How To: Vanilla Pot de Creme

Welcome to How To. In this video series Ale Gomez of Providence and Kevin Van of both Providence and The Dining Society will guide us through simple, delicious at-home recipes. If you have a recipe request, let us know in the comments.

Desserts don't always have to be about sugar. The two components of this recipe -- one a baked custard, the other a fresh fruit compote -- play off each other naturally, satisfying without being overly saccharine. The simple alchemy of combining eggs and dairy in such a way creates a dense yet creamy texture, with the fresh vanilla bean there to add depth and body. Not much sleight of hand here, but it's paramount with custards like this to bake them submerged in a water bath in the oven, which moderates the heat and prevents them from scrambling. Finish this dessert by adding fresh fruit, poached gently with aromatics like ginger or orange zest (listed below are some ideas for flavor combinations as well as a basic technique).

Ale Gomez and Kevin Van's Vanilla Pot de Crème with Poached Fruit
Serves 6
2 cups heavy cream
3/4 cup whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
6 extra large egg yolks
2 whole vanilla bean pods

Preheat your oven to 300ºF.

Using a paring knife, split the vanilla beans in half lengthwise and scrape the pulp. Combine the vanilla beans and pulp with the milk and cream in a 3-quart sauce pot over medium heat, letting it slowly come to a simmer.

Combine the egg yolks and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Whisk until the sugar is completely incorporated. Once the cream/milk/vanilla concoction comes to a steady simmer, take it off the heat. With a whisk in one hand, ladle the hot dairy into the eggs in small batches, whisking to prevent the eggs from scrambling. Once you've fully combined the two elements and it's looking good, return this to the stove in the three-quart sauce pot over medium heat.

As an additional measure to safeguard against having it curdle in the oven, cook the custard on the stove, stirring gently, until it registers 85ºC on a thermometer, or until the liquid is nappé (a French term regarding the viscosity as "coating the back of a spoon"). Once it's reached the right temperature/consistency, remove the whole vanilla beans and divide the custard base evenly into ramekins, cups, mason jars, or otherwise appropriate vessels.

Using a deep baking dish with a dish towel lining the bottom, arrange your pots de crème in a way that leaves each one with a little space to breath. Pour warm water into the baking dish about halfway up the side of the ramekins, cover the baking dish with aluminum foil tightly (use a double layer of foil if you want to be extra neurotic), and into the oven it goes.

Let the pots de crème cook for about 30 minutes, checking every 10 minutes thereafter. What you're looking for is for the custard to not be completely set, so that when you tap one gently, the center will still jiggle slightly (about 25% of the surface area of the custard should jiggle). Once this is the case, carefully remove the baking dish from the oven, making sure none of the water in the pan gets into the ramekins.

Let this whole thing rest on a kitchen counter just like it is for about 10 minutes.

After this, move the ramekins to the fridge to let them finish cooling. These pots de crème are best served chilled, so give them a couple of hours to really set up and get cold in the cooler.

Poached Fruit with Aromatics
Poaching fruit is more a technique than a concrete recipe. The general idea is to cook the fruit in a syrup of sugar and water (and in this case, various aromatics) just enough to soften the edges and infuse some flavor. Depending on the fruit being used, cooking times will vary with the density of the fruit. A good way to measure this would be to gauge how translucent the fruit becomes; normally you'd want to cook it just until it looks slightly translucent.

This method is different from making jam in that it retains most of the texture and flavor of the fresh fruit, while slightly sweetening it and infusing other flavors in the process. Start by making a simple syrup (a combination of water and sugar in a 1:1 ratio, cooked on the stovetop until the sugar melts), and add your cut-up fruit with some of the aromatics suggested below (in about a 1:10 aromatics to syrup ratio), making sure to cook it slowly and gently without boiling the fruit. Once the fruit is poached you can use it immediately or let it cool and store it in its syrup in the fridge, allowing the flavors to continue to steep.

Suggested Flavor Combinations:
Pear and ginger
Pineapple and vanilla bean
Quince and orange zest
Persimmon and cinnamon
Apple and green cardamom
Figs and port
Tangerine and rosemary

Many thanks to The Farmer's Kitchen for letting us use their space.



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About the Author

Katherine's role as the Living editor at KCET.org keeps her running from farms to markets to restaurants to pop-up swaps all over SoCal. She's been living in and writing about this area for over a decade.
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