My greatest passion as a chef is to make food that tastes delicious. Not food that is "good for diet food," but food that is simply delicious on its own without any footnote or excuse. So it is the ultimate challenge to me when someone comes to me with a food allergy or dietary restriction, to still make something I am proud to serve.
My second job as a chef was to cook privately for a family who had two members with severe allergies. I learned the hard way how severe the allergies were when I made lentil soup for the young son, not knowing that lentils are in the peanut family. His eyes swelled closed and his face swelled up. Thankfully they had the medicine on hand to prevent his throat from swelling closed. So the allergies were not just a fad or passing phase but a true necessity to be aware of for their health and well-being. From that job I honed my skills to create food they all loved, that still followed their dietary restrictions.
Recently I was asked to cook for a Paleo lunch hosted by Cynthia Spivey, the author of How to Eat Paleo (When You Don't Live in a Cave.) I kind of went into it kicking and screaming because all of the guests would be eating my food for the first time and I didn't want the taste of anything to be compromised or less than my very best.
Cynthia featured my grandmother's Tomato Ginger Salmon recipe in her book because that recipe already fit into the paleo parameters without adaptation. But now I had to come up with what to serve with the salmon as well as come up with a paleo dessert. I was a little grouchy about this because everything that kept popping into my head didn't work with the diet. Finally I asked my friend, Anne Bunch, the mastermind behind the recipes at New Frontiers, for some dessert ideas and she suggested a paleo chocolate pudding. That sparked the idea for me to think of adapting my traditional Pots de Crème recipe.
Pots de Crème is traditionally made with dark chocolate, heavy cream, sugar and egg yolks. For this adaptation we used coconut milk and honey to replace the heavy cream and sugar. I used the darkest Valrhona chocolate bar I could find at Trader Joe's, Le Noir Extra Amer 85% Cacao, but you can also use Valrhona Cocoa Powder 100% Cacao, that is available on-line.
Coconut Milk is a good substitute for anyone with a dairy allergy and the honey melted into the chocolate mixture perfectly.
Here is an important tip: you must use a water bath when you melt the chocolate and when you bake the ramekins. There are two different types of water baths. One is for the stove and is also referred to as a double-boiler. The other method is for the oven. Chocolate is delicate and will seize or crack if you don't use a water bath. It must be gently cooked to retain its smooth and creamy texture. I've never purchased any special equipment for a water bath. I've just used what I already own. For the stove I use a stainless steel bowl over a medium saucepan.
For baking I use a rimmed baking dish, such as a 9 x 13 pyrex glass baking dish or a ceramic lasagna dish. I put the ramekins into the baking dish and pour boiling water into the baking dish until the water is halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Here is a video from the Culinary Institute of America showing exactly how to do this.
POTS DE CRÈME
Makes 15 2-ounce ramekins
3 cups coconut milk
7 ounces (2 bars) Valrhona extra dark bitter chocolate 85% Cacao, or 100% Cacao Powder
1/2 cup honey
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 large egg yolks
Heat your oven to 350 degrees F.
On the stove, in a stainless steel bowl over a saucepan of hot water, combine the chocolate and coconut milk. Stir or whisk until melted and combined.
Stir in the honey and salt.
Remove the chocolate mixture from the heat and whisk in the egg yolks until fully combined.
Place the chocolate mixture in a pitcher or pouring measuring cup (or anything else you may have to make it easy to pour the chocolate.)
Fill each ramekin with the chocolate and place in a large glass or ceramic baking dish.
Boil water in a kettle.
Move your ramekins to the preheated oven and rest the baking dish on the lower oven rack while carefully filling the baking dish with boiling water. (I usually pour it in the corner of the dish.) Fill the water to at least half-way up the sides of the ramekins. Gently push the dish into the lower rack and bake for 30 minutes or until the chocolate is set.
Cool to room temperature before refrigerating. Place them in an airtight container or cover with plastic wrap. They can be made up to a week in advance.
Serve with fresh berries.