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I've got to begin with thanks.

That last post, about my grandmother, was, well, I don't know what to say. It was a big one for me. To write, and to share. But oh, you guys are amazing. I could not have dreamed of a more comforting, hopeful, or supportive response, nor could I ask to be part of a better community. I cannot get over the generosity of your kindness. I was honoured to read your thoughts and anecdotes and I am working my way through the thread, sending personal replies, rather than commenting here. Until you hear from me directly, please take this as a thank you. Dessert is my preferred way of expressing gratitude lately. I hope there's no objection.

On this end, school's started. Not for just one lad around here, but, for the first time, two are off each day. There are bookbags leaning by the door, and snacks to pack, and matching drink bottles to fill. I spent one afternoon with a sharpie in hand, dutifully labelling the insides of shoes, and coats, and hats; in nice, clear, printing I wrote the names of their respective owners, the names of my children, staking small claims of childhood property in the big, new world they're now a part of.

There's been a lot of firsts. For them, and for my husband and me. There's been a few tears, even. Summer left overnight. There's wasn't the gentle receeding, the diffusion of one season to the next. With Labor Day, a switch was flipped, the needs of the next day changed, and we were expected to fall in line. 

There's been some stumbles, but we're keeping up. And for the times when we don't, we've had chocolate sauce. With the first day of long pants and long sleeves, there was a call for hot chocolate, and I used this sauce as its base. One morning (don't judge!) where there was unexpected sun, so there were coconut-chocolate milkshakes for two. And earlier today there was a 4-year-old-sized ice cream cone, topped with a spoonful of chocolate, apropos of nothing more than the fact we'd made it through Monday. Sometimes the smallest of victories call for the most fanfare.

(There was also an adult-sized sundae of vanilla ice cream, aforementioned chocolate sauce, preserved cherries, and toasty, roasted walnuts, which amounted to frosty trudge through the Black Forest — a trip you really should take.) 

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Chocolate sauce is something seperate from hot fudge; it is thinner, sharper, and less sweet. Chocolate sauce doesn't have its dense chew either. It coats a spoon, but runs off quick enough. It can be used cold, or at room temperture, or gently warmed. It is what I like to use for this cake, or ripple into an ice cream like this one, and if it's usefulness wasn't enough, this chocolate sauce takes less than five minutes to make. Seriously. It's the kind of go-to sweet something to keep stowed in the fridge door for emergency situations. Or Mondays. 

SIMPLE, QUICK CHOCOLATE SAUCE 

This recipe began with one from David Lebovitz; I've halved the overall quantites, added some ingredients and fiddled some others, because I'm evidently a difficult pupil. I can't help it, I like the character coffee brings to chocolate, and so can't seem have one without the other — in this sauce especially. 

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup white corn syrup, agave nectar or glucose
  • 6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon instant coffee granules, I use decaf
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 ounce bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped

In a medium saucepan, whisk together the water, sugar, corn syrup, cocoa powder, instant coffee granules and salt. Bring to a boil over medium heat. 

Once it's come to the simmer, remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate until melted. Set aside at room temperature for a few hours, it will thicken as it cools. Store, covered in the refrigerator, for up to 10 days.

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Authortara
Categoriesdessert, sauce
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I will start off with an apology to my friend Béa, as she wrote a sprightly, colour-filled, beautiful book, and I've gone and taken the brownest, simplest, comparatively-plainest photos to show you today. That is not, however, to say that I make any apologies for choosing this recipe for Cardamom-flavoured Chocolate Crème Caramel, as that choice is one of which I'm resolutely proud.

For a moment though, the custard can wait. First, let me tell you about Béatrice Peltre.

I came to know Béa through her site, La Tartine Gourmande (through that link, you can read a little more about her, her family and work). We both started writing the same year, and I don't really remember a time when I wasn't reading her words and admiring her photographs. What's more, she's got a great sense of food, and a unique background that offers up diverse influences on the plate. It was through her that I was introduced to savoury crumbles, and her Autumnal Butternut Squash Crumble is a must in our October/November rotation.

Now this is where I'll apologize to you, kind reader, as I can't pretend this conversation about her book isn't written with a distinct and specific bias born out of an affection for its author; nonetheless, even if you've never met Béa, you'll fall for her book just the same. It makes a fine introduction.

La Tartine Gourmande: Recipes for an Inspired Life is Béatrice through and through. There are glimpses of her life with her husband and adorable daughter Lulu (heart-meltingly-sweet, that one) along with her parents and stories of her French childhood. These personal anecdotes are effortlessly woven into recipes, written clearly in Béa's distinctive voice; it is dulcet, conversational writing, peppered with phrases charmingly en français.

