When even the thermometers are looking for a jacket, you know it’s cold. Here, in fair North Carolina, we’re looking at a low of 13 in a couple of nights, but that’s downright balmy compared to what the folks in the plains are dealing with right now. So, there’s nothing to do but count my blessings and make something hot. Not temperature hot, mind you, although that’s not a bad idea, but heat hot. I’m talking capsaicin, people–the stuff that brings the heat to chiles. As a nod to Mexico, where chocolate was first served as an ingredient in a really spicy drink, I like to add some heat to my chocolate dishes.
You should try it–I think it will make you Very Happy. Add a pinch of cayenne to almost anything chocolate–cakes, cookies, brownies, hot chocolate–to bring just a bit of background heat to intensify the chocolate. The heat should come on after you’ve swallowed, so restraint is the key. If your lips start burning before you’ve bitten down, you’ve gone overboard. So, easy does it, sailor.
Here is a lovely chocolate pots de creme recipe that I modified for use at one of the restaurants I worked in. While many pots de creme recipes are made to be baked in a water bath, this little delight is done on the stove top and thickens in the fridge. This recipe can be a bit tricky, what with all the caramelizing and tempering and what not, but it is truly one of the best chocolate things I have ever put in my face. Plus, there’s enough heat to keep your tummy warm on a cold evening. Look, watch me make it first; you’ll see that, while there’s a lot going on, it’s not too hard to make yourself!
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 cup half and half
- 2 arbol chilis, , split and seeded (or other small, hot-ish dried chiles)
- heavy pinch of salt
- cayenne pepper, , to taste 1/4-1/2 teaspoon
- 6 large egg yolks
- 1 cup sugar, , taken to medium-dark caramel (you don't have to caramelize the sugar, but the flavor will be much deeper and more complex if you do)
- 6 oz . good quality semi-sweet chocolate, , cut into small pieces, or good quality chocolate chips
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Put the chocolate in a medium bowl. Set aside.
- In a pot that is much larger than you think you need, bring the sugar to a boil with a little bit of water.
- Cover the pot and let the steam wash the sugar crystals off the sides of the pan.
- Over medium heat, let the sugar cook until it starts to change colors. Gently swirl the pan once the sugar starts to turn. As it turns honey-colored, you can stir with heat resistant spatula or a wooden spoon.
- Once the sugar is the color of maple syrup (using a white silicone spatula makes it easy to tell), stand back and pour in the cream and half and half. There will be a lot of sputtering and vigorous boiling, and the caramel may get all hard if your cream is very cold. Say, "Oh, settle down," and stir over medium-low heat until the caramel is nice and smooth.
- Add a judicious amount of salt, dried chiles and cayenne pepper. Don't worry, you can add more later if you need to. Let this mixture steep for about half an hour.
- Whir the still warm mixture in a blender, then strain through a fine mesh strainer back into the pot.
- Whisk yolks in a bowl. Reheat the strained caramel mixture, and temper into the yolks.
- Heat this mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture has thickened slightly. Don't let it boil.
- Strain this mixture into the bowl of chocolate.
- Add the vanilla, and whisk until smooth.
- Taste. At this point, you can add a pinch more of cinnamon, salt and/or cayenne if it needs it. Whisk well to combine.
- Pour into wee cups--demitasse cups are nice--this stuff is really rich, so 2-3 oz. should be plenty. You can eat this warm, but it is really wonderful chilled, as well.
This pudding is soft-set, so don't expect it to be as firm as, say, flan. It should be about the consistency of, and I'm sorry for this comparison, Snack Pack Pudding.
We used to serve this with Mexican wedding cookies. Here’s the secret to making yours The Best: you know how you’re supposed to roll them in powdered sugar? Add a pinch each of salt and cinnamon to the sugar and whisk it all together. You won’t believe the difference!
You can make pots de creme all sorts of ways. Here’s a basic pots de creme recipe with ideas for variation.