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Pots de crème is a simple yet elegant loose egg custard that is often baked in a water bath in small cups. In most cases, pots de crème is made in ramekins and it is less firm than other types of crème or egg custards made by the French. It is usually eaten straight from the receptacle in which it is baked, since it will not unmold successfully like crème caramel.
Most custards in the French language are simply called crème. In this case, the literal translation of pots de crème would be "pots of custard," and the name can refer to both the desserts and the little pots or cups in which the dessert is baked. Baked custards were often baked in pastry shells, but an even simpler version made without pastry dough was clearly appealing.
It is thought that, in the 17th century, pots de crème first became a popular alternative to custards served in bakery shells. There is little documentation as to who "invented" pots de crème, and a person might have to research far back into the history of the middle ages to find such inventors. Likely baked custards were developed in numerous places at approximately the same time.
What can be documented is that special cups or pots began to be made of porcelain in the 18th century. Many of the cups for pots de crème were beautiful and elaborately made, and numerous types featured two handles and a lid, or a single handle and a lid. These early examples of the "pots" are valued highly as collector's items. Even today, there are some beautiful pots available that add much flare to presenting pots de crème, though in most restaurants, and indeed in many homes, it is more likely to see the dessert served in simple ramekins.
Though the custard dessert can be simply or elaborately presented, recipes differ quite a bit. The base for any version typically includes cream, eggs and sugar, though there are some versions made with soymilk or rice milk. Probably the most popular variant is made with good quality baking chocolate. There are numerous takes on this classic dessert, however, including those made with pumpkin, blood orange or key lime.
There are a few important things to remember when creating any recipe for pots de crème. After combining the ingredients, the whole mixture should be strained before it is added to cups. This will result in a much smoother custard. If lidded pots are not being used, each individual ramekin or dish should be covered with foil so that the custard doesn't form a skin as it bakes.
I've had good luck with chocolate panna cotta, which is the Italian version of pots de creme, except it's eggless. It's a slightly more predictable recipe, I think.
Pots de creme or panna cotta, this is one of those desserts that doesn't require a lot of elaborate prep work, and they're so rich and flavorful that a smaller serving is very satisfying. That's always a good feature for a dessert to have, in my opinion. You can have dessert without so much guilt about blowing your diet.
All the pots de creme I've eaten have been chocolate. They're kind of like a dense chocolate pudding. I liked them. That's another recipe I'd like to try. I've made custard any number of times. I'd like to try a chocolate version, too.
I can't imagine that a chocolate custard would be any more difficult than a vanilla or lemon one. I've never had trouble with them, although I know some people have had disastrous efforts. Fortunately, I haven't.
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