For all her softness of tone, Béa's book is full of exuberant life. She has a way with colour, texture and layered patterns such that her images make you imagine that Boston must always be sunny, even in deep winter. This book is categorically cheerful.

It's also full of tasty things, like a watercress and orange salad that is bright and punchy, a classic hachis parmentier refreshed by lime and coriander, and a crab soufflé that while delicate, is dressed-to-the-bold-nines with saffron. There are, of course, tartines, and some picture-perfect verrines too. Her breakfasts and brunch suggestions are among my favourites - fresh museli or sweet-potato and carrot pancakes? I'm in.

Gluten-free, and encouraging the use of whole grains, Béa brings together recipes that bridge the everyday and the fancy, without ceremony or fuss. 

It's a thoroughly inspiring collection. 

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And now, finally, this custard. As said, it is a crème caramel; a quietly elegant dessert, a custard baked upon a layer of caramel, that's then turned out on its head. Here the custard is softly-set, which is my preference, with the perfect suggestion of wobble as it is spooned. Fragrant with cardamom, the bitterness of dark chocolate mollified but maintained by the caramel that puddles over when served. The dusting of cocoa is not only for show, as that downy, dark layer offers an ephemeral contrast to the softness beneath — it melts quickly though, so sieve it over at the last possible moment and dive in right away.

Not that any such encouragement is needed.

Félicitations, Béa!

Cardamom-flavoured chocolate crème caramel

From the book La Tartine Gourmande: Recipes for an Inspired Life. (Roost Books, 2012).

"This attractive desert is made for people like me and Philip who cannot resist anything described with words like 'dark chocolate' and 'custard'. Maybe you are one of these people too? It offers a rich silky aromatic chocolate flanlike cream balanced by a light caramel sauce that you'll want to dip your fingers into." - BP

Canola oil, for the ramekins

For the caramel

1/2 cup (100g: 3 1/2 oz) fine granulated white sugar

2 tablespoons cold water

1 tablespoons hot water

For the chocolate custard

2 1/4 cups (530 ml) whole milk

1 vanilla bean, split open and seeds scraped out

5 green cardamom pods, crushed

3 oz (90g) dark chocolate (70% cocoa)

3 large eggs

2 tablespoons blond cane sugar

Unsweetened cocoa powder, to dust

You will need: six 6-ounce ramekins

Oil six 6-ounce ramekins; set aside.

To prepare the caramel: Heat the sugar and cold water in a small pot. Swirl the pot in a circular movement so that the sugar absorbs the water. Bring to a boil, then simmer at a medium heat - do not stir the sugar at this point, although you can swirl the pot occasionally - and watch the caramel develop. It will be ready when it's golden in colour, which takes about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the hot water, and stir quickly. Pour the caramel into the oiled ramekins, making sure to coat the bottom and sides; set aside.

Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C).

To prepare the custard: In a pot, combine the milk with the vanilla bean and seeds and cardamom pods and bring to a boil,  making sure that it doesn't overflow. When it boils, remove from the heat and add the chocolate, whisking quickly so that the chocolate melts evenly. Cover and let infuse for 20 minutes. Discard the vanilla bean and cardamom, and using a fine sieve or chinois, strain the chocolate milk. 

In the meantime, using a stand mixer, beat the eggs with the sugar for 1 minutes. Pour the chocolate milk in and stir quickly. With a spoon, remove any foam that might have formed at the surface.

Divide the chocolate custard among the 6 caramel-filled ramekins and place them in a water bath. Place the custards in the oven and cook for about 50 minutes. To check if they are ready, jiggle the ramekins a little - the centre of the cream should be almost set but not fully (they'll finish setting once they cool down). Remove the ramekins from the oven and let cool completely. Cover each ramekin with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a few hours, or overnight, until the custard is completely set.

To unmold the crème caramel easily, dip the ramekins in boiling water for 1 to 2 minutes, taking care to not let the water spill in. Run the blade of a knife between the custard and the edge of the ramekins. Turn onto a plate and serve with dusted cocoa on top.

Serves 6.  

Note from Tara:

  • As you can see, I made our custard in one large dish (though I did also make the recipe as written, for research purposes of course ... surely not greed). In the case of the larger, it was a 9-inch pan used, and the baking time was about 65 minutes. If you go this way, keep checking after 50 minutes, baking until the centre lazily sways. 
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