Perhaps I have an insensitive palette, but a pet peeve of mine is when an ice cream or chocolaty confection promises an intriguing flavor, then merely tastes like plain ice cream or chocolate. Not that there’s anything wrong with plain ice cream or chocolate, but if balsamic vinegar is billed as a flavor, for example, then I want to taste balsamic vinegar, goshdarnit; otherwise, what is the point of putting it in at all?
I once worked at a renowned SF restaurant for as long as I could put up with being treated like crap; i.e, not very long. I could write a novel about all the jacked-up things that went on at said business (and in fact, have begun to do so) but for now I will merely tell you about the front-of-house manager, who, for the purpose of today’s post, I will call Sabrina.
Sabrina had a shrill voice. She would clack around the kitchen in her expensive-looking stiletto heels and skirt suit, ignoring us be-uniformed cooks whose pay put us below the poverty line and sucking up to the higher-ups, including the owner’s wife, whose reptilian coolness she appeared to idolize.
One day, I was actually allowed to do something slightly creative: I was instructed to make a truffle base of my choice for the day’s mignardise, or the microscopic confections that are gifted with the bill at the end of the clients’ exorbitantly expensive meal, perhaps to soften the blow of said bill. The mignardise stand weighed about 1,000 pounds and had to be carried up a flight of treacherous stairs after painstakingly arranging the labor-intensive confections on it.
The truffles that I had tasted thus far all boasted intriguing flavors – pink peppercorn, honey-balsamic, rosewater – but to me, they all tasted merely like chocolate. I decided on pearl jasmine as my flavoring, and took a wild guess at how many pearls to use. I steeped them in the heavy cream which was poured over the chocolate, and added butter. I had my chef taste the ganache, and she approved.
To roll the ganache into round balls, one had to do so while standing in the walk in so that the ganache wouldn’t melt all over one’s hands in the summer heat. The walk-in often containted a dead pig which inevitably hung from the ceiling. I stood next to the pig, rolled the balls, then shiveringly dipped each ball in a double coating of tempered chocolate. When the balls had hardened, I placed each one in a tiny paper cup and arranged them alongside the pate à fruit and dainty cookies and hefted the stand up to the dining room, terrified, as always, at the thought of tripping on the stairs. I made it safely, however, heaved the stand onto its designated counter space, and headed back down for my regularly scheduled evening of abusive and humiliating dessert plating.
As service began, Sabrina stomped in squawking that the truffles had ‘too strong’ of a jasmine flavor and were unservable. Thankfully, where Sabrina was lacking in the ‘fun co-worker’ category, my chef made up for in spades. She curtly told the manager that the truffles were fine, that it was too late to make more and, anyway, that they were FREE for god’s sake, and that, basically, she could shove off and go do her REAL job, which was bossing around and degrading the servers, not us.
Happily, now that I am bojon, I can put all the flavor I want into my desserts. I began blogging for Eatnation several months ago, and the director, Joohee, kindly sent me a sample of Tcho pro bittersweet chocolate. The citrusy notes inspired me to pair it with savory ingredients: rosemary, olive oil and sea salt.
The pot de creme recipe I use is adapted from Cook’s. It is all done on the stovetop and is as easy as making a creme anglaise and whisking in some chocolate (no tricksy baking pans filled with hot water). I steeped some rosemary sprigs in the dairy first, then topped the chilled custards with unsweetened whipped cream, a drizzle of fruity olive oil and some flecks of Malden salt. The resulting dessert is richly intriguing, guaranteed to please the most discerning of palettes. (Although probably not Sabrina’s.)
For a more classic pot de creme, simply omit the rosemary and splash in a bit of vanilla or coffee extract to the finished custard instead, and serve with whipped cream and chocolate shavings. Just about anything goes with chocolate, though, so feel free to go crazy with your own wild flavorings. Some options could be:
fresh mint leaves (peppermint or chocolate mint)
coffee beans, lightly crushed
two 3″ cinnamon sticks and 1/8 tsp. red pepper flakes
pearl jasmine (tee hee!), earl grey (with honey), black tea, or matcha
Whatever flavor you choose, I certainly won’t criticize it. Unless you can’t taste it at all, that is.
Chocolate Rosemary Pots de Creme
with olive oil and Maldon salt
Makes four 4-ounce servings
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup half and half
two 4″ sprigs fresh rosemary
2 egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (65-70% cacao mass)
1/3 cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
super good olive oil
flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
In a small saucepan, heat the heavy cream, half and half and rosemary sprigs until bubbling around the edges and steamy. Cover and set aside to steep for 20 minutes.
Place the chocolate in a medium bowl or quart-sized measuring cup and place a fine-mesh strainer over the bowl.
Whisk together the yolks, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Secure the bowl on a damp cloth. Re-heat the cream until bubbling around the edges again, then, whisking constantly, slowly dribble the hot dairy into the yolk mixture until you have added it all. Return the mixture to the pot and cook the custard over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof rubber spatula or wooden spoon, until thickened to the consistency of heavy cream, 175-180ºF, about 5 minutes. Immediately pour through the strainer and into the chocolate.
Let sit for a minute or two to melt the chocolate, then gently whisk to combine. The mixture will be thick. Pour into 4 ramekins or espresso cups. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour or two to firm up.
To serve, let the custards sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes to soften. Top each with a healthy dollop of whipped cream, a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of flaky salt.