Okay, has this ever happened to you? You open the refrigerator, take a look inside and see a pint of heavy cream that will be out of date in a few days, and you have no idea how you’re going to use it. Yeah, us, too. One of the hazards of scratchin’, we guess. So, what did you do?
We just thought, “what uses a lot of cream? Well, pots de crème, of course.” With a name that literally means pots of cream, this dessert is bound to use a whole lot of cream, and, if there’s some left over, we can always make up a small batch of home-scratched sour cream or crème fraîche, right? That we can use pretty much anywhere.
For the recipe, we hit the ‘net and found a recipe that came from Bouchon, by Thomas Keller, figuring that, as with every other recipe of his we’ve tried, it would be a winner. We did divide the recipe in half, so, for those people who use a scale, we’ve provided the measurements by weight as well as by volume.
This dessert is basically cream, chocolate, and eggs, so use the best of each. We used organic heavy cream to avoid carageenan (seaweed — read those labels!). For the chocolate, we used Callabaut dark chocolate (70% cacao), and, as always, our eggs came from free range hens that forage on grass and bugs. If you don’t have a vanilla bean, feel free to substitute 1/2 tsp of 100% pure vanilla extract (not imitation).
Procedure in detail:
It might seem as though there are a bunch of steps to making this dessert, and there are, but they’re all easy, so let’s just take it a step at a time and we’ll get it done.
Warm cream. Measure the cream, milk, and sugar into a medium saucepan. With a scale, this is quick and easy. Place the pan on the scale, press tare, add 300 grams of cream. Press tare, add the 80 grams of milk. Tare, add 30 grams of sugar. Done. Now split the piece of vanilla bean in half, scrape out the insides, and add it all to the mixture. Place the pan over medium-low heat and warm, stirring often, until it feels hot to the touch, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Steep. Remove the cream mixture from the heat, cover, and let everything steep for about an hour. This will help bring out a lot of vanilla flavor, and, even though we’re making chocolate pots de crème, a good amount of vanilla flavor is essential.
Strain. Once steeped, strain the mixture into another bowl or large measuring cup; we used a 2-cup measuring cup with a pour spout. This straining will remove the bits of vanilla bean that would ruin the creamy texture of the dessert. After straining, we washed out the saucepan to remove any large bits of vanilla and used it to reheat the cream mixture.
Reheat cream. Put the cream mixture back into the saucepan and heat on medium-low, stirring often, until it’s warm. It doesn’t have to be hot, just warm. We checked by tasting a spoonful. Yum.
Whisk yolks. While the cream is heating, place the sugar and egg yolks into a medium bowl and whisk together until smooth and pale yellow.
Temper yolks. Since the cream is just warm, this shouldn’t be a problem, but, just to be sure, start whisking the yolks with abandon while you slowly add the warm cream mixture. We often start by adding a tablespoon at a time. Once we’ve added four or five tablespoons of the warm liquid, we slowly drizzle in the remaining cream. After adding all the cream, return the mixture to the saucepan. No need to clean this time.
Heat custard. Again, place the mixture over medium-low heat and heat until quite warm. We measured the temperature and thought that 130°F would be about right. You don’t actually have to measure the temperature; just heat it until it seems very warm to the touch. Not hot enough to burn, but just very warm.
Melt chocolate. Place the chopped chocolate into a medium bowl and pour the mixture over it. Whisk everything together until the chocolate is completely melted and mixed in, about 5 minutes. It should look like a thick, rich hot chocolate. It tastes like it, too.
Strain. Once again, strain the mixture — to remove any lumps of chocolate — into a container with a pouring spout. You will have two cups of liquid.
Divide into custard cups. Pour about 4 ounces of liquid into each of four custard cups. Now, you may read on the internet that you should cover the custard cups with plastic wrap, and, ideally, you should cover the custard before baking, but, TRUST US when we say DO NOT use plastic wrap, unless you want to look in the oven, find the plastic melting, and then burn your fingers trying to remove semi-melted plastic. Again, TRUST US on this. If you have something else to cover the custards, use it, but not plastic wrap.
Preheat oven to 300°F. Place a rack in the center of the oven. At the same time, place a tea kettle of water on the stove and bring to a boil.
Make water bath. Set the custard cups into a baking pan. This will form your water bath, which will allow the custard to bake slowly, making for a smooth, creamy texture.
Bake. Set the pan with the custard cups on the oven rack, then pour the boiling water into the pan. This is a lot easier than filling a pan full of boiling water and trying to transfer it to the oven. Just be careful as you add the water; if you spill it on the oven window, well, you might be needing a new window. Bake in the water bath for 30 to 35 minutes or until the custard jiggles like Jello when you move the custard cup.
Cool. Remove the custard cups from the water bath and place on a cooling rack to cool. You can now empty the pan of hot water, too. Be careful.
Chill. Once the pots de crème are room temperature, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator to chill for at least 8 hours before serving.
These are good, but ours did not turn out as creamy as we’d hoped. Instead, the chocolate left just the slightest bit of graininess, mainly near the top of the custard (that part cooked faster, since it was uncovered), making us think that plain vanilla — omit the chocolate — would be better. We know that might be heresy to confirmed chocoholics, but we call them as we see them. Four stars.