Chocolate Hazelnut Pots de Creme with Praline

chocolate praline

 ~ Chocolate Hazelnut Pots de Creme with Praline ~

These little vessels of silky rich dark chocolate custard get dressed up with nutty, fragrant hazelnuts. Frangelico liqueur is the secret ingredient, an Italian noisette (hazelnut) flavored liqueur that tastes great straight up or laced in coffee or over ice cream. It’s also a great addition to an affogato. This recipe will make 6 generous servings for diehard chocoholics. If the portions are too intense, divide among espresso cups for the perfect sweet after dinner touch of chocolate. For best results, use high quality dark (70%) chocolate. And if you can’t find frangelico but still feel nutty, then substitute amaretto.

chocolate hazelnut tastefood

Chocolate Hazelnut Pots de Creme with Praline

Begin this recipe 1 to 2 days in advance of serving. Makes 6 (3/4-cup) ramekins or 12 espresso cups.

Pots de Creme:
1  3/4 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup whole milk
6 ounces high quality dark chocolate (70 to 72%), finely chopped
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons Frangelico or hazelnut liqueur

Whipped Cream:
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 tablespoon Frangelico or hazelnut liqueur

3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted lightly and skinned, coarsely chopped (or almonds, lightly toasted, coarsely chopped)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Make the pots de creme:
Preheat oven to 325 F. (170 C.) Heat the cream and milk in a saucepan over medium heat until it reaches a simmer. Remove from heat and whisk in the chocolate until melted and smooth.
Whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a large bowl until blended. Add the cream in a steady stream, whisking to combine. Whisk in Frangelico. Strain through a fine meshed sieve into another bowl and cool for 5 minutes.
Pour into ramekins or espresso cups. Place the ramekins in a baking pan. Fill the pan with boiling water half way up the ramekins. Cover ramekins with foil and transfer to oven. Bake until set, but still a little wobbly when jiggled, about 55 minutes for ramekins and 45 minutes for espresso cups. Remove from water bath and remove foil. Cool completely on a wire rack. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Make the whipped cream:
Beat the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer until traces of the whisk appear. Add sugar and Frangelico. Continue to beat until peaks form.

Make the praline:
Heat the sugar in a heavy small saucepen over medium heat until sugar melts, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. Continue to cook, stirring constantly, until sugar turns amber in color. Add the nuts and sea salt and stir quickly to coat. Pour onto a baking sheet lined with parchment and spread into a thin layer.. Do not touch with your fingers. Cool completely. Break into small pieces.

To serve, spoon a dollop of cream over the center of each ramekin. Top with chards or finely chopped praline.

Rhubarb and Rosemary Crème Brûlée

Rhubarb and rosemary are surprising bed fellows in this not-so-classic crème brûlée. Upright, brilliantly hued rhubarb is always the first to arrive to the spring party. Its astringency may be overwhelming, but with some sugar coating and frequent pairing with the indefatigable strawberry, rhubarb’s tartness is successfully tamed. For this dessert, however, I did not want to rely on the dependable strawberry, which would add further sweetness and more liquid to the rhubarb compote. I wanted a subtle background flavor that would tickle the tongue and ground the ethereal creaminess of the custard without approaching the sugar tipping point. I happened to have fresh rosemary sprigs lying on the kitchen counter as the rhubarb simmered on the stove. Their woody aroma mingled with the wafts of steam rising from the compote. It smelled magnificent. I tossed a sprig into the pot of rhubarb and another sprig into the cream to infuse the custard. The results were subtle but notable, producing a crème brûlée that is at once rich and creamy, sweet and tart, earthy and heavenly.

Rhubarb and Rosemary Crème Brûlée
Makes 6

2 cups diced rhubarb
1/2 cup plus 2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 (2-inch) rosemary sprigs
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
2 cups heavy cream
6 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons light brown sugar

1. Combine the rhubarb, the 1/2 cup sugar, one rosemary sprig, and the lemon zest in a saucepan. Cook over medium heat until the rhubarb is soft but still retains its shape, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Discard the rosemary sprig.
2. Arrange 6 shallow (1/2 cup) ramekins in a baking dish. Divide rhubarb among ramekins.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C).
4. Heat the cream and the remaining rosemary sprig in a large saucepan over medium heat just until it begins to boil. While the cream is heating, whisk the egg yolks and the 2/3 cup sugar in a heat-proof bowl until light. When the cream is ready, remove the rosemary sprig from the cream and then slowly pour the cream into the egg mixture, gently whisking constantly to prevent the eggs from curdling.
Return the custard to the saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the custard thickens slightly and coats the spoon. Ladle the cream mixture over the rhubarb in the ramekins.
6. Pour boiling water into the baking pan half way up the ramekins to make a bain marie. Transfer to the oven and bake until the custard is just set but still wobbly, about 30 minutes. Remove from oven and cool in the water for 15 minutes, then transfer the ramekins to a rack and cool completely. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.
7. Before serving, mix the granulated and brown sugar together in a small bowl. Sprinkle each ramekin with 1 tablespoon  sugar, or enough to cover. Light a blowtorch and hold the flame 2 to 3 inches above the custard, slowly moving it back and forth until the sugar melts and turns deep golden brown. (Or place under an oven broiler. Carefully watch to prevent burning.)

Pear Clafouti

Pear Clafouti

I was recently served a pear clafouti for dessert at a dinner party. Never a fan of egg-y desserts, I have avoided eating clafoutis and flans – pointedly ignoring them in favor of other fruit filled desserts without the baked custard. As I bit into my clafouti, I suddenly realized that I all of this time I have been making a grave mistake. This clafouti was airy and luscious, rippling with pear and scented with vanilla. It was the perfect end to a dinner: not overly sweet, elegant and light. What had I been thinking?

So, the other night I made a clafouti. At first I was tempted to improvise, but I decided it might be wise to follow an appealing recipe first. (After all, I didn’t want to jeopardize my new-found interest with a less than perfect result.) After a quick perusal, I took inspiration from a recipe by Ina Garten. What I liked about her version was the use of heavy cream instead of milk and the infusion of the custard with lemon and pear brandy. Rich, bright and spiked: How could I resist? The following is my adaptation:

Pear Clafouti with Lemon
Serves 8.

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
Finely grated zest of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons Pear Brandy
4 firm but ripe pears, peeled and cored

Whipped Cream:
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon pear brandy
1 tablespoon sifted confectioners’ sugar

Preheat oven to 375 F. (190 C.) Butter a 10 inch tart pan or ceramic baking dish.
Beat sugar and eggs in bowl of electric mixer until light and fluffy, 3-4 minutes. Mix in cream, flour, lemon zest, salt and pear brandy. Set aside.
Thinly slice the pears. Arrange slices in a circular pattern in the tart pan. Pour custard over the pears. Bake in the oven until the filling is golden brown and set, about 35 minutes. Remove and cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature with whipped cream.

To make the whipped cream, beat the cream in bowl of electric mixer with whisk attachment until traces of the whisk are apparent in the cream. Add the brandy and sugar. Continue to beat until soft peaks form.