Pots au Chocolat: a French dessert not for the faint of butter

Pots au Chocolat 2 sm

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, it will come as no news to you that I, the proprietoress of it, am a supremely lazy creature.  I am also a fairly busy creature, which may seem to be contradictory at first glance, but really it isn’t.

The apparent contradiction comes from the misuse and abuse of the word ‘lazy’ – the word has such a bad connotation in a lot of Western cultures.  Lazy people are viewed as slothful, unethical and other bad things.  I agree neither with the fact that being lazy is a bad thing in itself, nor that being lazy has to mean that all one does is lay on the sofa, eat chips, and watch soap operas.  For reference, while I enjoy my sofa, and allow myself to eat potato chips occasionally, I don’t even own a TV, and I blame the internet for informing me of the existence of the Kardashians – I could have really continued to live without knowing that they exist.

But I digress – I was talking of laziness, and I was about to elaborate on a French dessert at some point, too.  Let us speak of that and not of various BS that apparently spews forth from the screen if you are careless enough to own a TV set and cable.  Ugh.  No.  What I mean by being shamelessly and happily lazy, is the fact that when I do have a free day, I do not feel the pressing need to fill it with doing stuff just for the sake of doing stuff and being productive.  I don’t feel any need to be productive on my days off.  It would seem to me to defy the purpose of days off.  So when people might go on about all the gazillion things they got done before lunch on a Sunday, the total sum of what I may have accomplished before noon that day is brushing teeth, and drinking coffee that T has made for me, and some conversation.  I consider laziness a luxury, something that allows me to enjoy life, and therefore also a necessity – for the purpose of said life enjoyment.

Which brings me to dessert, and chocolate and the fact that French really know how to do dessert, and they have also mastered the art of enjoying life, and being lazy in the right way.  Making gorgeous, luxurious French chocolate creams, aka Pots au Chocolat, is one of those pleasures that doesn’t have to take all day, isn’t complicated, and requires just a little bit of patience, and then some more patience, and no particularly fancy skills.  It does, however, require not fearing dessert in all of its fatty, sweet, delicious glory.

French chocolate creams are not for the faint of heart butter, and I say this as someone who agrees with Julia Child’s immortal quote that goes something like “if you are afraid of butter, just use cream”.  Because if you want to make a luxurious dessert, then you really can’t be going the fat-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, joy-free deliciousness-free route.  A block of tofu dressed up to look as cheesecake with pretty berries on top is still a block of tofu (with berries on top, and I am not knocking the berries).  A cheesecake requires cream cheese, sugar, eggs, and all those things that are not a block of tofu.  And really, if I want to eat a good-for-me vegetarian meal, it’s called a “large lunch salad” and it happens all the time in our house, and I don’t need to be abusing the idea of dessert  for the sake of healthy eating.  If I want a healthy dessert, I will eat a piece of fruit or those selfsame berries, hold the tofu please.  Seriously.

But, when it comes to a rich, decadent dessert like chocolate creams, the French really have the right idea about not being too awful to their own health and still enjoying life: you need to not eat half a kilogram of it in one sitting, that’s all.  Which is why I make these in teeny tiny glass cups intended for drinking glögg (heated spiced Nordic version of mulled wine), and serve it with the daintiest spoons I can find because that’s what is needed in order to get to the bottom of those tiny cups.  And while this stuff probably has a bazillion calories (a totally valid technical term) per kilogram, just… don’t eat a kilogram of it, ok?  I mean, it’d be an effort to, because they are so incredibly rich that really, one of those is enough for me, and I love dessert.

I mean, some people don’t have to watch their weight, and we hate those people so those people can certainly eat more than one serving of this without much detriment to their health, but so far I haven’t met a person with enough of a sweet tooth to eat more than one in one sitting – even the self-admitted chocaholics – but that’s not to say that I’ll not run into someone who can.  All I am saying is that you can still enjoy this dessert, just don’t eat the whole batch of it alone.  Or do, if that floats your chocolate boat.

I have adapted this recipe from a French blog (she has some gorgeous photos of her chocolate creams on there, done up in teeny Japanese teacups).  I don’t read French, but Google translate does, and certainly well enough to puzzle out a not-too-complicated recipe.  The reason I bothered with that, is that a lot of English-language recipes for non-anglophone-country dishes tend to be… messed up.  The problem is typically that instead of being translated, they are adapted to the food culture of the country from which the person adapting them hails, and that is typically to the detriment of the original dessert.  Pro tip – if you want a recipe for a German apple cake, just google ‘Apfelkuchen‘ and run it through the translator, it’ll be fine.  Better than fine – it’ll be German apple cake and it’ll be awesome (the recipe linked above is the one I use for my German apple cake and yes, it’s fantastic).

