A Little Joy: Pot de Creme

Goat's Milk Chocolate Pot de Creme
Somewhere around the time that I turned 5, my mother gave me a little Betty Crocker oven. In retrospect, it seems a strange gift for I can't recall ever wanting to help in the kitchen. In fact, my mother would rarely let me do more than set the table. Most likely a good call since I was predestined for a lifetime of clumsiness, the first signs apparent by my knack for slopping, spilling, or dropping anything that I was asked to carry to the table.

Instead, of donning a miniature apron of my own and standing on a stool next to my mother, I was directed to 'stay out of the way' and sent to the peripheral edge of the kitchen. By no account was my mother too busy or even disinterested in helping me develop my culinary skills, but rather, she was concerned that my imaginative nature and daydreaming ways would lead to trouble, and really, who could fault a mother for using her highly attuned sixth sense to keep her child safe?

The way I see it now is that the Betty Crocker oven was either given to me to appease her guilt, or to provide me with the barest of skills that I'd need to eventually land a husband. Whatever she was thinking when she bought the oven remains a mystery, but one thing is certain, it resulted in disaster.

She set the oven up in a corner of my room, placing it on top of the little round table that I sat at when I'd read my books and where quite often, she'd serve me lunch. The rules were simple and easy to follow: I wasn't to ever use it without asking and the bedroom door had to stay open, just in case something happened. 

The first few cakes I baked turned out quite satisfactory. Of course, I never thought the accompanying packets of icing made enough to properly frost the cakes and if my memory can be trusted, the cakes were a bit rubbery, but as I baked more, I discovered that it really wasn't about the cakes at all. Instead, I found that left to my own devices, in the solitude of my room, my Betty Crocker oven heating up in the corner, that cooking filled me with absolute joy. I'd lose myself in the process and while I waited patiently for the oven's light bulb to do its work, I'd throw myself onto my bed and let my imagination run wild. I fantasized about baking cakes for parties and weddings, for movie stars and royalty--once my skills were discovered I thought, I'd surely be famous. And then a terrible thing happened: I ran out of the little boxes of cake mix.

When I told my mother that I'd need more, she was only too happy to agree, but later that week when we stopped by the store and she discovered how much they were, she quickly changed her mind. I'd have to find something else to entertain myself she said, because as far as she was concerned, she wasn't going to spend more on the cake mixes than she did on the oven. "Use your imagination," she said. "You'll figure out something to do."

I'm not sure what made me decide to use the real oven, but I knew if she caught me, I'd be in big trouble. So, when my aunt came to babysit, I talked her into letting me bake a pan of brownies and while to her defense, she tried to say no, in the end I convinced her. To my reasoning, if my mother could see how well I baked, then I wouldn't need my Betty Crocker oven anymore--I could use her oven. It would certainly solve my dilemma and soon enough, I figured, I'd be back to feeling that sense of joy.

I preheated the oven and got to work on mixing the ingredients together. After checking on my progress several times and deciding that I looked like I could handle things, my aunt went downstairs to watch television. I'd just cracked the second egg when I first smelled the terrible odor, but since I hadn't been allowed near the oven, I thought it was all quite normal. After all, even my little Betty Crocker oven smelled a little odd when I first plugged it in. I cracked another egg and then I could see the smoke, but before I could open my mouth to scream for help, my aunt came flying into the kitchen and went straight to the oven and when she pulled open the door, a cloud of thick white smoke came billowing out. Quickly, she turned off the oven and opened the windows and doors and once the smoke dissipated enough for us to see in the oven, we saw the terrible mess.

My mother, it turns out, thrifty as ever, had lined two cookie sheets with plastic wrap and covered them with cubes of stale bread. She had thought, I suppose, that by putting them in the oven to dry out, they would be out of the way and safe from any harm. She could have never known that I would come along with a plan to bake brownies and of course, since she never let me into the kitchen, I could have never known that this was the secret to her famous stuffing.

The cookie sheets were ruined, as were the two oven racks since in her haste, she must have left the plastic to drape over the edges of the pan. I'd never finish making the brownies, and even worse, my mother would soon be home and I knew she'd be furious.

I hadn't thought about this story in a very long time, but this past weekend, it slipped back into memory. It was rainy and overcast and cold, just the sort of weather that makes me want to turn on the oven and bake all sorts of things, except my oven is still broken. 

There was a quart of goat's milk in the refrigerator and the previous day, I'd discovered a set of French porcelain ramekins that Mr. B's mother had given me and that were tucked away in a cabinet, just the perfect size for the toaster oven. I grabbed the good bittersweet chocolate, the sugar and the eggs and as the toaster oven heated up, I started mixing things together. It had been a long time since I'd thought about my little Betty Crocker oven, decades perhaps, but there was something inherently comfortable about the moment, a sense of joy, that sparked the memory. I was well past the point of overpriced packaged cake mixes and skimpy quantities of icing. I'd learned how to cook in spite of my illustrious beginnings and that alone was enough to make me laugh out loud. What was I going to make, I wondered, but I already knew--I was going to rock a simple French classic, chocolate pot de creme--the goat's milk was just putting my imagination to good use! 
Chocolate Pot de Creme with Goat's Milk
1 quart of fresh goat's milk
3 eggs
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup of sugar
4 ounces high quality bittersweet chocolate, melted
2 teaspoons of vanilla
2 pinches of sea salt

1. Heat milk and vanilla over medium heat until just beginning to boil; remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
2. In a separate bowl, mix together the eggs, egg yolks, sugar and salt.
3. Remove 1/2 cup of milk from the pan and set aside.
4. Whisk the hot milk into the egg mixture 1 tablespoon at a time until you've incorporated about 1 cup of the milk. This is to ensure that the eggs don't curdle. Then pour the remaining milk into the mixture in a steady stream, whisking constantly.
5. Slowly, in the same manner, incorporate the warm milk into the chocolate, careful not to let the chocolate seize. If, however, despite your best efforts, the chocolate seizes up, warm it in the microwave for 15-20 seconds to loosen.
6. Once the milk is incorporated into the chocolate, whisk the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture.
7. Divide equally among 9 ramekins.
8. Place the ramekins in a shallow pan and fill with hot water so that the ramekins are half submerged in the water bath.
9. Bake in a 350 degree oven until the centers are just set, but still have a little wiggle.
10. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.
11. Refrigerate for 6-8 hours before serving.
12. To serve, top with a dollop of fresh, unsweetened whipping cream.

Comments

  1. Ah, I loved reading this story!! We too had an easy bake oven, and I bought one for my daughter too - until we just decided that cooking in the stove was the better way to go!

    I am happy to say, my daughter Hannah was the best sous chef I ever had, even if she kept putting things away before I used them!

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