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I'm a sucker for a pretty face

The holidays have already started to catch up with me – and they’re not even here yet. It is not because I’m feeling rundown or because I’m overwhelmed (though I’ll cop to that as well), it is because I get easily distracted. I’ve mentioned this before, I know, but this time of year is truly a minefield for those of us with short attention spans.

It does not help that I can be terribly shallow. Pretty things always get me. Distractions abound. Winter Wonderlands full of sparkles, lights and glitter – every stereotypically girly impulse in me is awakened and I am left cooing over the window displays in Williams Sonoma.

I am every merchandising executive’s dream. Everything is so perfectly-package and so preciously presented, I am weak.

Such is the case with these darling little measuring cups from Nigella’s Home collection. A set of four ranging from 1/4 cup to a full cup, they have a beautiful eggshell finished exterior that begs to be touched. Brought to me after an interesting string of events, I could not say no to the generosity of the offer. And they’re just so pretty.

Taking them from their custom box and setting the little collection out on my counter I was immediately smitten. Not wanting to relegate these beauties to the baking cupboard, I checked their particulars and found that they are dishwasher, oven and microwave safe. Ah the joy of a new canvas to play upon.

Of course with their robin’s egg blue shade, the cup begged to be filled with something deep and dark to set off its looks. And truly, is there any other option than chocolate?

Though parading as a cup of steamy hot chocolate do not let looks beguile you, this tasty dish is more than it seems. Not satisfied with the flavours of chocolate and cream alone, it boasts a custard base – rich and creamy and perfectly tinged with a hint of espresso. Silkier and more sensual than mousse, chocolate pots de crème prove that sometimes depth can be found in a shallow attraction.

Chocolate pots de crème
A classic recipe, with some guidance from Williams-Sonoma and some inspiration from Nigella Lawson.

2 cups chilled whipping cream
2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
5 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 large eggs yolks
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt

Garnish options
Sweetened whipped cream
Chocolate shavings
Chocolate covered espresso beans
Candied pecans or other nuts
Orange zest

Preheat oven to 325º F (160º C) with rack in centre position.

In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the cream and espresso powder. Bring the mixture to a simmer while you whisking to dissolve the espresso powder. Once simmering, remove from the heat, add the chocolate and stir until it is melted and smooth. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar and vanilla, and salt until it the yolks lighten. Stir in the melted chocolate. Strain (you may want to strain into a measuring cup or a pitcher with a spout to ease in pouring).

Place 6 3/4 cup in a large roasting pan. Divide the mixture evenly between the ramekins. I usually transfer the pan to the oven at this point, as I tend to spill water in the next step. Prepare a Bain Marie by pouring water from a recently-boiled kettle around the ramekins, until it comes about halfway up the sides. Cover the entire pan with aluminium foil and bake until the custard is set around the edges – about 25 minutes. Alternatively, you can prepare the Bain Marie on a countertop and then transfer to the oven, but as I said I tend to spill.
When just set (they should still be wobbly in the centre), remove the baking pan from the oven and transfer to a rack to cool for 10 minutes. Remove the ramekins from the roasting dish and allow to come to room temperature. When cool, cover and chill for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight.

To serve, whip the cream with the sugar and garnish the custards. Can be served chilled or at room temperature, though I prefer somewhere in between. The custard seems to be at its silken best and fullest flavour when the chill is off the cup but not as far as being warm.

• A dash of a liqueur like Grand Marnier, Crème de Cacao or Kaluha would be great seasonal additions to the whipped cream garnish.
• For a change of pace, omit the espresso and instead add 1 teaspoon of chilli powder (or to taste) for a spicy chocolate hit. Cinnamon and other spices can be similarly substituted.

Reader Comments (1)

the hols are over, isnt it time to start making delicious things again- which remind us of hols? i'd love to parade around my home with a cup like yours, my own little secret. a gorgeous recipe adaptation, Tara. best wishes, shayma

January 20, 2010 | Unregistered Commentershayma

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