Happy New Year! I hope everyone has been enjoying this holiday season and indulging in some delicious, sweet goodies! I’ve been traveling for the past two weeks and got home just in time for this Baked Sunday Mornings recipe. In truth, after a week in Israel and a few days in Paris, I am (*gasp*) sugared-out! Hard to believe, I know. However, I was really looking forward to making Malted Milk Chocolate Pots de Crème (pronounced po-de-CREM) from the Malt chapter of Baked Elements for two particular reasons: 1) I’ve never made pots de crème of any kind, and 2) I recently discovered non-diastatic malt powder, which is maltier than malted milk powder, and I’ve been wanting to experiment with it. So despite being exhausted (and a wee bit chubbier than I was two weeks ago), I decided to make some sweet little pots of chocolate love! Plus, I already miss Paris, and these French treats are keeping the magic going just a touch longer– a timely recipe, indeed. While I don’t generally aspire to bake in the classical French style (I usually prefer making heartier, American-style desserts), I have been very successful making crème brûlée in the past, and I am soooo glad I made these– they are heavenly!
This recipe comes together fairly easily—not too many ingredients, not too many steps. The main ingredients are milk chocolate (top quality is a must here), malt powder, egg yolks, and lots of heavy cream. The finished crème should be smooth and silky in texture, and very rich! It is probably something to be consumed in small quantities, especially given that I just gorged on reckless quantities of pastries during my vacay! Pots de crème are sophisticated and can be quite elegant, a great choice for a dinner party, romantic occasion, or any time you want a little something special.
As mentioned above, I used non-diastatic malt powder, which I learned about in a post on BAKED’s blog a few months ago. It’s not something you will likely find in your local grocery store, but well worth seeking out. The recipe calls for malted milk powder, which is very easy to find (e.g. Carnation brand), but the non-diastatic variety imparts a stronger malt flavor for those of us who enjoy that sort of thing. If you prefer a more subtle malt flavor, stick with the malted milk powder. Either way, I recommend checking out King Arthur Flour’s powders. They offer both the non-diastatic and milk varieties of malt powder, and I’ve had great results with both.
I always advocate for using the best-quality chocolate that you can afford for recipes where chocolate is a starring ingredient, and this is one of those recipes– It really does make a huge difference. I’m rather enamored with TCHO at the moment, a newer artisan brand from San Francisco, but I just brought back some yummy milk chocolate from Israel, which I decided to use on this occasion. The recipe suggests substituting half of the milk chocolate for dark chocolate as a variation, and normally I’m all for more chocolate flavor, but I decided to stick with the prescribed 4 ounces of milk chocolate, because I wanted to showcase this particular chocolate. Israel makes wonderful dairy products, and I especially love the chocolate made by a brand called Elite—melts in your mouth! It is affectionately called “cow chocolate” in Israel because the bars are imprinted with a big cow. (I don’t think it would be categorized as “fancy” chocolate, but it’s pretty damn good!) It’s possible to find it in the States at Israeli and Middle Eastern markets, though I’m lucky to have personally imported a small stash for baking. Incidentally, TCHO “SeriousMilk” 39% Chocolate Discs would work beautifully here because they have a lovely creamy/caramel/malt flavor.
Before you begin, place your ramekins in a roasting pan and set aside. If, like me, you don’t have a roasting pan, you can split the ramekins between two cake pans for baking. Although I just said these should be consumed in small quantities, I realized that I only have two small ramekins, so I had to use the four larger heart-shaped ones that I bought years ago for Valentine’s Day crème brûlée– perfect for sharing!
The first step in making custard for the pots de crème is heating the heavy cream and malt powder, then combining it with the chocolate; same technique as making ganache. My malt powder was extremely clumpy at first, but it dissolved gradually as I whisked by the time the mixture was ready. As it got hotter, the cream thickened slightly, resembling the frothed milk in your morning latte (no heart designs though, sorry).
When it just comes to a boil, remove from the heat and pour it over the chopped chocolate. Let it sit for about 30 seconds to melt the chocolate, then stir until the mixture is smooth. Make sure to stir thoroughly, especially if using chopped chocolate rather than chocolate discs, because you may have lots of tiny bits on the bottom of your bowl.
