There are some times, no matter how prepared you think you are, no matter how carefully you’ve planned your time and prepped your ingredients, that things just don’t work out. I’m sure many have you been in this situation. It’s often not even your fault. You’ve been fastidious in making sure your mise en place is perfect and that you’ve followed every recipe you’re using to the letter. There could be one of a dozen reasons. Maybe your oven temperature is not as accurate as the manufacturer would lead you to believe? Or the cookbook author’s recipes simply don’t work? Or, at the extreme end of possibilities, your tap water is too hard or soft for the pasta recipe you’re trying to use? Or the humidity where you live simply won’t allow the gnocchi you are working on to set? Who knows? At the end of the day, though, you’re stuck with friends on the way over and in need of a quick fix.
For me, my kitchen kryptonite is dessert. Which is why I tend to often engineer dinner parties so that my darlin’ wife S is the one making the last course of the meal. But there are some occasions when either I’ve promised to take care of the whole meal or she’s simply too busy to make dessert. And on these occasions, I’d say my success rate has been about 70/30. Meaning that 70% of the time, whatever I try (which is, mind you, not too elaborate) actually turns out pretty tasty and not too visually unappealing. But that also means that 30% of the time, I have to chuck dessert and start fresh. Starting fresh though is usually difficult because by the time I discover that dessert #1 didn’t quite work out, there’s probably just an hour or two before friends start to arrive. Which means that whatever I throw together has to (1) come together pretty frakkin’ quickly and (2) also taste pretty frakkin’ great. My current favourite Hail Mary dessert is a chocolate pot de creme.
I don’t know anyone who doesn’t appreciate a good, rich, chocolate pot de creme. Which is excellent since it is also one of the easiest desserts in the world to make. This luscious, thick custardy chocolate dessert always elicits yums around the table. And when served in a somewhat chi-chi (and ideally small) container — and topped with some edible gold leaf (if, like S, you happen to have some lying around) — it looks pretty darned sophisticated. It certainly doesn’t look like something you threw together in half an hour (well, 30 minutes not including the baking and cooling time).
All you need for a good pot de creme is good quality cream, chocolate, milk, sugar and eggs. You also need an oven, ramekins or some other heat-proof containers, and a roasting pan or high-sided tray. Given the small number of ingredients, it’s pretty important to use the best quality chocolate and cream. Fortunately for me, S also has cartons of good French cream and Valrhona chocolate in our chiller.
I’ve also been experimenting a little with infusing the cream with tea. I’m quite partial to the combination of Earl Grey tea and chocolate. You can of course try flavouring your cream with other things if you like.I hope this works for you as well as it has for me.
Earl Grey Chocolate Pots de Creme
Makes 8 small portions
1½ cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons loose Earl Grey tea leaves
½ cup sugar
227g dark chocolate
6 egg yolks
In a medium saucepan, heat up the milk and cream to simmer. Add in the tea leaves, take the liquid off the heat, and leave to steep for 15-20 minutes.
While the tea-cream is steeping, chop up the chocolate into small pieces. If using a large bar, a bread knife is perfect for shaving the chocolate into small bits.
In a large metal bowl or large pitcher, beat the egg yolks. Set aside.
Preheat your oven to 120 Degrees Celsius. Place 8 small ramekins (or 6 larger ones) in a roasting pan or high-sided tray. Fill the pan with water so that the water is half-way up the sides of the ramekins.
Strain the cream and milk combination into another saucepan. Discard the tea leaves. Over medium-heat, bring the liquid to a simmer and add in the sugar. Using a whisk, slowly stir until the sugar is all melted. Bring to a slow boil and then either lower the heat or take the pan off the heat. Whisk in all the chocolate. Whisk until the liquid is smooth and all the chocolate is melted. Then, slowly, pour the chocolate mixture into the bowl/pitcher with the beaten egg yolks. Pour in a slow, steady stream. Whisk constantly. Again, you want the mixture to be smooth.
Divide this into the ramekins. Cover the whole tray with aluminum foil and pop into the oven. If baking 8 small ramekins, cook for 55-60 minutes (if 6 larger ones, 75 minutes). You want the finished creams to be set but jiggly when you gently shake the ramekins. When done, place the ramekins on another tray, let cool at room temperature for a few minutes and then pop into the fridge. Cool them down for at least 2 hours or so. You can keep these for a day or so but obviously they are best the same day.
I have taken these out of the oven as guests arrive. They’re actually perfect by the dessert time.