But, back to French matters and chocolate – all the recipes for French chocolate creams I’ve seen in English have been too fussy and had a lot of unnecessary ingredients (cornstarch?  gelatin?  wtf?!).  The original French dessert has two.  Yes, you’ve heard it right, two ingredients:  heavy whipping cream (fat content 35-45%), and good chocolate (none of that ‘chocolate cake coating’ garbage, you need real 45-70% cocoa mass chocolate for this).  I insist that the chocolate should be good because honestly, if you make this with a Hershey bar, it’s your own funeral failed dessert, and you will deserve the disgusting waxy results.  I usually add a third ingredient – a real alcohol-based vanilla extract.  I make my own, but a good shop-bought one will obviously work.  No, don’t be tempted to add ‘vanilla sugar’ or fake vanilla extract – when a dessert has as few ingredients as this, the quality matters, and it’s best to just go with the cream and chocolate.

Ingredients for a batch of 9 tiny cups:

  • 600ml heavy whipping cream (I’ve used 35% and 40% fat before with equally good success – it will not set at a lesser fat percentage, so don’t bother).
  • 225g good chocolate (good-quality real baking chocolate is fine here).  I use 45-55% cocoa chocolate because I am not the fan of the 70% stuff, but you can certainly use the latter – decrease the amount to 200g, however, as it is going to make the creams more stiff.
  • 2-5 teaspoons real vanilla extract (alcohol-based, entirely optional, and not using any at all is better than using crappy vanillin or vanilla sugar)

The technique for this is simple, but not easy, in the sense that it’s not a “microwave on high for X minutes, dump into bowl” sort of dessert.  However, if you are willing to put in a few minutes of effort and attention, it’s not difficult, either – and certainly not complicated.

Here’s what you do:

  • Prepare your cups.  I typically stand them into a lidded plastic container where they won’t move around much (you can pad them with some wadded aluminium foil or paper towel if your container is too large), and which is at least 1cm taller than the top edge of cups.
  • Break your chocolate into as small pieces as it’ll go.  If you are using the really large baking chocolate squares, cut those with a sharp knife into pieces no larger than 3x3x1cm.
  • Pour your cream into a heavy-bottomed pot, and heat on medium-low heat, stirring constantly because cream burns like oh my god, especially if you walk away for half a minute, until the cream comes to a simmer.
  • Take the pot off the heat, and immediately dump in all the chocolate.  Allow to stand for a few minutes, then whisk until all the chocolate is dissolved.  This will look like a thick chocolate milk.
  • Put the pot back on the medium-low heat, and bring back to a simmer, stirring constantly with a whisk or a silicone spatula (I prefer the spatula but whisk has worked for me before).
  • If using vanilla, stir it in at this point.
  • Once the chocolate comes to a simmer, simmer (stirring constantly!) for 3 minutes.  You will notice the liquid thickening a very little bit – it’ll offer a little more resistance as you stir.  Take the pot off heat, give it a final stir, and pour carefully into prepared cups or ramekins or whatever.
  • Place the box of cups into the refrigerator without a lid on.  You can place a paper towel over the top but I have been fine just leaving it open.
  • In about 1 hour, take the box out (the creams will not be fully set yet, so be careful not to shake it too much!), and snap the lid on.  Place it back in the refrigerator, and chill for at least 8 hours (I do this overnight).  Place pretty berries on top if you like.

That’s it.

Pots au Chocolat 1

This dessert must be kept refrigerated, and served chilled, but there is no need to freeze it.  I suspect it’ll keep fine in a closed box in the refrigerator for a few days, but I cannot offer you any sort of assurance on the subject – I have never had it survive its first contact with the guests.

 

Legum Magistra

Today I have received an official email from my university notifying me of the fact that my thesis work has now been graded, and that I have been awarded the LLM in Food Law with Merit.

I am obviously puffed up with pride and self-importance, and will probably be parading with my nose stuck insufferably up in the air for quite a while.  I have decided not to travel to the United Kingdom for my graduation because 1. there are nicer destinations than United Kingdom in the summer (I can totally skip getting rained on during the graduation ceremony), and 2. the city will be full of everyone’s relatives traveling there for the ceremonies so the hotels would be booked, the prices atrocious, and I just don’t think that it’s worth it for 2 hours of standing around in Hogwarts robes and roleplaying Harry Potter (for those who don’t get the reference, google image search for Master’s graduation robes in the UK).  I am really quite fine with getting my diploma in the mail.

