Sunday, August 24, 2008

A Treat

I haven't skipped town or run away with another book. I've just been so busy at work that I haven't had a chance to post. Of course, even though I don't get much sleep, I have had to eat, which means I've been cooking, so it's not as if I don't have anything to tell you about. I hope you'll forgive me for hedging on my promise to write about the famous Zuni roast chicken today. It really will be next. But I have a special little treat that I'm too anxious to write about to put off.

A few weeks ago I was so bewitched by Molly's beautiful rendition of the Zuni apricot tart that I decided to see if I could find some locally-grown apricots and duplicate her success. It's not surprising I would be sorely tempted; I've been drooling over apricot posts all summer, and Molly's was most tempting.

I went on my mission and discovered there were actually some apricots grown in New York State - and they were available. But before I committed myself to this flighty endeavor, I checked the source out online. High five! Spike the ball! I felt I had struck gold. These would be just what you want apricots to be - fragrant and juicy and oh-so-scrumptious that you would be longing for apricot season to return the minute it was over. And they were grown in my own backyard, so to speak.

When I found them, they were beautiful to look at in their little basket, all nestled together waiting to be plucked and eaten one by one, or turned into jam, or made into compote - or baked in a tart. I remembered there's a reason apricot is a color. It's happy and sunshine warm; guaranteed to brighten even the gloomiest winter day. And I scoo
ped up that little basket without a second thought and went on my merry way.

You are probably beginning to suspect how this story ends.

What was I thinking? I must be reading too much Harry Potter. It turns out that having perseverance, being on the side of right, and counting on some luck doesn't always work. These were the kind of apricots you would expect from Jardin de Voldemort. They were mealy and tasteless, and instead of ending up in a tart, they ended up on the compost heap.

However, this did make me realize that I hadn't yet made any desserts from Zuni, and I decided it was about time to rectify that lapse. So I turned to the desserts section, where on Page 456 Judy Rodgers says
Dessert has the interesting duty of teasing out the last gasps of your appetite. For me, the best dessert is simple and bright, and often overtly sensual.
Of course, I was hooked. Lots of sweets tempted me, but after my frustrating experience with the apricots, I thought I would go for a sure thing. I decided to make the second most famous recipe in the book.

Chocolate Pots de Crème
Desserts & Pastry, Page 499

I chose Callebaut bittersweet chocolate and did not add any of the optional liqueur, even though one of the suggestions was to add a little Frangelico. Who doesn't like chocolate and hazelnut? And Frangelico has such a lovely toasty note. It's the liqueur I use to scent my crème brulee. Next time I can gild the lily, but this time I wanted pure chocolate. All the way.

I melted the chocolate with some heavy cream in a metal bowl set over simmering water.

I heated up the rest of the cream with whole milk and sugar in a small saucepan, stirring, just long enough for the sugar to dissolve. I hope you can see how small this Mauviel pan is. It's heavy, handy, and oh-so adorable.

I separated four eggs yolks from the whites using my fingers, not an egg separator. (Are you watching, MR?)

I whisked the yolks.

I stirred in the warm milk mixture.

I strained that mixture into the melted chocolate.

I stirred it together.

I strained that mixture too.

I poured the mixture into four 4-ounce ramekins

and put them in a baking pan.

I added hot water to the pan

and baked the pots de crème at 300 degrees until the chocolate was set at the edges but still soft in the center, about 40 minutes. They were not quite as soft as I wanted them so I put them in a bath of salted ice water to make sure they did not continue to cook.

Once they were cool, I refrigerated them, chilled them, and served them unadorned for dessert.

Now I can say it and mean it. High five! Spike the ball! This dessert is wonderful - very smooth and chocolatey but not cloying at all. Everything you always hope chocolate mousse is going to be and rarely is.

Since everyone I know eats tiny, tiny amounts of dessert, next time I'm going to make 2-ounce portions instead of 4 and will use these little pots de cr
èmes that I found at Sur La Table.

Or these, which I got at Zabar's.

Say hey to Syl.


EB said...

Oh man! Mealy apricots are the worst!!! Buuuut if they lead you to glorious chocolate... then maybe they're ok.

Hey Syl!

Liz C said...

Oooo... Callebaut bittersweet is my drug of choice. I'll definitely be making these.. in the 2 oz size.

Ai Lu said...


I am glad to see that you are still cooking out of Zuni. Now that I have returned to NYC, as soon as I have a free minute I'm going to seek out the wonderful tome at Borders or the Strand...

I also love individual chocolate desserts! Julia Child's chocolate souffle is marvelous when cooked up in little ramekins, but I may give your little pots a go, too.

I'm not sure if I'm doing you a favor or not...but let me add to your apricot-reading pleasure and point you to my post on apricot clafoutis:
I am planning on using the same recipe today to do away with some plums that are ripening on my counter as I write...

Ai Lu

Michelle said...

Smooth chocolaty desserts are the best. Also, love the cat!

Julie said...

Hi Syl.