When I was very little, I dreamed about Halloween. I could visualise my tiny self braving those neighbourhood streets lined with scary yard decorations to get my candy fix; knocking on doors with my little trick-or-treat basket, anticipating the sort of person who would answer and the sort of trick and/or treat they would share.
There would be other kids pointing to the direction of haunted houses created inside rickety shacks, where flashing lights and screaming would seep from covered windows. There would be important decisions made on what kind of face my jack-o-lantern would have, or what kind of crazy costumes my brothers and I would wear. It was a fun thing to do as the end of October approached, imagining these things.
Sadly, Halloween isn’t that big of a deal where I live. I mean sure, there are those private parties where children would wear their adorable little costumes, walking from table to table asking other children’s parents for candy. These parties have the most “trick or treating”, dressing-up, or Halloween-decorating I have encountered so far.
Most people don’t even bother about Halloween. Aside from having a somber day or two to pay tribute to the dead, it would seem that a lot of the locals treat Halloween as a bump to get over as soon as possible so that everyone can move on to Christmas. Don’t get me wrong, I love Christmas. It is without a doubt my favourite holiday. But years and years of watching Westerners on the telly have fun during Halloween makes a child’s heart yearn.
As I grew older, I stopped thinking about things like that. My Halloween tradition began involving a tub of popcorn and a good set of horror movies hand-picked by my brothers to get a good scream out of, although some of them defeat the purpose (we ended up laughing at a quite few of them). We had a blast either way, so I guess that’s really what counts. I think it’s safe to say I’ve outgrown the trick-or-treating, costume-wearing part of Halloween, but since I started falling in love with baking, I’ve been having this nagging urge to make some sort of Halloween-themed dessert or pastry.
I sat in front of my computer and started searching blogs and food sites for spooky-looking fare, and my mind began swimming with all the creative food presentations and ideas the world wide web had to offer! This is probably the most special thing that I would do during Halloween from now on. And if I can sustain it, I could perhaps create a new tradition of having at least one Halloween-themed dish on the table each year, if only to have an excuse to make adorable and elaborate-looking treats like the one I’m sharing today.
I’ve bookmarked a couple of recipes, although I’ve been rather busy these past few weeks to make any but one. I immediately chose to do this Halloween dessert mostly because I had all the ingredients for the decoratives on hand. Secondly, I’ve been wanting to make something chocolatey for a while.
That I used Dorie Greenspan’s Chocolate Pots de Creme as the custard base for this specific dessert is really a no-brainer. Whoever said a Halloween-treat should only look good? Of course it has to actually taste good too! I confess, I was a bit nervous about making a custard like this for the first time, so I once again turned to my tried and tested “teacher”, Dorie Greenspan, and her amazing book.
As expected, these Chocolate Pots de Creme were, in a word, divine. Each bite is rich, smooth and silky chocolate heaven. Had I served these at a dinner party, no one would ever assume that it was my first time making them. I used one of my favourite chocolate brands for this recipe, one with 70% cocoa solids. I was initially concerned that the oil that came out of the melted chocolate would affect the finished product or prevent the custard from setting, so I scooped out as much as I could. I don’t think it would have affected the outcome had I not done it though, because I did not manage to take out much of the oil anyway and yet it still turned out amazingly.
Alone, these Chocolate Pots de Creme are already quite magnificent, but add the Oreos on top and it adds a notch of sweetness. Then once you crush the Mint Milanos with your spoon and eat it together with the custard… Oh my. It was, dare I say, sheer perfection. And it was oddly appropriate for the occasion, as I felt a little bit like a witch while making this recipe, with the constant pouring and stirring in my cauldron to create the perfect potion.
Chocolate Pots de Creme
For the pots de creme
- 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1 1/2 cups heavy cream
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 1 large egg
- 5 large egg yolks
- 1/4 cup sugar
- pinch of salt
For the decorations
- chocolate candy melts
- 8 pieces of Mint Milanos
- about 20 pieces of Oreo cookies
- 1. Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C). Line a large roasting pan with a double thickness of paper towels, then put eight 4-ounce (1/2 cup) custard cups, ramekins, espresso or pot de creme cups in the pan. Fill a teakettle with water and put it on to boil; when the water boils turn off the heat.
- 2. Put the chopped chocolate in a 2-quart glass measuring cup or a large heatproof bowl. Bring 1/2 cup of the heavy cream to a boil. When the cream is just at a boil, pour it over the chocolate and wait for 1 minute. Using a rubber spatula and starting in the center of the bowl, gently stir the cream and chocolate until the ganache is smooth; set aside.
- 3. Stir the remaining 1 cup cream and the milk together in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.
- 4. Meanwhile, in a large glass measuring cup or bowl, whisk the egg, yolks, sugar and salt together until pale and slightly thickened. Still whisking, drizzle in a little of the hot liquid - this will temper, or warm, the eggs so they won't curdle. Whisking all the while, slowly pour in the remaining liquid.
- 5. Finally, slowly whisk the egg mixture into the ganache, stirring gently to incorporate.
- 6. With a spoon, skim the foam off the top of the custard, then pour the custard into the cups. Pour enough hot water from the teakettle into the roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of the cups. Cover the top of the pan snugly with plastic wrap, poke two holes in opposite corners and very carefully and steadily slide the setup into the oven.
- 7. Bake the custards for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the tops darken and the custards jiggle a little only in the center when tapped or lightly shaken.
- 8. Gingerly remove the roasting pan from the oven and place it on a cooling rack. Allow the custards to rest in their warm bath for 10 minutes, then peel off the plastic wrap and transfer the cups from the water to the cooling rack. When the pots de creme and cool, cover them tightly with plastic wrap or their little lids. Refrigerate when they reach room temperature.
To make the Graveyard Pots de Creme
- 9. Melt the chocolate and cool before putting into a piping bag.
- 10. Pipe crosses or "RIP" designs on top of the Milanos, using tips or cutting opening on your piping bag according to how thick you wish your piped design would look. The more rugged- or squiggly-looking the design, the spookier the effect. Set the Milanos aside for the chocolate to harden.
- 11. Put the Oreo cookies, creams removed, into a ziplock bag, and pound with a rolling pin until all the cookies have been broken into uneven chunks. There's no need to pound them too finely. Again, the more uneven-looking, the better the effect.
- 12. When ready to assemble, scatter chunks of Oreo cookies over the top of your pots de creme, then insert a piece of Milano into the custard to serve as a "tombstone".
This post is dedicated to one of my favourite taste-testers in the whole world, my maternal grandfather. This morning he went on to rejoin the Lord. I miss him already.