The next big things will be: moving to a new apartment (we nabbed an awesome new rental place right in the city centre, and across from a mountain with a park – yay!), contemplating a Ph.D. application, and a few other fun things such as writing more blog posts for this place.

In the meantime, you may address me as Legum Magistra (Mistress of Laws).

Blog Renovations!

I am working on renovating and updating this site, so please bear with me (and let me know if the new theme or arrangement makes it hard to read or has any other problems).  The reason I am doing this is that 1. I have a new monitor with a higher resolution that was not supported by the previous theme, and 2. I hope that this new theme will be more mobile-user friendly (it purports to be!).

I will also be updating various pages, and digging through old content – some of it can stand being trashed, other parts can be revisited and highlighted, because they were written long ago and didn’t get as much exposure as I feel they deserved.

In short, don’t mind the drilling and the dust, I’m working on it!

 

 

Bread with Scandinavian Dairy; Food, Social Life, and Savings

One of my goals for this year is to put away more savings.  “Duh!” you probably think, “who doesn’t want to do that?”  And obviously, you are entirely right.  Unless someone is born rich, and money’s never been a problem for them, all of us could use a bit of savings.  The trick is – contrary to what those annoying clickbait ads tell you all over the internet, there is no ‘one weird trick’ to saving cash that works, because everyone’s life is very different, and what is a money-saver for one person, results in unnecessary waste of time for another, and exhaustion for yet another, and vice versa.

This article isn’t about that one weird trick, but it’s about something I, and the knitting klatsch I belong to, have began doing lately to be more budget-friendly to our less-financially-endowed members (and to those better off, too – none of us are rolling around in moolah, here, honestly), and the recipe I ended up designing as a side consequence of that.

Skyr bread 6 ETR
Yep, that’s the knitting types, wearing knitted stuff, obviously.  And eating.  Also obviously.

The recipe is for a white non-sourdough bread with lowfat/fat-free fermented dairy products so common in the Nordic countries.  It’s fantastic, if I do say so myself (and I do, and so does the knitting-and-eating crowd), and if you want to skip my pontification, just scroll down to it and enjoy!

So anyway – what led to the creation of this recipe is that some time ago for a number of reasons some of which having to do with coffee shop closing times in Jyväskylä, we decided to move our weekly meetings to a loosely-rotating schedule of hosting one when we can, and putting our names up for dates in advance to do so.  The person hosting cooks or asks for a potluck, everyone else shows up with or without food, and with or without knitting or crocheting, and babbling and stuffing mouth holes ensues.  This in itself is a great way to save money without sacrificing the activity, because the host can feed and caffeinate the entire crowd for roughly the price of a latte+donut or slice of cake in the city cafes, and all of us can cook and/or bake and/or slice fruit and brew tea.

In addition, one of the best (in cold weather, which is 3/4 of the year here in Finland, arguably) ways to feed a crowd for me is a giant pot of non-wishywashy hearty soup or stew (no bullshit cucumber-infused lukewarm water is passed for soup in this household!), and a loaf of bread.  And I do love to bake, and at times, I have the time and foresight and fortitude to start 2-3 days in advance, wake up my sourdough starter, and bake beautiful no-knead wheat or rye sourdough bread.  Aaaand on other weeks I am barely awake, and remember that I am hosting or that I have promised to bring a loaf of bread the night before the meeting.  No time to wake up sourdough starter or faff around, and so I turn to regular baker’s yeast – the dry yeast that I keep around in little sachets in the cold pantry to have on hand in case of emergency or not-so-emergency yeast baking.

But, I do love the flavor of sourdough, and while that can’t entirely be faked, you can make absolutely gorgeous bread without the starter that has at least a hint of the character of true sourdough, but is vastly easier to handle, works reliably, and tastes amazing, because I bake it with a generous amount of one of the traditional Nordic low-fat dairy products such as quark (kvarg, kesella or rahka), or skyr (which can be bought German-made under the generic name “Isk” in Lidl).  However, if you cannot get a hold of those, a strained variety of low-fat yogurt (low-fat Greek yogurt) can be substituted.  The key here is the bacterially-produced acid and protein from the dairy product, combined with a lack of excessive amounts of fat, not because I avoid fat, but because in high-temperature baking (such as used for bread), fat tends to burn and generally not be one’s friend.  The protein adds elasticity and flavor, while the acids (typically lactic or acetic or both) help preserve the bread and add character and flavor profile.

