I haven’t felt much like writing this month, or cooking, or recipe planning. All three are pastimes I usually relish. I often structure weekends so I have at least a little time to do all three– this is my respite from the work week, and my reward. This month, I prioritized reading, educating myself… well, that’s how I justify it to myself, but the truth is I didn’t have any extra energy to get excited about baking or meal planning. It seemed like such a frivolous thing, cooking, and typing that is both honest and incredibly disappointing. I still cooked, because we still needed to eat, turning to many of the comforting recipes previously featured on this blog: udon noodles in broth, stovetop mac and cheese, baked chicken, tikka masala with paneer. But I didn’t seek out new recipes as I normally would. As for writing, I didn’t consider anything I had to say as impactful as what I was reading from other bloggers and writers, and I didn’t know how to get out what I wanted to convey. So I just read, and tried to keep up with all the information hurtling toward me.
On Friday I read an article about taking care of yourself when you are working and fighting for collective rights. I needed to read that. It gave me perspective, and validation, and as much as my pride is hurt admitting the latter, once again it’s the truth. I needed someone to say it was okay to want to be in the kitchen instead of on the phone, or at a march, or writing letters. I miss cooking, I miss experimenting with new recipes, and I really miss writing. It doesn’t even matter if I am posting this into the void; this blog is my creative release and sharing food is my strength, the best part of myself I have to give. I cook for the people I love, and to show appreciation, and because I can help people by providing a meal or a smile or both.
So what the hell does this have to do with dessert? Probably nothing. The extended introduction seemed important. These are thoughts and feelings that have been bottled up as a knot in my stomach and tension in my shoulders for weeks. The recipe I am sharing today will not change the world or solve problems, but it will give you a few minutes in the kitchen, and maybe that’s your respite and reward, as it is mine. I made these espresso pots de creme for my friend, enjoyed eating them with her after talking and sharing books, and enjoyed seeing her happy reaction to tasting one. Espresso pots de creme are baked custards; they are fancy pudding cups that taste like a good latte, smooth and silky like flan, not too sweet. I served them with a drizzle of salted caramel sauce. Doesn’t that sound nice? When I cook for others, sharing my efforts and inspiration with them nourishes me, too.
The article I linked above had another point that resonated with me: focus on doing one or two things to help, rather than trying to do it all. Maybe you coordinate rallies, or host a playdate for kids so their parents can attend a meeting, or knit hats, or print postcards to distribute to a group, or volunteer your legal expertise. These are not my strengths. But maybe, like my mom, you bake a giant box of goodies to fortify a group gathering to march, or write a note to a mosque in your neighborhood to show solidarity. I can do that. We all have different strengths, and we can all contribute however we see fit. I am writing to my representatives, reading constantly to try to stay informed, and brainstorming how I can most effectively support others by baking or cooking.
I work really, really hard to keep this blog non-political. This post crosses my own line, in some ways… but I honestly believe that these words apply regardless of the political climate. Taking care of yourself, fighting for others– those are not time-sensitive pursuits, and so I will hit “publish” on this post with the same ease as I do when writing about my Nana or summer farmers’ market bounty. If this does go into the void, so be it, but if not… maybe this recipe for espresso pots de creme will bring you, or someone you know, some comfort and nourishment.
Espresso Pot de Creme (serves 4)
- 1/4 c. whole espresso beans, crushed lightly
- 1 c. whole milk
- 1 c. heavy cream
- 1/4 c. sugar
- 4 egg yolks
- 1/4 tsp. kosher salt
Use the bottom of a heavy glass, or a mortar and pestle, or a spice grinder, to break up the espresso beans slightly. Place the broken beans into a sauce pan with the milk and cream and heat just until the milk starts to steam. Do not boil the mixture, and swirl the pan often to prevent scalding. When the mixture is warm enough to bubble just a tiny bit and give off steam, remove from the heat. Allow the espresso to steep for about 30 mins. at room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place four ramekins or similar heatproof dishes into a larger baking dish that accommodates them all in a single layer.
After the espresso mixture has steeped for about 30 mins., heat it again just for 1-2 mins. and then strain the milk through a fine mesh sieve into a clean bowl or pitcher. If you have a 4-cup glass Pyrex-style measuring cup with a handle, those work really well. Discard the espresso beans.
In a large (yes large) mixing bowl, whisk together the sugar and egg yolks. Working quickly, while the milk is warm, stream it into the egg yolk mixture while whisking constantly. Stir in the salt, then pass the custard mixture through the fine mesh sieve again and into the ramekins you prepared. It will be thin, and that’s okay.
Place the baking dish into your preheated oven and pour water into the dish, halfway up the sides of the ramekins. The amount of water will vary depending on the size of your dish and ramekins. It is unwise to pour the water in and then try to maneuver the dish into the oven… the water inevitably splashes into your custard. But don’t skip the water, as it is necessary to gently and evenly cook the pots de creme.
Bake for 35-50 mins., checking every 7 mins. or so after the 35 min. mark, until the custards are just set. When you ever-so-gently nudge a ramekin, only the very center should move. Be watchful: if you overbake, your pots de creme may crack or curdle. Remove the baking dish carefully from the oven and cool for at least 30 mins. Remove the ramekins from their water bath, cover and refrigerate for another 2 hours, at least, and overnight if you can. Serve cold or at room temperature with a drizzle of caramel sauce, as pictured below, or chocolate sauce.
Keep leftovers in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.