Cook the Book: Julie Cooks Julia
I’m always in awe of the dreamy food porn in the latest best-selling magazines and cookbooks, but the thrift shopper in me says I probably don’t need to go into debt to fill my bookshelves with something I can just look up online.
The solution? Used cookbooks. The older and more obscure they are, the more satisfying it is when a recipe holds up under this novice cook’s attempts to recreate it.
This straightforward recipe for Petits Pots de Crème au Chocolate, or Chocolate Cream Custards, comes from the 1968 paperback edition of Julia Child’s “The French Chef Cookbook,” which I picked up from one of those free library boxes at the end of my street. Score!
The book comprises recipes from her television cooking show, The French Chef, which was produced by WGBH in Boston from 1963 to 1973, and features illustrations and photographs by her husband Paul Child.
The bake time is 20 minutes, so within an hour, you could be eating the best vintage chocolate dessert of your life. The equipment needed is four ½ cup ramekins, a baking dish, aluminum foil, a kettle to boil water, quart measure, mixing bowl, saucepan, stirring spoon, fine-meshed sieve, and a stove and oven preheated to 350 degrees.
2/3 cup semisweet chocolate bits or 4 ounces (4 squares) semisweet baking chocolate
About 1 cup all-purpose or medium cream
Optional: 2 to 3 Tb sugar
1 whole egg plus 2 egg yolks (U.S. graded “large”)
1 ½ Tb dark Jamaican rum
Place chocolate in a quart measure and add enough cream to come to the 1 ½-cup mark. Pour into a saucepan and set over low heat, stirring occasionally until chocolate has melted completely. Stir in sugar to taste. Blend egg and yolks in a bowl just enough to mix them; stirring the eggs, gradually pour on the hot chocolate mixture in a thin stream. Stir in the rum, then strain through a fine-meshed sieve back into the quart measure. Remove all foam with a spoon: foam will make holes in top of custards.
Pour into the ramekins, and again remove all foam and bubbles. Set ramekins in baking dish and add boiling water to two thirds the height of the ramekins. Cover baking dish loosely with aluminum foil, to prevent tops of custards from crusting.
Bake in lower third of preheated oven for about 20 minutes, regulating heat so that water in baking dish never quite simmers. Timing and temperature are important here, as too much heat makes custard granular and too long cooking makes it separate when it cools. Custards are done when they have puffed into a slight dome but still tremble gently.
Serve hot, warm, or chilled, with lightly sweetened whipped cream. (You may form whipped cream into fancy shapes with a pastry bag on waxed paper, and freeze; these decorations are then available any time you need them.)