Smooth custard is infused with a blend of anise, cloves, cinnamon, fennel, and pepper in these Chinese five spice chocolate pots de creme. It’s a romantic make-ahead dessert perfect for Valentine’s Day.
Continuing on with the theme of romantic recipes, I wanted to make for you a relatively straightforward, simple dessert, but with a gourmet twist. Not that chocolate pots de creme aren’t gourmet enough as they come, but these have an extra little somethin’ somethin’ that will make you savor them a little longer. And it’s another recipe you can make ahead! Nobody wants to be stuck in the kitchen during your entire date night in, unless the cooking part is the date and you’re doing it together. If you just want to have a romantic and relaxing night in, make these the day before and casually whip them out after dinner – I guarantee it will impress your date.
If you haven’t heard of or tried pots de creme, the term in French means pots of custard. Think of it sort of like a thicker creme brûlée without the brûlée. Also, you’re missing out and you need to eat these!
I spent the longest time at restaurants being uncertain of how to pronounce it and saying hesitantly, “I’ll have the pot duh crehm” and they would say back “oh yes, the poe duh crehm is quite divine,” or something like that.
So yes, it is a poe, not a pot. My college “Diction for Singers” professor would be so ashamed that I’ve forgotten the French rule of final consonants: you only pronounce “careful plus Q”, or the consonants C, R, F, L, and Q, and all other final consonants are silent. This tip will save you from the disappointed head-shake or side-eye gaze of many a diction instructor and tux-clad waiter across the globe.
My rediscovery of the correct pronunciation also meant that Mike and I have been going on all week about this recipe saying “what should I use for a poe? This little bowl would be a perfect poe, but I only have one of them. Are these teacups too small to be poes? They would be such cute little poes!” Call it Frenglish, I guess.
The recipe for chocolate pots de creme in general is basically some combination of cream, milk, or half and half; egg yolks; sugar; and fine fine chocolate, because that’s what it’s all about.
But I’ve seen a few techniques and I wanted to give you a less painful option than cooking your little poes in a baking pan half filled with water in the oven and trying not to spill it. I’ve seen some blender techniques too, but I also didn’t want to have to haul out and wash a blender. So this one is stovetop only. I think it’s easier and there’s only one pot to wash (and a cutting board and a bowl.), although you may get a smoother texture by whirling it around in a blender. I may have to give that a shot next time.
When I make Hollandaise sauce on the stove, — my version is essentially a savory lemon custard, thicker than most Hollandaise and cooked through — on the rare occasion I have leftovers and put it in the fridge, it solidifies quite nicely into a thick custard. So I tried a similar technique with the pots de creme, cooking the custard on the stove and then chilling it after pouring it into your bowls. Worked fine for me and it tastes completely amazing, in no small part thanks to the infused flavor of the Chinese five spice blend.
Chinese five spice powder is basically God’s gift to chocolate. It often contains star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper, and fennel seeds, with some blends containing cardamom, ginger, or nutmeg. I got mine at our local Spice and Tea Exchange, or you can order it online there too. You may be able to find it in the regular grocery store (check the fancy spices in the glass bottles), a Penzy’s, or an Asian grocery store, or you can always order some on Amazon. I have never tried this particular one but according to the reviews it was rated as the top five spice blend by America’s Test Kitchen, although others said it was too much like pumpkin pie spice.
Now, if you look up “Chinese five spice recipes” you will get a whole bunch of stuff for chicken, duck, shrimp, noodles, and I am sure all of that is totally delicious, but I have only ever used it for chocolate, and I’ll tell you the story why, which is also the inspiration behind this recipe.
In college, my friend Derrick (who is also the man behind these Argentine beef empanadas) was from Chicago, and back home he had a friend who owned a gourmet chocolate shop called Bon Bon. I just looked up the shop, and I’m sad to say it appears it has closed. I know I have a few readers from Chicago, so please shout out in the comments if you’ve ever been there! So, when Derrick came back from visiting home, he would always bring with him a box of extraordinary fine chocolates from Bon Bon, elegantly shaped like Cleopatra or pyramids, Buddha or King Tut. Some had inlaid shapes in other colors of chocolate, or were dusted with metallic powder. They were works of art in both appearance and flavor.
He, my roommate and I, and one or two other girl friends would get together on several occasions to enjoy the chocolates — and we would truly savor them. We sat in a circle on the floor of my dorm room and took turns selecting a chocolate. We each took a small bite of the truffle and held it in our mouths before passing it to the next person, analyzing the flavors and textures and comparing notes. We cleansed our pallets with some cold milk to prepare for the next one to ensure that we got the full effect of each flavor combination. There were spice-infused chocolates, floral or honey flavored caramel filled ones, boozy ganaches, white or dark chocolates, each one more innovative and mouth-watering than the last.
One chocolate that particularly stood out to us all was a Chinese five-spice chocolate. It was like nothing we had ever tasted and yet it seemed like the combination was meant to be.
