One of my favorite ways to end a meal—whether it’s a fancy dinner at Chateau Souverain, the winery where I’m executive chef, or a casual gathering of friends at home—is with the luscious French custard called pot de crème (pronounced POH duh krem). Pot de crème is all about creamy texture, intense flavor, and contented silence: I’ve found that a tableful of even the chattiest diners suddenly goes quiet when this heavenly dessert arrives.
Pot de crème is also about convenience—you can (and should) make it the day before you plan to serve it, so when it’s time for dessert, all you have to do is pull the chilled custards out of the refrigerator and decorate them.
When I began making this years ago I focused on classic vanilla, but over time I began to develop my own favorite flavors. Here you’ll find recipes for three of the best: chocolate, coffee-caramel, and lemon. Although the flavors differ, the method is the same, and the tips below will help you with all of them.
For the creamiest texture, use a double doneness test
Making pot de crème isn’t hard, but it does call for good technique and sure-fire doneness testing; see photo #4 below. Again, this dessert is all about luscious texture. If the pot de crème is undercooked, it will be tasty but runny, but overcooking can make it grainy.
4 key tips for a creamy texture
The right vessel for your pot de crème
There’s room for improvisation when choosing a cup for the custards. The recipes here call for 6-ounce ramekins and yield eight servings, but lots of different vessels work: Those neat-looking custard cups you found at a tag sale, ramekins that are slightly smaller, even coffee cups or teacups will all work, provided they’re oven or microwave safe.
If you end up using cups that are smaller than the 6-ounce ramekins we used in our test kitchen, you will, of course, end up with more than eight servings (not a bad thing at all). More important, the custards may not take as long to cook, so start checking early for doneness. Also, the thinner the walls of the cup, the shorter the cooking time.
There are sets of small covered pots used expressly for pots de crème. You’ll often find them in antique stores and from specialty china purveyors (check the Web). These traditional pots de crème pots have a smaller capacity, and new ones can be pricey, but they make a fun presentation. —the editors