Because my mom’s birthday is one week before Valentine’s Day, I always like to make her a dessert that captures both Birthday and Valentine Spirit.
For her–and for me—this means Dark Chocolate.
Each year, I seek to create that perfect chocolate delivery system-
a divine dessert that has both depth in nuanced flavors–
a dreamy melt on the tongue that reveals its complexities in layers.
This year, I decided to use these Le Creuset heart-shaped crocks, and make chocolate pots de cremes. I had some compelling contenders in my pantry—gifts from the holidays that included an 80% bittersweet bar from France, a lustrous Italian “Venchi” that makes a bright crack when you break off a piece, and some fine Ghiradelli Cocoa.
Working with chocolate, I have learned about its receptivity. That different varieties combine well, and flavor profiles can be pushed by introducing fruits, extracts, liqueurs, coffee, caramel, cream, pepper, spice, salt. Its enjoyment is enhanced by these many layers of possibility.
But, it all begins with good quality chocolate–hard and glossy bars that, depending on the where their cacao beans were harvested, fermented, roasted, and blended, will impart pure pleasure.
We are fortunate that there are so many available in the marketplace!
Pots de cremes are rich custards, oven-simmered in hot water baths.
Here’s what I know:
They are not difficult to make. The ingredient list is not long. Assembly time goes quickly. Baking time is under an hour. They improve as they cool, refrigerate, and therefore can be made up well in advance of serving.
For these pots de cremes, I laced the chocolate mixture with some strawberry preserves. Not a lot–just a couple of tablespoons to add a nice berry note. It seemed like the right red thing.
I also used brown sugar, sparingly, as a dark sweetener for the cocoa. Feel free to improvise here. Some espresso would be good. Or a glug of creme de cacao. Or some orange zest—citrus is sublime with chocolate.
If you don’t have these (dare I say darling!) heart-shaped crocks, don’t worry. You can use white ceramic ramekins, or small souffle cups instead. I will tell you that I was very pleased with these LeCreuset baking pieces–not just for the sweet shape, but also for their convenient lids.
The pots de cremes must be covered while they bake. Instead of fitting pieces of aluminum foil over each ramekin, I could simply use the heart-shaped cover.
When they emerge from the oven, you’ll notice a sheen, and a little surface cracking. They will be fairly firm–a little middle jiggle–but that will set up in cooling.
Before serving, whip up some heavy cream, scarcely sweetened with confectioners sugar, and garnish. Fresh strawberries would be pretty too–but since my dad hates fresh strawberries (they have “googies” but that’s another post–) I couldn’t use them here.
And, if these weren’t for my mom, I’d scoop up a spoonful and show you the deep creaminess of the custard. In a perfect chocolate world, this could be your heart’s desire.
HAPPY VALENTINE’S DAY FROM GOOD FOOD MATTERS
(and Happy Birthday, Mom!)
CHOCOLATE STRAWBERRY POTS DE CREME
2 Cups Half-and-Half
6 oz Bittersweet Chocolate (can be a mixture of chocolates, like 4 oz of 70% bittersweet and 2 oz semi-sweet)
1 T. Cocoa
2 T. Brown Sugar, divided
2-3 T. Strawberry Preserves
2 t. Vanilla
4 Egg Yolks
In a saucepan on medium heat, warm the half-and-half. Stir in the chocolates, cocoa, 1 Tablespoon brown sugar. Continue stirring until the chocolate is melted throughout, and the cocoa powder is incorporated into the mixture. Remove from heat and stir in strawberry preserves, vanilla, and a pinch of salt. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg yolks with the remaining tablespoon of brown sugar. Slowly pour the cooled (as in tepid) chocolate mixture into the beaten yolks. Beat well. Pour this into your ramekins. This will fill 4 8 oz containers.
Cover the ramekins with foil and place into a bain marie (water bath)
Bake in a 325 degree oven for 50-55 minutes. The pots de cremes will be set up, with a little jiggle. Uncover and allow to completely cool before refrigerating.
Serve with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream.