Sunday, October 10, 2010

The universal symbol

After our daughter was born, we moved down from the hipster Hollywood Hills to very suburban Sherman Oaks.  One of the upsides (aside from the flat yard and sidewalks), was having a great little French bistro around the corner, as opposed to a deadly rattlesnake-infested canyon.   We quickly grew addicted to putting the kids to bed, leaving my mom with the TV remote and the cat on the couch, and walking to dinner.    The owner would be outside in suspenders and shirtsleeves, arguing in French with his wife (who was smoking like a chimney).   The place would be almost empty, as we inevitably arrived just before closing time.   There would be a great show of selecting a table from amongst the many available.    Bread, fresh butter, and yummy little containers of hummus and bright red eggplant spread appeared.   Then there would further be a show of presenting us with menus, although by the second or third visit this was a joke.

Him:  Am I getting the chicken, and you're getting the peppercorn steak?
Me:  No, I think it's my turn for the chicken.  But I kinda feel like steak.
Him:  Mmm.  I forgot about the lamb chops with that mustard sauce.
Me:  Maybe I should get the onion soup?
Our Waiter*:  Yes?
Us:  Two peppercorn steaks.  With fries.

After polishing off every last drop of sauce, we'd be swirling the last of the wine in our glasses when our waiter materialized at the table.

Our Waiter:  Will you be having any dessert tonight?** 
Us:  Yes, I believe we will.

My husband wordlessly gives him...

...the Universal Symbol for Chocolate Pot de Creme.

Our Waiter:  Very good.  I'll bring it right out.  
We toast each other, again without saying a thing, and smile.

Which is, of course...the Universal Symbol for Life is Good.

Chocolate Pot de Creme with Kahlua Whipped Cream
A mash up of recipes from two of my favorite sweet treat books, Ready for Dessert and Tartine

8 oz. semi sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 tsp. instant espresso power
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 c. heavy cream
3/4 c. half and half
3 Tbs. sugar
pinch of salt
8 large egg yolks

Preheat oven to 350.   You will need 8 ramekins that each hold 3/4 c of liquid.  Choose a baking dish or roasting pan that can hold all the ramekins without touching, and deep enough to hold water that will reach 3/4s of the way up the sides of the ramekins once they are added.  In fact, go ahead and put them in, add water, and test it out.   Then, take out the custard cups and put the pan into the oven while it is heating.

Melt the chocolate by placing it in a stainless steel bowl fitted over a pot of simmering water.   Heat, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate melts and is nice and smooth.   Remove it from the heat, and stir in the espresso powder and the vanilla.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, combine the cream, half and half, sugar, and salt, and cook over medium heat until just under a boil (you will see tiny bubbles at the edges of the pot).    In a large mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks until they are well blended and light yellow.  Yes, I know you have three things going at once, but really, it's fine.   When the cream mixture is ready, slowly pour it into the chocolate mixture, whisking to combine.   Now, slowly add the chocolate/cream mixture into the egg yolks, whisking all the time.     Pour the final mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a pitcher or large measuring cup.  You should have about 1 quart, or 4 cups.

Line up the ramekins on the counter and pour the mixture in, dividing evenly.   Pull out the oven rack containing the water bath/roasting pan, and place the ramekins in carefully.   Add more water, if needed, to bring the bath 3/4s of the way up the sides of the custards.

Bake for 20-25 minutes.   To test for doneness, jiggle one of the molds.   The center should be just a bit wobbly, but the edges should be set.   Remove the pan from the oven, and take the custards out of the water bath to cool on a wire rack.   They will continue to cook as they cool.   Serve warm or cool with fresh Kahlua whipped cream.

Kahlua Whipped Cream

1 c. heavy whipping cream, cold
2 Tbs. powdered sugar
2 tsp.  Kahlua liquor

Using chilled beaters and a chilled metal mixing bowl, whip the cream until soft peaks form.  Add sugar and Kahlua, and continue beating just until combined.

*  He truly became "our waiter".  When a new restaurant opened up across the street, we went in one night and found him at our table, pad in hand.   Turned out he worked at the French place three days a week, and this new place the rest of the time.   How handy was that for us?
** As if he didn't already know the answer!

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