We’re definitely not dining out this Valentine’s Day. It’s every restaurant’s busiest day of the year, and this year it falls on a Saturday, their busiest night of the week. In short, it’s a recipe for disaster. Or at least epic frustration.
So, yeah, we’re staying in.
And I’m keeping the menu short and sweet. In years past I’ve used V-day as an excuse to make grandiose “labors of love,” but not this time. I want to enjoy the company of my nearest and dearest, not slave for them in the kitchen. So I’m making the dessert first — days ahead in fact — and tucking it in the fridge.
Of course, this being Valentine’s, it has to be chocolate.
A silky chocolate custard tastes ultra decadent and special, but it’s simple to make and can keep for several days. I use bittersweet chocolate and highten the flavor with dark brown sugar and a couple shots of rich espresso.
You can’t go wrong topping the puddings with a simple dollop of sweetened whipped cream. Maybe add a red raspberry for color. Or you can make them even more adult by spiking the cream with booze. A sweeter Bourbon like Woodford Reserve, or something nutty like Frangelico hazelnut liqueur, would both be delicious.
The recipe serves eight, so if you’re planning a “Galentine’s Day” gathering, this make-ahead dessert is perfect. Your BFFs will be swooning.
Chocolate-Espresso Cream Puddings
Makes 8 servings
This is an adaptation of a decadent chocolate cream pie I developed years ago. But I don’t see any reason why you can’t skip the crust and go straight to the rich, creamy filling. This way, everyone gets his or her own personal cup of sin.
2/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
7 egg yolks
¼ cup brewed espresso
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 ¾ cups half-and-half
7 ounces bittersweet chocolate (70% cacao), finely chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, diced
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup cold whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1 tablespoon Bourbon (optional; OR omit vanilla, sugar and bourbon, and use 2 tablespoons Frangelico liqueur)
In a medium bowl, mix together the brown sugar, cornstarch, egg yolks, espresso and salt until well combined. In a medium saucepan set over medium heat, bring the half-and-half just to a simmer. Very slowly, pour the hot half-and-half into the egg yolk mixture, whisking constantly. Pour this mixture back into the saucepan and return it to the heat. Cook, stirring continuously but not furiously, until the mixture comes to a low boil. When it’s thick and bubbles begin to pop on the surface, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring, one minute more. The mixture should be very thick like pudding. Remove from heat and add the chocolate, butter and vanilla, stirring until smooth.
Divide the mixture among 8 ramekins. Place a sheet of plastic wrap directly on the surface of each to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until cold, at least 3 hours.
Whipping cream: Combine cream, vanilla, sugar and bourbon in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. (Alternatively, you can whisk by hand.) Beat the cream mixture until it holds medium-soft peaks. Alternatively, omit the vanilla, sugar and bourbon and just use Frangelico (the liqueur is generally sweet enough on its own).
Serve puddings topped with a dollop of cream.