Holidays are happiest with food prepared ahead

Entertaining

Festive pots de creme can be made the day before

Sunday Gourmet

December 14, 2003|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,Tribune Media Services

At our home we have a small Christmas gathering, but I love having food that is ready and waiting when company arrives. Creamy soups that can be simmered to perfection days beforehand are often first-course choices. Accompaniments such as potato gratins or roasted vegetables, both of which can be cooked ahead and reheated at serving time, are also favorites. Whether the entree is ham, turkey or fillet of beef, I often pair it with a spicy chutney or savory relish prepared earlier. But desserts, I think, lend themselves most easily to advance assembly.

This year Chocolate and Chestnut Pots de Creme, which can be made a day ahead, will star in the closing role at our holiday celebration. These little individual puddings feature a trio of winning ingredients -- chocolate, sweetened chestnut puree and dark rum -- that is blended with eggs, sugar and cream. The custards are baked in ramekins, then cooled and refrigerated. At serving time the pots de creme are garnished with swirls of Rum-Scented Whipped Cream and shaved chocolate.

Chocolate and Chestnut Pots de Creme With Rum-Scented Whipped Cream

Makes 6 servings

FOR CUSTARDS:

2 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 ounce unsweetened chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 cup heavy or whipping cream

6 large egg yolks

3 tablespoons sugar

one 8.75-ounce, about 2 / 3 cup, can sweetened chestnut spread (see Note)

FOR GARNISH:

3/4 cup heavy or whipping cream

1 tablespoon dark rum

one 1-ounce square semisweet chocolate, at room temperature

For custards, arrange an oven rack at center position and preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place six half-cup ramekins, souffles or custard cups in a large, shallow baking pan.

Place chopped chocolates and 1 cup cream in a heavy, medium saucepan over low heat and whisk constantly until the chocolates are dissolved and cream is scalded. Remove and cool 5 minutes.

With an electric mixer, beat egg yolks on medium speed until well combined. Gradually add sugar and continue to beat until mixture is slightly thickened, about 1 minute. Add the chestnut spread and beat to blend. On low speed, slowly pour in the reserved cream and chocolate mixture. Mix just to incorporate, scraping down sides of bowl with a spatula if needed. Divide custard mixture evenly among ramekins. (Ramekins will not be completely full.)

Pour enough hot water into the large baking pan to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Bake until set but centers are still quivering and wobbly, about 25 minutes.

Remove ramekins to a rack, cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until chilled. (The Pots de Creme can be made 1 day ahead.) For garnish, using an electric mixer on high speed, whip 3/4 cup cream until soft peaks form. Add rum and continue to beat until firm. (Whipped cream garnish can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.) To serve, top each custard with a generous dollop of whipped cream or pipe onto custards using a pastry bag fitted with a medium star tip. Shave chocolate curls from square of chocolate onto tops of ramekins as a garnish.

Note: Clement Faugier, a well-known French producer of chestnut products, makes a sweetened chestnut spread that works well in this recipe. It is sold in some groceries and in specialty food stores.

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