Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Pudding on a Show

As I spend the days by myself in the cabin this week, my routine boils down to three simple tasks:

1. Keep the wood stove stoked (and with this chill, damp weather, I don't need to be reminded!).

2. Read and write to my heart's content.

3. Cook to my hostess's heart's content.

Each afternoon, my Granola Girl comes home to fragrant smells wafting from the kitchen, and after we enjoy a long walk with the dog, we come back to tuck into a hearty meal.

And most evenings, we've enjoyed a fitting dessert, too. But tonight's dessert tops them all.

A few months back, my Fabulous Aunt had sent me some recipes copied from Chocolatier magazine (her favorite). Most looked too rich, even for my blood, but the recipes for the pots de creme variations caught my eye.

I've never had pots de creme before, but the simplicity of chocolate, cream, sugar, and egg yolks in a velvety rich cross between pudding and mousse had a certain appeal. And when I looked over the variations and decided on one of my own, I knew I had to test the recipe on a willing friend.

So after dinner, I pulled out ingredients and heated the half-and-half before whisking in sugar and unsweetened chocolate. I whisked the egg yolks separately, adding in the remaining sugar as well as vanilla and a healthy sprinkling of cinnamon. Then, I combined the two mixtures, poured it all into a greased dish, and topped it with chopped hazelnuts, more cinnamon, and the broken shards of a Scharffen Berger bittersweet chocolate bar.

Bake. Cool.

Wait. Drool.

An hour or so later, dessert was ready -- and so were we, for that rich chocolate confection turned out thick but fluffy, substantial but not too heavy, and flavorful but not too sweet.

In short, sublime.

It's obviously not a dessert for every day, but for very special occasions -- or just to warm your heart and belly on a chilly night -- it's worth the indulgence.

And it's worth sharing with a friend.

Dark Chocolate-Cinnamon Pots de Creme

Based on one of the many pots de creme recipes from Chocolatier magazine, issue unknown (though I suspect it's been in the last year or two). Even without the topping, this would be extraordinary.

1 c half and half
4 T evaporated cane juice crystals or granulated sugar, divided
4 oz unsweetened chocolate, finely chopped
3 large egg yolks
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanilla extract

Topping:
2 T chopped hazelnuts, toasted
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 oz bittersweet chocolate, chopped (OPTIONAL)

Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease 4 ramekins, set in a baking pan, and set aside.

Heat half and half in medium saucepan to simmer. Stir in 2 T sugar until dissolved. Whisk in chopped chocolate until smooth. Remove from heat and set aside.

In medium bowl, whisk egg yolks with remaining 2 T sugar and cinnamon until blended. Gradually whisk in about 1/3 of the chocolate mixture, then whisk in remaining chocolate and vanilla. Pour into ramekins.

Combine topping ingredients and sprinkle over top of chocolate.

Cover ramekins loosely with foil. Pour hot water into the baking pan so that it comes halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake 30-40 minutes, until the custards jiggle slightly.

Remove ramekins from water bath and cool for 30 minutes. Eat warm! or refrigerate for at least 3 hours before serving (as if anyone in their right minds would pass up warm pudding, please!).

Serves 4

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