I usually don’t get fancy, but when I do, I prefer French custards *World’s Greatest Man voice*. These custards seem hard, but in my opinion, they are much easier to make than custard-based ice creams because they don’t have all of the steps or the variables. Trust me, if you want to start from ground zero with custard making, I suggest chocolate pot de crème.
Custards utilize the proteins in eggs to create a smooth, gel like pudding structure. Egg proteins are denatured in the baking process to allow for different protein bonds to form (coagulation) that would not naturally occur. These new protein bonds trap the cream, milk, and chocolate in a protein matrix creating a thick, rich product.
Problems arise, however, because the temperature difference between protein coagulation and protein curdling are extraordinarily close. The first time that curdling becomes a possibility is upon pouring the cream mixture into the egg yolk. To avoid this, a small amount of the cream is whisked into the egg yolk. Continue whisking the cream into the egg yolks, slowly, until about 1/3 of the cream is incorporated. Then slowly whisk the egg yolk mixture back into the main body of cream.
The second time protein curdling becomes a possibility is when baked. For this reason, a bane-marie (water bath) is used to cook the custard. Pure water is unable to rise about 212 degrees F (100 degrees C) before it turns into a gas (steam). The bane-marie utilizes this physical principle to cook the custard at a constant temperature of 212F. This technique allows a slow, controlled cooking speed which is essential for avoiding curdling. Covering the ramekins or mugs with aluminum foil further prevents unwanted heat from the oven from penetrating the custard.
2 cups whipping cream
1 cup whole milk
½ tsp vanilla
Pinch of salt
5 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
5 large egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
- Preheat oven to 325°F. Bring cream and milk just to simmer in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat. Remove from heat. Add chocolate; whisk until melted and smooth.
- Whisk yolks and sugar in large bowl to blend. Slowly whisk in 1/3 of hot chocolate mixture. Then slowly whisk the egg yolk mixture into the main hot chocolate pot.
- Strain mixture into another bowl. Cool 10 minutes, skimming any foam from surface.
- Divide custard mixture among six 3/4-cup custard cups or soufflé dishes. Cover each with foil. Place cups in large baking pan. Add enough hot water to pan to come halfway up sides of cups. Bake until custards are set but centers still move slightly when gently shaken, about 45 minutes (oven temperatures vary so begin to check on pot de crèmes after 30 minutes have passed).
- Remove from water. Remove foil. Chill custards until cold, about 3 hours. (Can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and keep chilled.)