks Only, and Less of Them
Using just egg yolks is the norm for the crème anglaise, but unless your goal is a rubbery custard, knock off a few yolks. Because you’ll want to pack in the chocolate, which will help solidify the pudding, those extra yolks are unnecessary.
Judging When the Anglaise Is Ready
There are two ways to gauge doneness of the custard. An instant-read thermometer is the most reliable—the custard is done when it reaches 175 to 180 degrees. But you can also judge the progress of the custard by its thickness. Dip a wooden spoon into the custard and run your finger across the back.
Ramp Up the Chocolate
Pots de crème should possess intense chocolate flavor. We skip over the milk chocolate and semisweet (they’re too mild) and reach for bittersweet chocolate—and a lot of it. We use 50 percent more chocolate than most recipes. Add instant espresso powder dissolved in water to enhance the chocolate flavor—just ½ teaspoon will do the job without calling attention to itself. Vanilla extract is important, too. Vanilla is a powerful “flavor potentiator,” meaning it enhances our ability to taste other foods including chocolate, so pour in a full tablespoon.
The Big Chill
Once you pour the custards into the ramekins, your hands-on work is done. Cover the ramekins with plastic wrap and move them to the refrigerator so the pots de crème can chill and firm up.
Pour the hot custard over the chopped chocolate, stir until smooth, chill, and then serve.
Chocolate Pots de Crème
- 10 minutes to chop chocolate, separate egg yolks, and gather ingredients
- 10 minutes to cook custard
- 5 minutes to strain custard over chopped chocolate and set mixture aside
- 5 minutes to finish flavoring pots de crème and divide among ramekins
- 30 minutes to cool pots de crème to room temperature
- 4 hours (minimum) to chill pots de crème thoroughly
- 20 minutes to take chill off pots de crème (whip cream and make chocolate shavings)
- Whisk for combining ingredients
- Wooden spoon for stirring custard as it cooks
- Medium saucepan with heavy bottom for cooking the custard
- Fine-mesh strainer for straining custard
- Eight (5-ounce) ramekins (pudding cups or small parfait glasses can be used if you prefer.)
- Handheld or stand mixer for whipping cream
Substitutions & Variations
- If using a chocolate with 70 percent cacao, use just 8 ounces to keep the custards from becoming overly stiff.
- A tablespoon of strong brewed coffee can be used in place of the instant espresso powder and water.
Sweetened whipped cream and a few chocolate shavings are the perfect garnish for this simple dessert. If you like, flavor the whipped cream with a splash of cognac or bourbon and try white or milk chocolate shavings.
We prefer pots de crème made with 60 percent bittersweet chocolate. Our favorite brands are Ghirardelli 60 Percent Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Premium Baking Bar and Callebaut Intense Dark Chocolate, L-60–40NV.
POTS DE CRÈME
- 10 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
- 5 large egg yolks
- 5 tablespoons (2¼ ounces) sugar
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1½ cups heavy cream
- ¾ cup half-and-half
- 1 tablespoon water
- ½ teaspoon instant espresso powder
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
WHIPPED CREAM AND GARNISH
- ½ cup heavy cream, chilled
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- Unsweetened cocoa powder (optional)
- Chocolate shavings (optional)
- For the Pots de Crème : Place chocolate in medium bowl; set fine-mesh strainer over bowl and set aside.
- Whisk egg yolks, sugar, and salt in bowl until combined. Whisk in cream and half-and-half. Transfer mixture to medium saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly and scraping bottom of pot with wooden spoon, until thickened and silky and registers 175 to 180 degrees, 8 to 12 minutes. (Do not let custard overcook or simmer.)
- Immediately pour custard through fine-mesh strainer over chocolate. Let mixture stand to melt chocolate, about 5 minutes; whisk gently until smooth. Combine water and espresso powder and stir to dissolve, then whisk dissolved espresso powder and vanilla into chocolate mixture. Divide mixture evenly among eight 5-ounce ramekins. Gently tap ramekins against counter to remove air bubbles.
- Let pots de crème cool to room temperature, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until chilled, at least 4 hours. Before serving, let pots de crème stand at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes. (Pots de crème can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.)
- For the Whipped Cream and Garnish: Using handheld mixer or stand mixer fitted with whisk, whip cream, sugar, and vanilla on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. Increase speed to high and whip until soft peaks form, 1 to 3 minutes. Dollop each pot de crème with about 2 tablespoons whipped cream and garnish with cocoa and/or chocolate shavings, if using. Serve.
MILK CHOCOLATE POTS DE CRÈME
Milk chocolate behaves differently in this recipe than bittersweet chocolate, and more of it must be used to ensure that the custard sets. And because of the increased amount of chocolate, it’s necessary to cut back on the amount of sugar so that the custard is not overly sweet.
Substitute 12 ounces milk chocolate, chopped fine, for bittersweet chocolate and reduce sugar in pots de crème to 2 tablespoons.
A Better Way to Whip Cream
Many experts make it sound like whipping cream is tricky. It’s not. In the old days, you needed to worry about chilling the bowl and the beaters. But the ultrapasteurized cream sold in most supermarkets contains additives that ensure good results. Even organic brands that don’t contain additives and are merely pasteurized will whip up nicely as long as the cream is cold. There are, however, a few other tricks to whipping cream like a pro. At the outset, use a relatively low speed to minimize the splattering. As the cream becomes foamy, you can increase the speed of the mixer. As for the sugar, we prefer granulated sugar (confectioners’ sugar contains a little cornstarch which can impart a starchy texture), but you must add the sugar before mixing commences so that it has time to dissolve.
1). Using handheld mixer or stand mixer fitted with whisk, whip cream, sugar, and vanilla on medium-low speed until foamy, about 1 minute. (While you can omit the sugar if you like, don’t skip the vanilla—it makes the cream more flavorful.)
2). Increase speed to high and whip until soft or stiff peaks form, 1 to 3 minutes. (Soft peaks are fine for dolloping but stiff peaks are a must for recipes where whipped cream is used for coverage—like cakes or cream pies.)
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