Sichuan Peppercorn Pots de crème! That’s an awfully fancy sounding dessert. But I’ll let you in on a little secret. Pots de crème are just Frenchified little custards.
I know you know custard. It’s like pudding only eggier. And I mean that in a good way! A very good way.
Because a good custard is a thing of real beauty. Properly accomplished it transforms the humble egg into something elegantly voluptuous.
They are not hard to make either. But there are no shortcuts. The ratio of fat to flavor is what gives it its heavenly texture. That means you must use whole milk and cream in their proper proportions. Too much egg and the custard gets too dense. Too much heat or too much cooking and the thing will curdle and get grainy on you.
A perfectly cooked pot de crème (or any custard for that matter) should have a bit of sheen on its surface. It should wiggle a bit if tapped or shaken. When you take a bite it should hold its form, but just barely. In fact the moment it touches your tongue it should melt upon itself in a way that is (and there is no other way to say it) sensual.
But the texture is not everything you need to master when preparing this little dessert. Flavor matters too. Custards have the ability to be flavored, scented, or paired with just about anything; they can be sweet or savory.
They can also be sweet and savory. That’s the version I have for you today. The savory element is a bit surprising– I’ll get to that in a moment. But the sweet was an easy choice. I have some excellent chocolate with 70% cocoa content. It’s one of the nicest chocolates I have worked with. It’s a chocolate maker called Pure Dark. It’s very dense and has a bit of crunch from pure chocolate Nibs. It has a bit of an exotic allure. FoodBuzz sent me a sample and I have been waiting for just the right inspiration to use it.
I have recipes for Chili Chocolate Chocolate Chip Cookies and Chili Chocolate Dipped Strawberries already on this site. I had considered going that way for these pots de crème. The subtle hit of heat has a way of elevating the chocolates in these desserts without revealing itself too assertively. I like that.
But I have also already done that. So I needed something like that, but better. If that’s possible. Then I remembered that somewhere in the back of the pantry I had some Sichuan peppercorns.
Sichuan pepper has a unique aroma and flavor, it’s not hot like chili or pungent like pepper. Instead, it is slightly citrus tasting and most notably creates a tingly numbness on the tongue. There is something about this effect that enlivens taste buds and makes whatever it’s eaten with more intense. In other words, it’s a perfect partner to chocolate.
It’s mostly used in the spiciest of Chinese cooking from the Sichuan province. It can be difficult to find sometimes here. In fact, I swear, not too many years ago it was actually illegal to purchase in the U.S. But that doesn’t seem to be the case any longer. I got mine (without an arrest warrant attached) from Marx Foods.
The result is a perfectly luscious texture juxtaposed against the boldest, darkest chocolate intensity I have ever experienced. You would never guess there were peppercorns in this custard, but you will certainly notice a slight tingle in the mouth– which you’re liable to mistake as mocha magic.
- 3⁄4 c heavy cream
- 3⁄4 c whole milk
- 3 oz dark chocolate, roughly chopped
- 2 t Sichuan peppercorn
- 4 large egg yolks
- lightly whipped, lightly sweetened cream (optional)
- 1⁄2 c whole espresso or dark roast coffee beans
- 3 T granulated sugar
Bring a medium saucepan half filled with water to a simmer. Put 1/2 cup of the cream and the chopped chocolate into a heat proof bowl. Choose a bowl that will snugly fit on top of the saucepan without touching the water. Stir until melted and well combined. Remove from heat, set aside.
Put the coffee beans and Sichuan peppercorn in the bowl of a mortar and pestle. Lightly work them into a roughly crushed mixture. Do not grind into a powder.
Add the crushed coffee and Sichuan peppercorn along with the remaining 1/4 cup cream, all of the milk and the sugar in another small sauce pan. Bring the mixture to a near boil, stirring continuously until the sugar dissolves. Remove from the heat and let the flavors infuse, covered about 30 minutes. Return the pan to low heat and bring the mixture back to a simmer.
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the egg yolks together well, then slowly pour the 1/3 of the warmed cream and milk through a strainer into the yolks. Whisk to combine. Repeat 2 more times until all of the cream and milk is incorporated. Discard the solids and rinse out the strainer.
Next pour the egg, cream and milk mixture through the rinsed strainer (to remove any coddled egg) directly into the bowl with the melted chocolate. Stir to combine.
Arrange four 4 or 5-ounce espresso or custard cups in a small baking dish so that they do not touch. Fill each cup nearly to the top with the custard mixture. Fill the baking dish with enough warm water to come about halfway up the sides of the cups. Cover the pan with plastic wrap (it won’t melt). Poke 2 or 3 holes in the plastic wrap and carefully move the pan to the oven. Bake about 40 to 45 minutes, until the edges begin to darken and the custards are barely set. They will continue to cook once removed from the oven.
Remove the pan from the oven and let it sit covered about 10 minutes. Remove the plastic wrap and take the cups out of the water to come to room temperature. At this point, they can be covered in plastic wrap and refrigerated up to one day.
Serve at room temperature, with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream (optional).
SERIOUS FUN FOOD