Sometimes, as a dinner host or hostess, you just want to kick back, relax, serve an easy make-ahead dessert that looks a lot harder than it is, and make your guest uncomfortable when they’re not sure how to pronounce the dessert’s name. Ya feel me? I mean, is that so unusual?
Okay, maybe other people don’t share my hosting philosophy, but I do believe everyone should share this dessert. These pots de crème are basically glorified baked puddings, but the fancy French name, miniature serving size, and garnishing possibilities make them seem way more gourmet than they actually are. And, of course, it helps if you serve them on a sexy mirrored tray. 1970’s glam realness here.
I mentioned that these are similar to a pudding, but they have a few key differences from the typical stovetop whisk-and-serve pudding job. Puddings are thickened with cornstarch, while pots de crème get their thick, dreamy texture from eggs—either yolks, or in this case, a mix of whole eggs and yolks. I also like baking mine in a water bath—some people don’t bake their pots de crème at all, but I love the luscious texture that comes from a long, slow simmer in a water bath. After they’ve baked and cooled, they have a wonderfully silky texture that’s lighter and cleaner than that of many cornstarch puddings.
This particular recipe is heavy on the chocolate (of course!) but I also added a generous dose of chai spices. I infused the milk with cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, and a bit of ginger, to give it a warm, comforting flavor. I love these flavors all the time, but it seemed especially appropriate for this in-between season we’re muddling through right now. These little chocolate cups taste homey and comforting, like the best fall dishes, but because they’re served chilled, they’re still light and refreshing in warmer weather.
I finished mine with a simple dollop of softly whipped cream and some grated cinnamon. I’m not the boss of you, so I won’t say the whipped cream is mandatory, but I will say that it makes the dessert at least 23% better. No pot de crème should have to leave the house naked, so add that cream! If you’re not feeling the cinnamon, top it with a few shakes of cocoa or a little grated chocolate.
I also served them with these gorgeous marbled white and dark chocolate spoons. Edible utensils?! I have seen the future, and it is delicious. Now get out of my way while I figure out where to buy chocolate plates, napkins, and drinking cups! I got mine from a local cake/candy supply store, but fortunately intrepid reader Aton found them for sale online, and you can order them here!
Oh, and if you think I’m a giant tease for not telling you how to pronounce pot de crème, apparently there’s a whole Food 52 thread devoted to the subject. It’s full of gems like “The r is made with that back-of-the-throat noise that French is notorious for.” So if you enjoy seeing people drastically overexplaining things, there’s your jam. As for the rest of us, let’s just eat some dang pots de crème, alright?
Chocolate Chai Pots de Creme
- 2 cups milk
- 3 cinnamon sticks coarsely chopped
- 8 green cardamom pods coarsely crushed
- 1/2 tsp ground ginger
- 8 oz semi-sweet chocolate finely chopped
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 egg
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- pinch salt
- whipped cream cinnamon, and/or chocolate shavings to garnish
Place the milk, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, and ground ginger in a medium saucepan. Bring the milk to a simmer, so that bubbles just start to appear along the edges, but it does not come to a full boil. Once the milk is simmering, remove the pan from the heat, cover it with a lid, and let it sit for 30 minutes to infuse the milk with flavor.
While you wait for the milk to infuse, place the semi-sweet chocolate in a large bowl, and pour the cream into a small saucepan. Bring the cream to a simmer over medium heat, then pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Let it sit for a minute, then gently whisk the cream and chocolate together until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is silky and smooth. Set aside for a moment. Preheat the oven to 300 F.
After 30 minutes, taste the infused milk mixture, and if the flavor isn't as strong as you'd like, continue to let it sit for another 5-10 minutes, until you're satisfied with the taste. When the milk is finished infusing, strain out the cinnamon stick and cardamom pods, and place the saucepan of milk back onto a medium burner until it simmers.
Combine the egg, yolks, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl, and whisk gently to combine. When the milk comes back to a simmer, whisk the eggs while you slowly pour in about half of the hot milk mixture, whisking constantly so the eggs heat up but don’t cook during the process. When half of the milk has been added, start whisking the milk in the saucepan while you pour the egg mixture back into the pan.
When the milk-egg mixture is combined, pour it into the chocolate bowl, and whisk until everything is well-mixed and smooth. Divide the mixture between 8 1/2-cup ramekins or cups. Arrange them in a 9x-13-inch cake pan, and fill the pan with hot water so that it comes halfway up the sides of the cups. Cover the top of the pan with foil, then poke a hole in each end to let steam escape.
Bake the pots de crème for 35-40 minutes. They're done when you tap a cup and they just barely jiggle in the center. Remove them from the heat, let them cool in the water bath for 10 minutes, then take them out of the water and let them cool to room temperature. Refrigerate the pots de crème until chilled, and top them with whipped cream, cinnamon, and/or chocolate shavings to serve. They can be kept, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to a week in the refrigerator.
If you want to skip the infusion step, or if you can't find cardamom pods, you can try using ground spices instead: add 1 tsp ground cardamom, 1 tsp ground cinnamon, and 1/2 tsp ground ginger to the milk as it heats. I have tried it both ways, and found that I prefer the smoother texture of the infused version, but both methods have a great flavor.