Not being a true sourdough, this won’t keep as long, but eh, I’d not had a problem with it not getting eaten before it goes bad.  The bread will keep fine for a day or two in a plastic bag at room temperature.  The recipe as given will make a very large loaf that would feed 6-8 people a large dinner alongside soup (or a family of 2 for 3 days).  It can easily be halved or reduced by 1/3 for smaller appetites.

So, what do you need to make it?

  • An oven and a cast iron pot with a lid, or a pizza stone and a stainless steel bowl (inexpensively acquired from IKEA) large enough to cover your bread.
  • 800g white bread flour (or ‘special white flour’ in Finland which is about 12% protein).
  • 20g (4 flat tsp) table salt.  Or fancy salt, whatever.
  • 7-12g sachet of dry yeast.  (Use about half if reducing recipe – yeast amount is not precise here)
  • 100g unsweetened dairy product of your choice (quark/rahka/kvarg, skyr or lowfat strained yogurt)
  • 460ml or g (same, but I weigh my water) of cold tap water.

What you need to do:

  • The night before you want the bread, mix up the dough:  combine flour, salt and dry yeast, and mix with a whisk.  Whisk the dairy into the water till no lumps are left.
  • Pour the liquid into flour mix, and stir with a spatula till it forms a lump of dough.  There’ll be some dry bits left in the bowl.  Scrape down the spatula, put it down, and gently work the dough with your hands till no dry bits are evident.  The dough will become fairly smooth and will mostly stick to itself.
  • Leave it in its bowl, seal it with plastic wrap, and pop a tiny exhaust hole with a toothpick or knifetip in the plastic.  If you have a few hours to bedtime, leave it at room temperature till you go to bed (it’ll rise considerably during 2-3 hours), at which point stick it in the fridge or cold pantry if you have one.  I leave mine on the floor near a cracked balcony door when it is -5C out so it’s very chilled but not frozen in the morning.  If you are mixing right before bed, leave it in a cool but not cold room-temperature location.
  • In the morning, lightly flour your work surface, and turn the dough onto it.  It’ll have tons of gluteney strands formed – use a dough scraper or spatula to get it to leave the bowl alone.
  • Stretch and fold the dough a couple of times, cover with bowl and go take a shower or whatever.  Give it 10-15 minutes to rest.
  • Lightly flour a piece of baking parchment or heavily flour a banetton (raising basket).  Form your dough into a ball, and put it in the baking basket seam-side up, or on the parchment seam-side down.  Spray a piece of plastic wrap with oil, or dampen a kitchen towel very slightly with water, and cover the dough.  Leave in a warm spot for 1-2 hours until it’s about 1.5-2 times its original size.  You can poke its side to see if it bounces back slowly, in which case it’s ready (fast bounce-back means it can use a bit more time).
  • Preheat oven with your pizza stone, cast iron pot, or just a baking sheet to 200C.  If using baking sheet, preheat to 225C – it has a lower heat capacity.  Read this about handling very hot cast iron and wrangling the dough into it, because I don’t want you to have horrible burns.
  • Once dough is ready, invert the banetton onto a piece of baking parchment (if you proofed the dough on parchment it’s already there), and slash the dough a few times with a serrated knife.  Place the dough carefully (with the parchment) into your cast iron pot (and cover), onto your pizza stone or heated baking sheet (and cover with an inverted steel bowl), set timer to 30 minutes, and reduce heat (in case of baking sheet) down to 200C.
  • In 30 minutes, open the oven, and using an oven glove and/or spatula remove the lid off the pot (put it somewhere heat-safe where you won’t touch it till it cools!), or the bowl off the sheet/pizza stone.  Bake bread for a further 25-35 minutes until it is a medium golden brown (pale gold is not nearly baked enough).
  • Carefully remove bread from the oven.  It should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.  Cool on a rack for at least 2-3 hours before cutting (else you risk gummy crumb and no one likes gummy crumb).

That’s it.  This dough is remarkably well-behaved for a yeast dough, and requires no mixer or other appliances other than the stove to bake it.  Its ingredients are inexpensive, and the payoff is a luxurious loaf that people are happy to eat just with butter or dipping oil, and that makes a pot of soup into a feast.

Skyr bread 5 ETR

 

Make it, cook up some soup, and invite all your hungry friends for talk-and-eat.  Enjoy more social life at lesser expense.  Save money, make friends happy, and feel a sense of accomplishment when someone asks you where you bought the loaf.  As they probably will.

P.S.  Many thanks to A for taking the action photos!  I really appreciate it!