When summer birthdays roll around, do you really want to turn on that oven (and heat up your kitchen) to bake that cake?
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve made plenty of cakes in my time
and while they are usually pretty tasty, there’s something kind of anti-climatic about them. Is it just that they are so expected? Or is it the fact that there are so many wonderful ones out there for purchase that make most homemade efforts dim in comparison?
Me, I’m more competitive than most, and so I’m never going to like the odds of my cake vs. professional cake in a beauty contest, and if I am going to do something special for a family member’s b-day, I want it to stand out.
Like “Oooh. You made me chocolate pots de creme for my birthday? I’m sooo excited.”
Think a sheet cake is going to get me that kind of reaction? Or even a chocolate layer cake?
No. Those cakes can be wonderful in their own right, but not for me and birthdays. These special occasion desserts need to be different.
Like Oliver’s customary birthday caramel pot de cremes. Or these Caramel Snickers Fudge Brownies.
And here’s one other thing that no one seems to talk about as a key component of a special birthday treat.
Birthday treats need to be INDIVIDUAL.
I’m a huge fan of individual desserts whenever possible; it allows the recipient to determine the pace in which it’s eaten and ensures the sameness for all.
Feel like eating it super slow while others plow through it? No problem. Remember last time getting stuck with a middle soggier piece of something while others enjoyed the crispier edged ones? No worries here. Everyone has the same — and it’s their choice as to how and even when to eat it.
So when I was trying to think something of something special for my hubby’s birthday yesterday, I thought about making another pot de creme (both chocolate and caramel cremes are favorite around here) but then I came across a recipe from the Saltie cookbook I’d borrowed from the library.
I’d picked up the book on a whim, not knowing a thing about this cult-favorite Brooklyn restaurant, but I was drawn to the pics and simplicity of the recipes.
And one in particular had caught my attention when I’d first checked it out:
I haven’t made a mousse in ages, and thought that this extra-decadent dessert could be made early in the day and the fact that I didn’t need to turn on the oven once won me over.
I got to work.
It’s a simple list of ingredients — egg whites and one egg, honey, sugar, cream, chocolate (I used mostly bittersweet coins with a few semi-sweet chips thrown in) and I omitted the brandy and added in the same amount of orange extract.
You melt the chocolate, cream, honey and sugar together over low heat
and then you take those egg whites and whip them into stiff peak submission.
You then fold the egg whites into the cooled chocolate mixture. I was a little worried at first because it looked a little streaky with a little bit of the egg white bubbles inside, but I trusted the recipe and into the fridge it went for chilling.
I think my concern came from the fact that I was comparing their somewhat nubby appearance to that of silken pot de cremes
but to compare mousses and baked custards like these cremes is like comparing siblings.
While it’s hard to beat the silkiness of the latter, the mousse was far chocolatier and yet lighter in texture than the pot de cremes. Without the distraction of so many egg yolks and cream, the intensity of the main ingredient comes through, as if on a punched-up chocolate orange cloud.
They may not be as pretty to photograph as custards, but the flavor was divine. My husband said it was one of the best desserts he’s ever had in well over a half century of living.
So thanks to Saltie for the recipe and happy birthday, baby — may your days be healthy, long and filled with many more treats yet to come.
As long as I’m around, I’m happy to help with the latter.
- 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate chopped (author uses Mast Brothers, I used bittersweet coins and a few semisweet chips)
- ¾ C. heavy cream
- 1 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. honey
- 1 Tbs. plus 1 tsp brandy (I used 2 tsp. orange extract instead)
- ¼ C. sugar
- 1 large egg, separated, plus 3 egg whites
- kosher salt
- extra virgin olive oil (optional)
- sea salt
- In a heavy sauce pan over low heat, combine the chocolate, cream, honey, brandy and sugar.
- Stirring gently, cook until the mixture is smooth and velvety. Remove the chocolate mixture from the heat and whisk in the single egg yolk. Pour the chocolate into a large bowl and let it cool to lukewarm.
- Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer, add a pinch of salt and beat on high speed until the whites form stiff peaks. Using a rubber spatula, stir one-third of the whites into the chocolate, gently folding them in this time. Repeat in this way with the final addition of the egg whites, folding just until any streakiness is incorporated but maintaining the loftiness of the whites.
- Pour into a serving dish (or individual ramekins as I did) and refrigerate until well chilled, at least 2 hours before serving.
- Scoop into bowls, garnish with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of sea salt (or do as I did and skip both those and add just a touch of fresh whipped cream and chocolate shavings).