We loved it so much we replicated the flavor in our very own drinking chocolate (chocolate melted into cream or milk, thick and rich, and meant to be drunk in small doses like hot chocolate). When we put the leftovers in the fridge, it was so thick it became a semisolid, so later Derrick made the mixture into a pie filling so rich we could only have a sliver at a time.
In the years since, I have used the flavor combo in ice cream as well, and now I’m giving you Chinese five spice chocolate pots de creme, which is essentially the drinking chocolate/pie filling mixture with added egg yolks, made into a custard.
The hardest part about this recipe is straining the spices out of the cream after it steeps. And depending on the specific spice blend you have, you may be able to skip that step.
My Chinese five spice powder looks deceptively fine but in fact is hiding larger pieces of spices that would really detract from the smooth consistency of the pot de creme. I discovered this a couple years ago when I made the five-spice chocolate ice cream. The flavor was delicious but I could not finish it because of all the Things in it (probably fennel seeds or star anise). Your brand may be more evenly powdered, in which case more power to you in skipping this step! But, just to be sure, try putting a tablespoon of the spice itself in a fine mesh sieve over a small bowl and see if you can get it all through first. Mine looked as fine as powdered cinnamon but the sieve revealed larger seeds nestled within the powder. Trust me, you don’t want those pieces disrupting the smooth texture of your chocolate pots de creme.
Even with straining the custard through a sieve, the spices did add a little bit of texture to the custard, so I may try steeping the spices in the cream using a tea bag next time and see if the flavor is strong enough. It’s not an unpleasant texture like it would be if all the fennel seeds were still there, it’s just not completely silky smooth. And the flavor is totally worth it.
When I cooked the custard on the stove, it was thin, thin, thin, and then all of a sudden was SUPER thick. It really just needs to be like regular custard and coat the back of a spoon.
Then you pour your custard over the finely chopped chocolate and let it sit for a couple minutes to melt the chocolate, stir it all up until smooth, and pour it into whatever cute little bowls or teacups you are using. I wouldn’t go over 4 oz. – it is a very rich dessert and I think the little 2 oz. teacups are just the perfect amount; however, Mike had one of the 4 oz. ones yesterday so it just depends on the person. I think it would be adorable in mismatched teacups, and since you’re not putting it in the oven to cook you don’t have to worry about them being heat resistant.
Just refrigerate to set, about an hour or two, and serve with whipped cream and a sprinkling of Chinese five spice powder on top.
For the quickest, easiest way to make whipped cream for these desserts, check out my post on one-minute one-serving whipped cream!
You can make these several days in advance which is perfect if you’re finishing off a fancy meal with these or serving to guests! You’re already probably going to be in the kitchen (unless you make this make-ahead chicken cordon bleu), but you can have these made in advance and just pull them out after dinner! Perfecto!
I’m sure you’ll see some more recipes here in the future that use chocolate and Chinese five spice powder, and I’ll be posting an even FANCIER romantic dessert in the next week or two (Hint: it involves chocolate pasta. That’s right. Chocolate. Pasta.)
What’s the most unique chocolate flavor combo you’ve ever had? Let me know in the comments!
To stay up to date on my new recipes and posts, sign up for my new email newsletter!
Chinese Five Spice Chocolate Pots de Creme
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 5 tsp Chinese five spice powder
- 5 large egg yolks
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup half-and-half
- 8 oz finely chopped good quality chocolate I used one 4-oz bar of Ghiardelli dark chocolate and one 4-oz bar of Ghiardelli semi-sweet chocolate - you may need to adjust amount of sugar depending on the chocolate you use
- 1/4 cup heavy cream for whipping
- In a small saucepan, heat cream until very hot but not boiling.
- Remove from heat and stir in Chinese Five Spice powder; steep for 10 minutes.
- Whisk together egg yolks, sugar, and salt in a separate bowl.
- Pour infused cream through a fine mesh sieve into a 2-cup measuring cup. This takes some coaxing - you may have to scrape the sieve with a spoon to get the cream to go through, and I discarded the spice-cream sludge that remains in the sieve a couple times throughout the process so I could rinse the sieve. All in all, I lost about 1/4 cup of spice-sludge. Replace the lost quantity with 1/4 cup of half-and-half and whisk to combine.
- Slowly pour cream mixture into egg yolk mixture, whisking as you go.
- Rinse out your saucepan and pour the egg yolk-cream mixture back in. Heat over medium, stirring frequently, until thickened, about 5 minutes.
- Place finely chopped chocolate in a medium bowl. Pour hot custard over the chocolate and let stand for about 4 minutes to melt the chocolate. Gently stir to combine. Alternately, put chocolate and hot custard in a blender until smooth.
- Pour mixture into 2-4 oz bowls or decorative cups. Tap the sides to even out the top of the custard and get out any air bubbles, and refrigerate until set, about 2 hours.
- Whip remaining 1/4 cup cream.
- Before serving, top pots de creme with homemade whipped cream and sprinkle with 5-spice powder for garnish.