You will then combine the egg yolks, sugar, and fleur de sel (hand-harvested sea salt from France) and *slowly* pour the chocolate into the egg mixture. Adding the chocolate very gradually is crucial here because adding too much hot chocolate to cold eggs too quickly will result in a nice bowl of chocolaty scrambled eggs. Breakfast, anyone? (I used room-temperature eggs to minimize the temperature difference.)
The recipe suggests straining the custard through a fine-mesh sieve for optimal silkiness, which I would definitely recommend. Even though the custard pours through very easily, I noticed tiny bits of egg left in my sieve, so I’m glad I did this step. It’s not that it won’t taste good if you omit it, but the smoother texture resulting from the strained mixture is a divine party in your mouth—totally worth washing a couple of extra dishes!
You are now ready to pour the custard into the ramekins and bake. I recommend using a bowl with a pour spout, as it will prevent spills and ensure that you get every little bit of custard into the ramekins– your countertop will not enjoy it nearly as much as you will. It’s necessary to place the ramekins in a bain marie (water bath) by pouring hot water into the pan around them, so the pots de crème cook gently in the oven. (I am loving the French culinary lingo right now!) This is the same technique that one would use when making crème brûlée or other similar custards. Very important: Pour the water in *slowly* in order to avoid splashing it into your ramekins!
Similarly, place your pan(s) in the oven very carefully so the water doesn’t slosh around. The prescribed baking time is 20-30 minutes, and my larger ramekins baked in exactly 30 minutes. The two smaller ones were ever-so-slightly overdone– should’ve pulled them out a minute earlier, but not catastrophic by any means. They should be set around the edges and a little jiggly in the centers. Here again, it is imperative that you handle your pan(s) very carefully when removing from the oven, because you will burn the living bejeezus out of your hands (and possibly ruin your custards) if water splashes up.
Carefully pull the ramekins out of the pan right away, which is tricky because of that whole “burning” issue. I recommend grabbing them firmly on the top edge with a thick oven mitt, wiping the wet bottoms with a mitt in your other hand, and placing the ramekins on a cooling rack. Let me tell you, my heart was racing as I tried to pull out the heart-shaped ones; cute as they are, they are hard to grasp firmly. I’m not sure if I was more worried about burning myself or dropping and ruining the custards!!
Once they are out, cool the pots de crème for 10 minutes, then refrigerate them uncovered for at least 3 hours to firm up. *tick tock*
Though I very much enjoy malt flavor, I don’t care for malt ball candy, so I decided to omit the Whoppers garnish. Instead, I topped the pots de crème with simple milk chocolate beads, which I found to be very pretty.
Finally, the time for tasting arrived. Every time I’ve made baked custards, I’ve worried whether I over- or under-cooked them; this time was no exception. With great anticipation, I dipped a lucky spoon into one of the small ramekins and removed a bite of light-brown, creamy goodness…
There are only three words to describe the flavor and texture that I experienced: OH LÀ LÀ! (Yes, they really do say that in France.) I was blown away by the smooth, velvety feel in my mouth and the delicate flavor of the milky chocolate with its pleasing accent of malt. I was wondering if the custard would be chocolaty enough using only milk chocolate, and it was quite frankly… perfect. And the malt is not overpowering, yet definitely present. These pots de crème will not sock you in the mouth with deep, dark chocolate flavor, but they don’t need to… and I say that as a chocolate hound! After a few bites, I realized that they are, indeed, extremely rich; they are therefore ideal for sharing with someone that you like very, very much… (It’s not too early to think about Valentine’s Day desserts… I’m just sayin’.) Alternatively, I would make them in tiny ramekins… a great reason for a little post-holiday purchase, no??
Visit Baked Sunday Mornings for the Malted Milk Chocolate Pots de Crème recipe, and take a peek at my bakemates’ first go for 2013. I wish everyone a very Happy New Year, and I hope you’ll keep reading about my baking shenanigans in the months ahead. Stay tuned for upcoming blogs about my food adventures in Paris and Israel!
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2013.