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Of all the traditional foods served during the holidays, I think the desserts are my favorite. That might be influenced by the fact that I spent some of my career as a pastry chef and had the opportunity (and fun) to create many wonderful sweets and desserts for the holiday season.
Desserts just seem to go with the winter holidays. Their presence at the dinner table is historic (even though most people STILL don’t know what Figgy Pudding really is). One thing is for certain: we will enjoy them.
Another thing I like so much about dessert this time of the year is that we come back to flavors that seem to get overlooked or just plain forgotten during the other 10 months of the year.
For example, if I asked a bunch of people to pick the most likely month you’d find gingerbread ANYTHING or a chocolate mint dessert on a menu, the majority of people would probably guess December, just as they would guess November for pumpkin.
Certain types of desserts are also more common during December, such as roulades (the jelly roll type), steamed puddings (Hint: The famous Figgy Pudding falls into this category.), custards, custard pies, real puddings, and of course, the ever-present fruit cake.
One of my favorite desserts, Pots du Crème, falls into one of these categories.
What the heck is Pots du Crème?
Also known as Petite Pots, Pots du Creme translates from French to “pot of cream.” The recipe is a custard, of any flavor, usually baked in a small earthenware crock or ramekin. The small, decorative pots are almost as famous as the dessert, and many people collect them. They’re usually about 3 ounces in size (about a third of a cup) and have small lids. Some have tiny handles, but that isn’t essential to their authenticity.
The size of the pot is kind of important because the classic recipe uses just enough protein to make a soft, tender custard. Too many eggs (or yolks), and you get a rubbery, tough custard. Too few, and you don’t get a custard at all. Like Goldilocks, somewhere in the middle is just right.
The traditional Pots du Creme flavor was vanilla, but you can find recipes for many flavors, including chocolate, caramel, pumpkin and coffee. You can also find versions of this classic dessert made untraditionally using a mousse (lightened with whipped cream) as well as versions using soy milk.
My holiday Pots du Crème is Chocolate Candy Cane (which, of course, makes it fall into one of the classic ingredient pairings of chocolate and mint). It’s easy, delicious, and makes approximately 8 – ½ cup pots.
1 Quart Heavy Cream
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
8 Egg Yolks
½ Cup Granulated Sugar
¼ Cup Crushed Candy Canes (Mint Flavored)
5 Ounces Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
For Garnishing: 1 Cup Sweetened Whipped Cream
½ Cup Crushed Candy Cane
- Pre-heat oven to 300 F.
- Set all of your small pots (ramekins) on a sheet pan with a lid or in a shallow casserole dish.
- Heat the cream with the crushed candy canes until scalded. Stop before it simmers.
- Add chopped chocolate to hot cream mixture, and stir until melted.
- Whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until thick.
- Ladle cream mixture into egg mixture gradually, whisking constantly to prevent eggs from cooking.
- Pour chocolate mixture through a fine strainer and into a bowl to ensure it is smooth.
- Carefully ladle or pour chocolate cream mixture into each ramekin, leaving about ½ inch of space.
- Fill the casserole dish with enough water to cover the bottom half of the ramekins. This will allow the Pots du Crème to cook slowly and evenly.
- Cover the entire pan with foil and carefully place it in the oven.
- Bake for approximately 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
- To check for doneness, open a corner of the foil, and gently shake the pan. If the custard ripples when shaken, it is not ready. The custard should be done when the top surface moves like Jell-O that has set.
- Once they are fully cooked, remove the pots from the oven and from the casserole dish. Place them on a separate tray and cover the surface with plastic film.
- Once the pots are fully chilled, top each portion with a dollop of sweetened whipped cream and a decorative sprinkling of crushed candy cane. You may use a tiny candy cane instead if you find a size suitable for individual portions.