It’s so easy to make luxurious chocolate pots de crème: 5 ingredients and mere minutes of stovetop cooking are all you need to make this elegant French dessert!
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As much as I love baking projects with all my heart, it has always been a thrill to me to discover a recipe that is actually easy and tastes amazing—the kind of recipe that requires only a handful of ingredients, that you can pull together in minutes, and that has everyone around the table close their eyes in delight at first bite.
There are lots of easy desserts, but few check the boxes I listed above. One of my favorite easy-but-impressive recipes is panna cotta, a cream-based Italian custard you can whisk together in 10 minutes. With panna cotta, your refrigerator does most of the work, really, as the custard needs to be fully cooled to set and be ready to eat. Though this refrigeration period requires you to be patient, it also means panna cotta is a great make-ahead dessert!
It might come as no surprise, then, that my other easy-but-impressive dessert darling is another custard—this one French and irresistibly chocolatey. Chocolate pots de crème not only have an elegant name—I’m a native French speaker and I still love how the phrase pots de crème rolls off my tongue!—but also yes, they’re easy to make. A cross between a custard and a pudding, chocolate pots de crème have a thicker but silkier texture than a chocolate mousse. A spoonful coats your mouth with a rich hit of chocolate, and that amazing flavor doesn’t leave you until long after you reach the bottom of your cup.
Growing up, I loved grocery store chocolate puddings—maybe even more so because my mom would relent and buy them only once or twice a year—and there was a brand that made dark chocolate ones. The color of the pudding was so deep it was almost black. It tasted so sophisticated to me!
The next time I encountered something that I called “chocolate pudding” was when I travelled to France, where the refrigerated section of grocery stores is stacked full of all things creamy and sold in small cups: yogurts, fresh cheese, mousses, custards, and, of course, chocolate puddings, which I quickly discovered were called pots de crème in France. Tasting one blew up my nostalgic chocolate pudding memories and replaced them with a new obsession: recreating this amazing dessert at home.
You only need 5 ingredients to make this classic French recipe: dark chocolate, sugar, egg yolks, heavy cream, and milk. You can add a splash of vanilla extract, if you want, but that’s optional.
A note about the chocolate you should use: To make dark chocolate pots de crème, you should use the best-quality dark chocolate you can afford. The better the chocolate you use, the better the pots de crème will be. I recommend using a chocolate made with 70% cocoa, because these provide the strongest chocolate hit while retaining the creaminess necessary for this dessert. Pick a dark chocolate you enjoy eating on its own. If the chocolate is good when you let it melt on your tongue, it’s going to produce an outstanding dessert.
Just like custards do, some chocolate pots de crème recipes require baking in a waterbath. I’ve always found this process fussy, not to mention a challenging agility test. I’ve never managed to transfer a water-filled baking dish dotted with tiny dessert cups without making a mess. Either the water splashes into the cups, or it spills into the oven.
So, for me and for all the clumsy cooks out there, I have good news: my chocolate pots de crème fully come together on the stovetop. This means they’re faster to make, too. Baking pots de crème usually require 30 minutes, and you do not save on the refrigeration time.
To make my stovetop chocolate pots de crème, you simply bring the cream and milk to a simmer. While the cream and milk heat up, you whisk the egg yolks with the sugar in a separate bowl. When the cream and milk mixture simmers, you turn off the heat, and slowly whisk two ladlefuls of the hot cream and milk mixture into the egg yolks to temper them. This means that you will warm the egg yolks up very slowly and prevent them from turning grainy. You then pour the egg yolk mixture back into the saucepan while whisking, return it over low heat and keep whisking for two minutes.
By the end of those two minutes, the custard will be ever-so-slightly thickened, so here’s how to tell it’s done: dip a spoon into the custard, then trace a line with your finger over the back of the spoon. If the indentation remains, it means the custard is done.
All that’s left to do is to strain the custard over the chopped chocolate and whisk until smooth. Pour into cute little jars, refrigerate until set, and enjoy!
Whisking constantly when you cook an egg-based custard is crucial: it avoids the eggs from cooking and turning grainy (and wasting your custard) and it also prevents the custard from sticking to the bottom of the saucepan, which any milk- or cream-based mixture will unavoidably do if you leave them unattended.
While it might seem like a lot of muscle juice, in reality, you’ll only be whisking for 4 minutes overall. That’s not much for such an amazingly delicious result!
If you make them in small, half-cup containers, chocolate pots de crème need to be refrigerated for 3 hours at the very least before they’re fully set and ready to eat. Before that, the pots de crème mixture will still be warm and liquidy and the texture will not have time to reach its full silky potential.
Ideally, I recommend refrigerating chocolate for half a waking day before serving, or 6 hours. This means you could make the pots de crème early in the morning and serve them for dinner that night.
But since chocolate pots de crème are the perfect make-ahead dessert, you should take advantage of that and make them the day before, or up to 4 days in advance. This also means you can make a batch of pots de crème for yourself and enjoy them for days to come!
If you prepare the pots de crème in advance, make sure to hold the garnishes (whipped cream and shaved chocolate) until service.
Even if you’ve never sampled pots de crème in France, I’m sure you’ll fall head over heels in love with this homemade version of the classic French dessert—and say good bye to good old chocolate pudding recipes! I often say chocolate pots de crème are the “little black dresses” of the dessert world: if you’ve got this recipe up your sleeve, you’ll always be ready to treat any and every guest to a memorable sweet ending.
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