As far as desserts go, I find pots de crème simply marvelous. Subtle, smooth, and almost filled with sex appeal, they are the simple, yet stunning and elegant little black dress of desserts. If you’ve never had pots de crème, trust me: one taste and you will completely understand why I wax poetic.
At first glance, pots de crème (pronounced “poh de krehm”) may appear daunting – but honestly, Martha Stewart and her antique ramekins and bain-marie (that’s a water bath) be damned, pots de crème are amazingly easy to make. You can bake these charming little custards up and stash them into your fridge a day before your dinner soiree.
Baked Sunday Mornings is breaking in the New Year with Malted Milk Chocolate Pots de Crème, from Baked Elements. Everything about the name of this recipe sings to me, except for one word: MALTED.
My passion for these pots de crème is counter-balanced by a somewhat persnickety disgust for malt. Yep. I’ve said it before and this occasion prompts me to say it again: I really dislike malt. I’m one of those folks who expects a milkshake when he orders a milkshake, not a yucky malt. I prefer my dairy concoction to taste like chocolate, or vanilla, or strawberry – unsullied by that nasty malt aftertaste. While it’s traditionally characterized as a nutty flavor, my taste buds just do not register it as such. It’s difficult to describe. As a child, I never acquired a taste for malt, and it has carried over into my adult years as well. While my friends chomped down on Whoppers malted milk balls, I glared at them askance while savoring my bars of pure, unadulterated chocolate, trying to figure out what the rage was all about.
My commitment to baking through Baked’s books with the Baked Sunday Mornings crew is a solid one, however, and as malt reared its ugly head in my direction this weekend, I needed to stay up to the challenge. As much as I hesitated for a slight moment as I measured out and dangled the malted milk powder over the heavy cream in the saucepan, I had to surrender and just do it. The malt swiftly plunged into the cream and there was nothing I could do about it.
Pots de crème typically start with whole milk and/or cream being gently boiled on the stove before being briskly whisked into several egg yolks. In this recipe, malt powder is stirred into a whole glorious 2-1/4 cups of heavy cream and heated to a slight boil. I’m sure this is entirely me, but I was not reassured by the aroma of the malt powder being boiled in the cream (you will get my precise description of it below… keep reading for now). This warm mixture is then added to good-quality milk chocolate. As milk chocolate is somewhat the star of this dessert, Baked suggests using a fine-quality chocolate. I used Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate Chips, but if you want to use fancier, go right ahead! The warm, malted cream melts the chocolate, and all is whisked into a nice, subtly-chocolaty homogenous mixture.
Now, for some strange reason, separating eggs always makes people want to turn and run, screaming, out of the kitchen – or, at the very least, in search of a fancy egg-separating gadget to help them along. I’m reminded of one of my favorite classic films, Woman of the Year, where Katharine Hepburn was trying to make waffles for Spencer Tracy for breakfast. She read “separate three eggs” and ended up cracking 3 eggs, separately, onto 3 separate plates! What her character didn’t quite understand was that, when a recipe says to “separate eggs”, you want to carefully remove the yolks from the white. Honestly, the very best tool is your hands. Get your hands nice and soapy and washed up first. Take your egg, crack it, and drain it into your other hand, extended with an open palm over a bowl to catch the whites as they slither through your fingers. It sounds rather gross, but doing it this way, you will actually feel when the white has completely separated from the yolk. You just know. Really!
For the pots de crème, you will only need the yolks, so save all of your whites for making an angel food cake. In most of my baking, I usually remove the gross chalazae – or, that white, squiggly part of the egg which suspends the yolk in the white – and discard it. While this is typically optional (and rather picky of me, I know), when making a pudding or custard recipe like a pot de crème, I almost feel it’s an essential step. The last thing you want is a chewy, disgusting piece of egg in your silky-smooth pudding. Yuck! The chalazae typically clings to the yolks; you can’t miss it. Take two fingers and gently pinch it away from the yolks and toss it out. Ick! Wash your hands again when finished with your egg-separating.
Combine the 5 egg yolks with sugar and fleur de sel, then steadily pour in the warm chocolate mixture, whisking constantly so that you do not scramble your eggs. Strain this mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a tall pouring vessel or pitcher to remove any cooked egg bits and to ensure the best smooth texture for your pots de crème (Baked mentions this is an optional step – I would strongly advise doing it!). Pour the custard evenly among 6 to 8 4-ounce ramekins set inside a roasting pan.
Remember that fancy word for ‘water-bath’ I mentioned earlier? You’re about to create your own bain-marie for your pots de crème, and it’s a truly trustworthy technique I’ve employed several times – both with pots de crème, and with cheesecakes to prevent large cracks across the surface. The water surrounding the custards gently heats and regulates temperature during baking, and prevents them from baking almost too fast. Carefully pour hot water into the pan until it reaches nearly halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Set the roasting pan in a 325-degree oven and bake the custards for about 30 minutes, until the edges seem set and the middles are slightly jiggly. Remove from the water bath, cool, then chill in the fridge for 3 hours or overnight. Voila! Elegant dessert done!
A smattering of lightly-chopped malted milk balls is all that remained to dress up these pots de crème. I think the most blissful moment in eating a pot de crème, almost like eating a crème brulee, is the first spoonful. Unlike a crème brulee, however, your spoon sinks into the thin, almost spongy top layer of custard (rather than cracking through caramelized sugar) into the dense, thick, silky deliciousness below. I was pleased to note that my malted milk chocolate pots de crème had baked nearly perfectly – slightly thicker on the sides and thinner in the centers. Your aim is to have a uniform, thick custard texture throughout, but if you find that the centers puddle a bit, no worries.
So – how did I feel about the malted milk chocolate pots de crème, you ask? Well, you can read on for my response… after this (surprise!) video in which I elaborate:
I was pleasantly surprised. I didn’t dislike them, but I wasn’t head over heels in love with them either. The malt is sharp and pungent, and almost what might contribute to what I felt was an overwhelmingly salty taste. Despite this, it was a fair complement to the milk chocolate. My immediate taste picked up the malt, followed by a warmer, almost ‘hot chocolate’ flavor as I dug deeper into the pot de crème. The crushed malted milk balls add a nice, crunchy contrast to the smoothness of the custard, though I found myself wincing when I chomped into an especially large piece. It would appear that – while I appreciated this recipe in most regards – it did not alleviate my malt distaste too much.
Were I to make these again, I might opt for deeper chocolate flavor by taking Baked’s alternative suggestion to add half milk chocolate, half dark chocolate. I might also decrease the fleur de sel by a 1/2-teaspoon, though my suspicion is that the saltiness is attributed primarily to the malt. Or – I may just stick to my favorite chocolate pots de crème recipe from Martha Stewart (sans malt, of course)…
Malt lovers rejoice! This is a great go-to dessert recipe for you. Satisfy your craving by directing your browser to this link: Malted Milk Chocolate Pots de Crème, and please check out how my other baking friends fared! Until next time, friends…
NEXT WEEK ~ Bananas Foster Fritters (Yes, I do some magical work with frying in hot oil. This should be interesting…)