Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Rebooting Purity of Taste

The year was 2001.
I was in my senior semester of the 18-month diploma for professional cookery at the (then) Prue Leith College of Food and Wine at the start of my menu week.

The format of the college required one day per week of "theory", with the other four days worked in either the hot or cold kitchen, churning out a piece of that weeks changing menu for the on-site restaurant (then The Odd Plate).

While their were numerous examinations standing between me and graduation, a large proponent of that semester's marks came from menu week, a five-day cycle where a partner and myself got to set up the menu (3 starters, breads, 1 soup, 4 main courses, 3 desserts, petit fours) for the restaurant and play "head chef" in our respective kitchens (and all that entails).

At the same time, some where in London, Jamie Oliver was "Nakedly Cheffing" his way into hoardes of peoples' hearts the world over with his TV program and cook books, one of which featured a delightful little recipe for Chocolate Pots.

While my menu week partner and I were as flamboyant and inspired with our flavour combinations as an inexperienced 19 and 20-year old could be, we knew we wanted one thing on the menu which was simple, elegant and entirely refined in its tastes. An item which stood out for being nothing other than a better version of itself....the sum of perfect ingredients, so to speak.

Jamie's chocolate pots fitted the bill.

Since the ingredients were simple, we decided to make the presentation quirky, serving the dessert item in a small demitasse cup with saucer and diminutive demitasse spoon. The chocolate pot itself was topped with a meltingly soft coffee-flavoured meringue the exact circumfrence of the demitasse cup, fashioned to look like the swirl of cream on top of a cappuccino. We thought it was adorably kitsch (the real head chef thought it was just kitsch), but it flew off the menu at a blistering rate and taught me a valuable lesson.

Most people seek purity of taste.

A conglomeration of flavours and textures can be confusing to the taste buds, and aren't always welcome when what you're seeking is something uncluttered and comforting (and not, necessarily, entirely deconstructed).

It's with interest that I notice time and again the empty spaces on super market shelves in the chocolate section where the plain chocolate selections should be located...the milks and 70% and 85% bars. Standing next to these empty spaces in their undiminished glory are the chocolates where a flavour has intervened...chilli or salt or blueberries or crunchy espresso beans. And while these are taste sensations, to be sure, the buyers evidence speaks for itself.

It just so happens, the chocolate pots were a brilliant idea for another reason as well.

By the evening of the fifth day of menu week, my partner and I were so dog tired from working split shifts (arriving long before anyone and leaving only after the kitchens and restaurant were spotlessly clean) that while we were going through the menu with that evening's wait staff, we started laughing uncontrollably. I'm talking entirely hysterical and unstoppable belly laughter that left us crying and gasping for air, while the waiters and waitresses looked at us as if we had lost it completely!

We knew there was only one thing for it: 
we went and stood in the walk-in fridge, shutting the door behind us. We took the tasting spoons stored in the special little pockets on the sleeves of our respective chefs' jackets, and we dug in to a shared chocolate pot from that night's stash.

And we were the better for it as, I believe, the world is the better for having chocolate!

Modified Chocolate Pots

Level: Easy
Time: 15 minutes to make (plus at least 3 hours for setting)
Yields: 6 (using ramekins/espresso cups)

On the night my family visited the restaurant for dinner, my Mom ordered this item off the menu, which unleashed an annual craving.

Every year since 2001, she requests I make a batch of chocolate pots for her birthday. And while I have tried a few different combinations of quantities and flavours over the years, it is to this version I always return, as it receives the greatest number of compliments in the form of: "Hmmmm's!" :-)

P.S. If you're looking for the Naked Chef's original rum filled, egg yolk heavy recipe, it is all over the internet. Just search for Jamie Oliver's chocolate pots.

  • 250 milliliters of cream (1 cup)
  • 200 grams of dark chocolate (68 to 70% cocoa solids)
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 100 grams good quality butter (a brand you like the taste of so much that you could eat it with a tea spoon by itself)

Heat the cream in a pot over low to medium heat until steam starts rising from the surface, and a tiny simmer emerges, at which point you must remove it immediately from the stove.

