This is my favorite way to eat chocolate in a creamy state. Chocolate crème brûlée is more about the cream. Chocolate pudding has cornstarch as a thickener, which dulls the chocolate flavor and yields a comfort-food texture. Chocolate panna cotta, with its high proportion of milk, is thinner in texture and feels like diet food compared to this. Read more about all these creamy concoctions in our tip about creamy desserts.
Chocolate pots de crème present the perfect balance of cream, milk, egg yolks and chocolate. These are elegant, creamy, smooth – and tiny, because you don’t need much and they pack a wallop of flavor if the right chocolate is used. This recipe has a good amount of chocolate and the taste and texture of the finished dish depends on your choice of this ingredient. I used Valrhona Extra Bitter 61% and love the results. Follow the cacao range suggested in the recipe.
The French, with their intense attention to detail, have pots de crème cups specifically designed to help make and serve this dessert. They are simply ceramic ramekins – often more of an elegant, rounded pot shape – with their own lids. Covering the mixture while baking helps bake them gently and evenly and the pots make wonderful serving containers as well. You can use ¼-cup ramekins; simply follow the directions in the recipe.
Images: Peter Muka
- 7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, 60% to 65%, finely chopped, such as Valrhona Extra Bitter (61%)
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- ¼ teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional)
- Pinch salt
- 6 large egg yolks
- Position rack in center of oven. Preheat oven to 325°F. Arrange 6 pots de crème cups or other small 4-ounce ramekins in a roasting pan.
- Place the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl.
- Heat the cream, milk, sugar, instant espresso (if using) and salt in a saucepan just until it comes to a boil. Whisk to ensure that sugar has dissolved. Pour over the chocolate and stir to combine. Let sit for five minutes, then gently whisk until chocolate has dissolved and mixture is smooth.
- Meanwhile whisk egg yolks in a heatproof bowl and drizzle a small amount of the warm liquid mixture over yolks to temper them, then whisk in the remaining liquid. Strain through a fine meshed strainer into a large measuring cup to help you neatly pour the custard into the ramekins/cups, dividing equally. Add enough very hot tap water to come halfway up the sides of the cups. Cover the pots de crème cups (they come with covers) or cover the entire roasting pan with plastic wrap. (Yes, plastic wrap! Trust me. It works).
- Bake for about 25 to 30 minutes or until the edges are set and the centers still wiggle gently if you jiggle the pots. You can insert the tip of a paring knife, and if it comes out clean, they are done, but this mars the surface of the pots de crème (see image above).
- Cool to room temperature. I prefer to eat these the day they are made, stored at room temperature until serving. The texture will be at its most delicate. They can be chilled overnight and served cold or at room temperature. Add a dollop of whipped cream if you like.
I made several versions of chocolate pots de crème before arriving at this one. Recipes with less chocolate just didn’t give me the oomph I was looking for. Other recipes are prepared on top of the stove, but the gentle heating of a water bath in a 325° oven gave the most reliable consistent results – and also happens to be the classic technique. Recipes at 350° sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t so the extra time at the lower temperature is well worth it. Some recipes used whole eggs either alone or in addition to yolks. For this recipe, the fatty, creamy quality that the yolks provide gave me what I was looking for. The balance of 50/50 heavy cream to milk puts this dessert smack dab in the middle of others: crème brûlée uses 100% cream while panna cotta uses 100% milk. The ratio in this recipe makes it creamy, but still allows the chocolate to be the star.
Speaking of chocolate, do not go over 65% cacao. The dessert will be too dense! Also, I much prefer these when freshly made, prior to any refrigeration. Before being chilled they are actually a bit delicate, while still being rich, rich, rich. After chilling they become dense. Luscious, but it changes the texture and experience completely and for some palates it becomes a bit too much. If you know you are going to make them ahead and chill them, try reducing the chocolate to 6 ounces.