An elegant, relatively easy and make ahead dessert that always makes guests happy are these simple pots de crÃ¨me. Essentially a chocolate custard, these are smooth, rich and very chocolatey. My sister gave me a 5 kilo block of chocolate last Christmas and I had to come up with several ways to help use it all up (only half of it is gone by now, despite nearly 10 uses so farâ€¦)! I made them during the holidays but never got around to writing up a post and decided to save it for Valentineâ€™s. The recipe is from this terrific cookbook, Bouchon, the more informal restaurant of Thomas Keller of The French Laundry fame. I have cooked more recipes from this book than his other beautiful cookbook, The French Laundry Cookbook. Served with some incredibly ripe and juicy red strawberries on a silver tray, dotted with fresh mint leaves and dusted with generous amounts of powdered sugar, this was a sweet way to finish off a huge holiday meal!
To make, combine 2.5 cups of heavy cream, 2/3 cup milk and 5 tablespoons of sugar in a large saucepan and add the seeds of a nice plump vanilla bean and the pod itself. Simmer just enough to dissolve the sugar, turn off the heat and let this all hang out for an hour. Remove the vanilla pod and re-heat the cream mixture until warm. In another bowl, whisk 6 large egg yolks (I used 7 local ones) with Â¼ cup sugar until well-mixed. Add some of the warmed milk while whisking the eggs vigorously and add the egg mixture back to the remaining milk and whisk constantly to blend it all together. This is an excellent vanilla custard mixture up to this point; but if you want the chocolate version, chop up about 4-5 ounces of good quality dark chocolate and add to the warm milk until fully dissolved. Strain mixture through a fine sieve and refrigerate for a day, covered. I skipped that last step of refrigeration overnight because I read the recipe too late and went directly on to the next step after the mixture cooled for 1-2 hours in the fridge. Next, place 8 small ramekins or pots de crÃ¨me molds (these have covers) in a baking pan. Fill the ramekins or molds about 2/3 full with mixture (after stirring) and either cover with ceramic lids or with plastic wrap. Fill the baking pan with warm water about Â½ way up the side of the ramekins. Place in oven, on top of a flat baking pan (two pans to insulate the bottoms of the custards) and bake at 300 degrees F for 40-45 minutes until done. Cool on a wire rack and then refrigerate for at least 8 hours. Serve cold. Utterly delicious and worth the effort, if you ask me!