A few weeks ago, two friends and I threw a low-key birthday dinner for a fourth lovely friend. Our birthday girl requested an indoor picnic, which seemed like about the most fun and easiest at-home birthday possible. When pressed about what she’d most like to have, she went for meats and cheeses, tasty spreads, a salad, and a chocolate-y dessert. Done. Since we were hosting at my house and I knew I’d be running from work on the night of the fête, I had to do my prepping the evening before. Given that there are at least four fancy grocery stores between my subway stop and apartment (Brooklyn!), this was not exactly a difficult task. Savory treats squared away, I went home to clean up a bit and print out a silly sign for the front door. And right before I went to bed, I made the best bang for your buck make ahead and wow your guests dessert I know: pots de creme.
Pot de creme translates, you might have guessed, as pot of creme. This is not a strictly accurate description, but it’s not all the way off, either. Cream is involved, along with semi sweet chocolate, egg yolks, and Grand Mariner. I think of this dessert as fancy pudding (though, truly, it’s simpler to make than any homemade pudding recipe I’ve ever seen). It’s rich, smooth, chocolatey, cut with the slightest alcohol kick, and all around delicious. And it tastes much more complicated and labor intensive than it actually is, bless it.
I got the recipe from my mother, who includes it in our Thanksgiving menu every year–dinner always ends with amazing chocolate stains on the table cloth, the work of my little cousins who turn their dishes upside down to get at every last tasty drop. She allows as how the origin of the recipe is “lost to the mists of time,” and in google-ing around to see if I could find a possible source, all I could find was that this seems to be the simplest iteration of pots de creme out there. There are basically three steps: cream is scalded (heated over high heat until small bubbles form on the side of the pan), all of the ingredients are whirled together in a blender, and the mixture is poured into the vessels of your choice. Super pretty champagne coupes, in this case–living with a cocktail fiend has many perks. A few hours in the fridge, and you have dessert. The end result is so deliciously rich that I think a generous covering of whipped cream is necessary, with a sprinkle of chocolate shavings on top if you’re feeling extra fancy.
Pots de creme is a make-ahead dream, and not only because you do in fact need to make it well ahead of time, but because the actual making of it is also a breeze. So, for example, if one is hosting a birthday dinner at the end of a long workday, one can shop and make regular dinner and print out a silly birthday sign the night before, and still have plenty of time to throw this dessert together. In fact, several times over the course of the evening before the party, Hal asked me, “so…when are you making this dessert?” The man knows me well enough to worry that a late start to a cooking project might mean a very very late bedtime. In this case, though, he needn’t have worried. From start to finish, this takes about ten minutes to put together. Even if you don’t have the blender lid on perfectly, and have to pause to clean warm chocolate off of your cookbook collection and walls. Ahem.
The night of the party, after we’d attacked our tasty snacks, I made a small batch of whipped cream (with my trusty immersion blender), dolloped it on top of each coupe, and added a quick sprinkle of chocolate. A bit more effort than slicing into a birthday cake, maybe, but not much. And though we didn’t end up with chocolate stains on the non-existent table cloth, all the coupes were gratifyingly cleaned out by the end of the night.
pots de creme
Makes six servings. This recipe doubles or triples incredibly easy–just be sure to process in batches rather than risk overfilling your blender. I say this from (yet another) messy chocolate covered experience. If you’ve got room in the fridge and enough cups, I’d say the sky’s the limit in terms of amount.
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups cream, scalded (heated over high heat until bubbles form around the edge of the pan)
2 egg yolks
3 tbs brandy or Grand Marnier
Combine all ingredients in blender and process on blend setting until smooth. Pour into six small cups (my mother’s original directions call for “sherbet or custard cups,” which just pleases my endlessly. I’ve used small juice glasses, coupes, and paper cups). Cover each cup with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 3 hours; overnight if possible. Serve topped with sweetened whipped cream and chocolate shavings.