Allow it to calm down for a minute or so, and then break in the chocolate pieces and watch them melt, stirring occasionally.

Now stir in the butter, until it's melted through.

Last to go in (to save you from scrambled egg flavoured chocolate pots) are the egg yolks, which you stir through.

Pour into 6 ramekins or small espresso cups standing on a tray. Cover the tray with cling wrap (so your chocolate pots don't taste like your fridge smells), and refrigerate for at least three to four hours (overnight is best).

Serve lightly garnished with chocolate swirls, orange zest or the like...whatever takes your fancy (and then the person eating it can scrape off the topping if it's too adventurous, just like my Mom did, thereby proving my point perfectly that most people don't like their chocolate fix tinkered with too much) :-)
Orange Zest
Dark Chocolate
Fresh Rosemary
Chocolate Covered Peanuts
Fresh Lavender


Simeon said...

That, is an epic post!

Beautifully written, and the recipe itself, vividly presented.

Unknown said...

I have to try them ASAP! Great recipe. Thanks.

Lavinia said...

Mmmmm from me too. They look delicious. The only bad part about them is that the cups are too small.

I really enjoyed your story too. It's interesting how people usually go for plain chocolate. It makes a safe present, that's for sure though.

Jocie's Mom said...

Now I have a craving :)

My Little Space said...

Hi Juanita, nice to meet you. Thanks for stopping by my blog earlier. You've a very lovely blog here. Looking forward for sharing. Hope to hear from you more often. & have a nice day!
Regards, Kristy

Angie's Recipes said...

You had me at some real chocolate treat!

natalie said...

Oh, what a wonderful post! The food looks amazing (as you know, I'm a sucker for chocolate!), but your writing, too, has reached a level most of us bloggers still aspire to. It makes me want to tuck in to one of those pots...Maybe the rosemary-garnished one. :)

PolaM said...

LOVE simple great chocolate dessert! No need to complicate chocolate is just perfect the way it is isn't it?

oomph. said...

you always make your recipes look so easy!! i really want to try this one!

Melanie said...

These looks delicious and easy! A winning combination in my book. Great post!

Marisa said...

Ooooooooh these look amazing! Be still my beating heart and all that. I agree, sometimes simple is best.

Sandra said...

What a wonderfully written post..nice job on the chocolate pots too! Thanks for sharing, and have a great day!

flowers on my table said...

Hi Juanita, these chocolate pots look heavenly! I love your story and I am sooo impressed that you went to Pru Leith's Cookery School. I have been catching up with your posts and am sorry that you had the unpleasant experience with a blogger re advertising your business. It turned out well in the end though. I hope it works out for you, love Linda x

Liz That Skinny Chick Can Bake said...

Oh, wow!!! These would definitely be winners at my house! And what fabulous them all :)

Dreams of cakes said...

This desert looks perfect. I usually use the same dark chocolate for my sweets, and it is perfect!

Anonymous said...

Gorgeous photos. Saved in my "recipes to try" page.

Stacey @ bakercourt said...

Yumma! These look fab. I get ridiculously giddy every time I get a miniature spoon with one of my espressos or desserts - I would SO have ordered this off the menu! While I was in SA I saw the most incredible jewellery range featuring upcycled cutlery bent into bangles and folded into pendants and rings... Okay, enough cutlery talk. I'm so glad I have internet again so I can keep up with your blog! xx

Joyti said...

These look and sound delicious. I can see why the plain chocolate, so to speak, would be so popular - adding things to chocolate feels a bit artificial most of the time I think, the other flavors usually don't mesh well.

ameanderingmango said...

I love chocolate desserts and adding espresso can only make it better! great idea to add garnishes like rosemary and lavender - interesting and delicious!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post. :)
I did not know you went to cooking school.

Gintare @Gourmantine said...

I'm in love...with those little pots of chocolate,all of them... Beautifully done :)

Lazaro Cooks said...

Love the lavender combo and of course the orange zest. Classic.

Saw you on Linda's site. Glad I checked out your blog.

Be well