Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Have Some Dessert ~ Crème Plombières aux Chocolat

My aunt and uncle are up visiting from North Carolina this week, and as a big "Hey, we haven't seen you since December and you've never been to my house at all" celebration, we had my entire maternal extended family over for dinner Sunday.  I made teriyaki marinated kebabs with shrimp, chicken and beef, plus a couple vegetarian skewers for my aunt.  26 skewers in all, along with grill-roasted veggies, homemade cornbread (and the standard cookout fare of baked beans and pasta salad), accompanied by spicy orange teriyaki sauce.

The best part of the meal, not surprisingly, was dessert.

I love when I host family dinner at my house, because it gives me a really good excuse to make a new dessert (or an old favorite on occasion) because I'll have upwards of eight people to eat it.  It's very bad to make desserts for just me and Aaron.  Because we eat it.  All. Ourselves.  Like the brownies I randomly made on Friday night.  Because I wanted brownies.

I needed a dessert that was awesome, impressive, and easy, and made with stuff I already had on hand.  I pulled the "bible" off the shelf - Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child.

I love Julia.

I perused the dessert section for probably an hour or so, flipping back and forth.  I was torn between Crème Anglaise, Crème Pâstissière (which I've made before and is awesome, by the way), and Crème Plombières.  I also waffled with flavorings.  Julia often recommends rum, kirsch (whatever that is) or cognac as flavoring, but I had none of those.  Not even rum.

("Why's the rum always gone?")

It was going to be either chocolate or vanilla flavoring.  I even posted my dilemma on Facebook and had some friends weigh in on the decision.  Or rather, declare that all three sounded difficult, but delicious.

In the end, I decided to make Crème Plombières with chocolate flavoring, top it with a layer of sliced strawberries, and then whip up some Crème Chantilly (whipped cream, it's that simple) for the top.  I went to bed rather pleased with my decision.

It was light.  It was fluffy.  It was delicious.  It was gone in less than five seconds.  I've already had a coworker request it for his birthday next year, after viewing this photo on Facebook.

The total time it took to make the Crème Plombières was forty minutes, start to finish.  I even had time to curl my hair before heading off to church.  Here we go, step by step.  

First, I separated four eggs (see my really nice Pampered Chef egg separator?), setting the egg whites aside for later.  Then I beat together the yolks and the sugar.  The yolks are ready when they're really thick and pale yellow, and almost look a little like cake icing.  Sort of.  Then I added a couple tablespoons of flour and beat again till it's incorporated.

While I was beating the yolks, I brought milk to a boil on the stove. This is such a tricky thing to do.  It's very easy to scorch the milk, make your house smell awful, and have to scrub your pan.  Fortunately, after a little Google searching, I determined that I needed to bring the milk to a boil on medium heat and be constantly stirring it. I may have pulled it off heat a little on the early side, as it was just starting to boil, but I didn't want to burn the milk.  

I had to add the milk to the yolks in drops, which basically means pouring it extremely slowly into the mixing bowl while the beater is going.  I had to do the same thing when I made the Crème Pâstissière, but I don't remember making the terrible mess I made this time.  A good amount of milk just dribbled down the side of my pan onto my counter rather than into the bowl.  I ended up having to put the splash/pouring guard onto my mixing bowl, which helped some.  However, I definitely didn't use the full amount of milk.  Let's leave it at that.

Anyway, once everything was mixed and some vanilla added, I poured everything into a 3 quart saucepan and cooked it on the stove, stirring with a wire whip, until it cooked at a slow boil for 2 minutes.

Having made the Crème Pâstissière before, I was expecting something more custardy, and I was surprised how thin this turned out.  Granted, the amount of milk in this dish is a lot less than the Crème Pâstissière, but I expected it to be a lot thicker.  Oh well.  I melted some chocolate and vanilla together - which didn't really melt so much as get really soft - and whisked it in.

Fortunately, as I whisked the chocolate got much more melty, and the whole thing was wonderfully smooth.

I really wanted to grab a spoon and start eating right away.  But I wasn't done yet.  Remember those egg whites?  I beat those until they were nice and stiff, then folded them into the chocolate cream.

I have to admit that this step was not impressive at all.  I've done my fair share of folding in of egg whites in the past, and I was expecting this to look a lot smoother a lot quicker.  It looks.... yes, it looks very unappetizing.  However, after some TLC, and maybe a little bit of foul language and pleading, this did smooth out and turned lovely and light.

Yes, I did lick the spatula. You would've too, if you'd been there.

The recipe instructions for Crème Plombières suggest spreading this delightful mixture over sponge cake or lady fingers that have been arranged in a serving dish and sprinkled with either rum or coffee.  I had neither, so I just went with the lady fingers I have stashed in my pantry for dessert emergencies.  I figured the moisture from the Crème Plombières would moisten them enough, especially since I wasn't serving it until that night.

I poured the chocolate cream over the lady fingers, smoothed it out, and stuck it in the fridge.  Later that afternoon I sliced up my strawberries, sprinkled them with sugar, and let them get happy for about ten minutes before spreading them over the chocolate cream.

Just before my guests arrived, I whipped up some Crème Chantilly, flavored it with vanilla and powdered sugar, and spread it evenly over the top of everything. Back into the fridge it went.  I didn't pull it out until it was time for dessert.

The "oohs" and "aahs" abounded as I pulled it out of the fridge.  It was light.  It was sweet.  It tasted sort of like chocolate mousse. The lady fingers didn't soften quite as I expected, and I think the next time I make this I will try some sort of rum/coffee sprinkling, or use sponge cake, which tends to be softer.  But regardless, this lovely dish lasted all of 2.8 seconds.  Somehow, one of my uncles didn't get a serving, so I relinquished my minuscule second helping.  My mother, sister, and I respectfully vacated the room when he picked up the dish and declared, "I'm going to lick this clean." 

I'm not sure whether or not he actually licked it clean or scraped it clean.  Sometimes it's best not to ask.

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