I like to imagine the moments from each year lived written into a chapter, and, at my last breath, the chapters bound into a book. More of an autobiography, I would say.
Now I’m almost through the 24th chapter. During this stage, the
roaring rocky mid-20s, I have millions of questions to answer and pages of stories to write. My life at this point, as I’d like to imagine, is a large sheet of blank paper, and there’s a pen hovering a few inches over, hesitatingly, unsure of what to fill the spaces beneath with. I don’t like the feelings of living in the dark: lost, insecure, and distressing. Having undergone weeks of gloominess and insomnia, I long for brighter days. I sometimes find myself living on bittersweet reverie of something French, chocolate, and dreamy.
It’s been hard for me not to think about these pots de crème au chocolat noir. Probably it’s because, whenever I feel stressed, I crave sweets. It might also be because of my American best friends Becky and Ryan. They’ve been in Bangkok for over a month for an English language teaching program. We’re thankful for staying physically closer to each other again — from what was a 14-hour to, now, a one-hour time difference. Life has kept us busy, but lately we’re making efforts to visit with each other through video calls. Their words are keeping me company. And our promise of a week-long reunion in the near future is giving me something to look forward to.
Becky’s mere presence — even the sound of her name — brings back memories of my days in the States. Always. I was invited to spend the Easter weekend two years ago at her home in Prior Lake, Minn. We were both striving toward graduation, rushing madly to complete our senior theses. One would have guessed, Tsk tsk, Pei-Lin must have turned down the invite. I did, in fact, and in retrospect, it was one of the stupidest decisions I’d ever made. It took her one week to have my mind changed. (What were you thinking, Pei-Lin?)
When I was in Prior Lake the last time, the Fourth of July of the year before, we had huge outdoor feasts, and I baked two pies for dessert. This time around, I, again, jumped on the opportunity and offered to pull an Easter dinner together for her family. They know I love cooking and baking. And I love watching people enjoy the fruits of my labor.
We gathered six people at the Easter table. For the main course, I cooked a big kettle of chicken and vegetable yogurt curry to go with steamed rice. As for the dessert, I whipped up six martini glasses worth of French dark-chocolate custard. Because it required hours of chilling to set, I prepared everything the night before, and by the time I’d finished, it was already near midnight. Poor Becky, being an early sleeper, made herself stay up just to keep me company. I remember watching her doze off in the couch before the TV set. How can I not love a friend like her. She’s such a sweetheart.
|My first encounter with the dark-chocolate custard, circa April 2009, which would have to be just a couple weeks before Easter.|
Let me tell you, I’d made this dark-chocolate custard a few times, and it was always a crowd pleaser. Traditionally pots de crème are baked in a bain-marie; this one, however, is cooked on the stovetop and then sets in the icebox. Perhaps it isn’t as French as it may first seem. Nonetheless, the recipe comes from a lovely Frenchwoman, Béa Peltre, who writes the beautiful blog La Tartine Gourmande. So, I’d say it’s still French, it’s a pot of crème.
This recipe makes a custard that sets beautifully and, upon chilling, gives a velvety mouth feel. It should not be confused with American pudding, which is usually thickened with egg yolks and cornstarch. Somehow I feel that cornstarch yields a slightly viscous gel-like concoction that I less prefer.
The custard isn’t cloyingly sweet, and captivates your senses with the slightly masculine, bittersweet note of dark chocolate. To serve, though optional, you can top it with softly whipped cream or crème fraîche, or fresh berries and slices of stone fruits for a summery touch. I’d tried dusting the custard with cocoa powder and dressing it up with macaron shells, dragées, and Valrhona crunchy dark-chocolate pearls. All of which amplify the chocolaty factor.
Well, oh well. Writing about this French dark-chocolate custard does feel like a bittersweet reverie. While I continue wrestling with writer’s block, with writing chapter 24, I’m glad I can thumb through the previous chapters and relive the moments from chapter 21, the year when I first made this delicious custard and served it to Becky and her family that Easter.
Oh yea, I can also remake these pots de crème au chocolat noir anytime I want to, especially when I’m in need of a good chocolate fix to cheer myself up. Maybe you should, too, you chocoholic.
No-Bake Dark-Chocolate Custard (Pots de Crème au Chocolat Noir)
Adapted from Béa Peltre
120 grams dark chocolate, of 64 to 70 percent cacao content, depending on your preference, chopped finely
400 milliliters whole milk
100 milliliters heavy cream
6 egg yolks, at room temperature
90 grams caster or granulated sugar
½ to 1 teaspoon of pure vanilla extract, to taste
Transfer the chopped chocolate to a double boiler or a heatproof bowl placed over a pot of simmering water — the base of the bowl shouldn’t be touching the water. Melt the chocolate completely. Set aside for use later.
On the other hand, place (A) in a medium pot and, over medium heat, bring to a gentle boil. Turn off the heat. Set aside for use later.
Place (B) in a medium-size or large mixing bowl. Beat until they look thick and pale. Then, slowly mix in the melted chocolate to incorporate well. Temper the hot milk-and-cream mixture into the egg yolk-chocolate mixture, making sure everything is combined.
Return the “chocolate milk” to the pot used for scalding the milk-and-cream mixture. Heat the “chocolate milk” over low heat, with a wooden spoon gently stirring at all times, until it’s thick enough to coat the back of the spoon. Stir in the vanilla extract. Remove from the heat. If the custard doesn’t look smooth enough, pass it through a fine sieve.
While it’s still hot, pour the custard into individual glasses and/or ramekins, dividing evenly. Set aside to let cool completely. Once cooled, cover each of the custard-filled serving vessels with plastic wrap and refrigerate, for best results, overnight. The custard thickens more as it chills.
Yield: about six servings, or less, depending on individual appetite