Pots de creme au chocolat, with meringues = Happy St. Valentine’s Day

Because St. Valentine’s Day is drawing near, and because nothing sings to me of romance more than a man who will make me dinner, and especially a dinner ending in chocolate, I feel moved to record here one of my favorite simple little desserts. These little pots de creme are lovely, and almost stupidly easy, and people do ooh and aah over them, especially when you serve them with a delicately tottering tower of meringues.

[To anyone who expected more snark and blather on St. Valentine’s Day, may I refer you here.]

Pots de creme au chocolat

1 1/2 cup half & half
1 c. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped coarsely (high quality chocolate chips are fine, if not ideal)
2 egg yolks, beaten
2 TBS brandy*
* Instead of brandy, you can certainly substitute 2 TBS of a suitable liqueur (Cointreau, creme de cacoa, Kahlua, etc.) or 2 teaspoons of vanilla.

Before you begin to cook, set up half a dozen little vessels: small ramekins, demitasse cups, eggcups. You will be pouring the hot mixture into these, so have them ready.

Scald the half & half over medium low heat; remove the nasty skin that develops. The texture of this coagulated protein is a bit off-putting in the finished product. Believe me.

Off the stove, beat about 3/4 c. of the half & half into the egg yolks, a few tablespoons at a time. Now beat the egg mixture into the remaining hot half & half. Return pan to heat, and beat more or less constantly (yeah, sorry about that) for five minutes, being sure to scrape down sides and corners of the pan.

Remove from heat and immediately beat in chocolate, stirring until it is melted and evenly distributed. Add brandy and beat in. Pour into your little vessels and allow to set for 20 minutes or so, to cool and set. The cool-and-set period will obviously depend upon your kitchen temperature and airflow. When cool enough, pop them into the fridge (on a tray is easiest) and allow to chill for three hours. If you plan to hold them overnight, cover with cling film once they are thoroughly cooled. Before serving, you might add a garnish: shaved chocolate, an sliver of orange peel if you used Cointreau, a toasted hazelnut for Frangelico, a chocolate-covered coffee bean for Kahlua, and so on.

You could serve simple sugar cookies or those cute rolled wafers with pots de crème, but I love meringue langues du chats. Their crisp lightness is the perfect foil to the richness of chocolate and cream, they have just that hint of sweetness, and — for those of us with pretensions to orderliness — they use up those egg whites! O, balance and harmony, thy name is Meringue.
Use a standard meringue recipe, say, this one, reducing the proportions for your two egg whites. Instead of adding a dash of vanilla to the meringue mixture, I like to add whatever liqueur I’ve used in the pots de creme.

Instead of making drops or hearts, use the back of the spoon to shape the meringue into small ovals. Don’t fret about making them smooth or perfectly oval: all those swoops and swirls will make the most delicious ridges. You may think that you are making too many meringues, but I assure you that the phrase too many meringues is an oxymoron.

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