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Pots de Crème is a make-ahead dessert that can add some sweetness to a brunch or provide an elegant ending to a spring dinner. Photo by Sue Doeden

Pots de Crème: Way more than just pudding

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taste Willmar,Minnesota 56201 http://www.wctrib.com/sites/default/files/styles/square_300/public/fieldimages/1/1130/0404-food-photo-main-web.jpg?itok=1Oi-n9Xv
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Pots de Crème: Way more than just pudding
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

A slight resemblance to custard, but so creamy and smooth it could be mousse. Only the texture is a bit more dense than mousse. These little cups of silky smooth lusciousness are called Pots de Crème in French. It's perfectly all right, though, to just call them little pots of chocolate with a billowy cream topping. Or just call it chocolate pudding. Once you taste it, though, you'll want to call it Pots de Crème.

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In February, I was browsing through an antique shop in south central Minnesota when I spied a set of four espresso cups and saucers. I don't have an espresso maker, but I knew I could not live without those simply elegant Italian cups and saucers. Perhaps I would fill them with chocolate mousse. Or maybe some dark chocolate pudding. Then I remembered a recipe for Pots de Crème I had recently discovered as I was going through my recipe box.

I'm not sure who gave me the recipe, and I don't know exactly when I added it to my collection. It is obvious, though, that I acquired the recipe before I took a French class at the University of Minnesota the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college. There, in parentheses above the word Pots was "POE." I'm assuming that was to help me remember how to pronounce Pots de Crème. It's not pots dee cream. In French, it's pronounced more like Poh de Krehm, with some throatiness on the Krehm.

Pots de Crème is often cooked, using the same technique as you would use when making custard. And sometimes the little cups are placed in a pan of water, covered and baked. The Pots de Crème I'm sharing with you today is the easiest way to make it. Put the ingredients in a blender and give them a whirl. Pour the thick coffee-spiked chocolate mixture into little cups, cover and chill. A few hours later you can serve a heavenly French dessert. Yes, it is that easy.

I always have a jar of instant espresso powder in my pantry. Most well-stocked grocery stores will have it, usually on the shelves near the traditional instant coffee. I never use it to mix up a cup of espresso. I add the very fine powder to anything chocolate. Coffee adds depth to chocolate, bringing out its rich flavor. A little bit of sugar and a couple of eggs join the coffee powder and chocolate in the blender. Boiling water and milk are poured into the whirring blender to melt the chocolate and "cook" the eggs. Add some vanilla, and you're done. Whip up some cream just before serving to dollop over the top of each dessert.

Once I started making Pots de Crème, I couldn't stop. I filled my new Italian cups. Then I dug out some antique tea cups I had saved from my aunt's cupboard and some delicate demitasse cups from my grandma's buffet and filled them all with chocolate. I started to pull some fancy little liqueur glasses from my cupboard, but then thought better of it. Who would eat all of this Pots de Crème?

You'll find this make-ahead dessert adds a little something sweet to brunch and provides an elegant finale to a spring dinner party. Poh de Krehm. There, you said it. If you can say it, you can make it.

Pots de Crème

1 cup semisweet chocolate morsels

1 teaspoon instant espresso powder

4 tablespoons sugar, divided

2 eggs, room temperature

1/4 cup water

1/4 cup whole milk

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract, divided

1 cup whipping cream

Fresh raspberries or chocolate-covered espresso beans, for garnish

Place chocolate morsels in blender and add instant espresso powder and 3 tablespoons sugar. Process on medium speed for 10 seconds. Add eggs and blend. Combine water and milk and heat to boiling. With blender running, remove the insert from the cover of the blender and pour in the hot liquid in a slow, steady stream. Add 1 teaspoon vanilla and blend mixture for 1 minute until smooth. Pour chocolate mixture into 4 to 6 small demitasse or espresso cups. Cover and refrigerate.

Just before serving, beat whipping cream with remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla until soft peaks form. To serve, place a dollop of sweetened whipped cream on each cup of Pots de Crème. Garnish with fresh berries or chocolate-covered espresso beans.

Tips from the cook

--Any instant coffee granules can be used in this recipe, but instant espresso powder will deliver the best flavor. Add an extra teaspoon of the powder if you want a more pronounced coffee flavor.

--My original recipe calls for a teaspoon of rum or brandy rather than vanilla. Experiment with your favorite liqueur.

--Pots de Crème is rich, so a small serving is usually just right. If you feel like serving larger portions, try custard cups, martini glasses or antique tea cups.

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