You Are Not Creative

caramelized white chocolate pots de crème with cocoa nib tuile “crust”

dessert spoons

You are not creative.

It’s been done before. You’ll never be fast enough. Those with sharper minds, bigger voices, and wider audiences will always beat you to an idea. Sorry.

It’s OK, though. It’s just fine. It’s life. Drink it down (literally, if you like), and move on.

Water bath
If I still believed in originality, I’d be silent. I wouldn’t have a blog. If I still thought that every published idea had to be a new invention, I’d have nothing left. Nothing to read, nothing to watch, nothing to hear, nothing to savor, nothing to enjoy.

If I still believed in originality, I’d be better off burning all of my cookbooks, taking up another hobby, and moving to Sub-Saharan Africa. I can Google-search something to make sure I’m not subconsciously copying someone’s work, but I cannot predict what well-meaning folks are conjuring up in their own kitchens around the world at the very same moment as me.

At least this is what I tell myself.

creamy custard
What I do believe in is freshness. While ideas are rarely new, there are plenty that are not fully explored or that are not overdone. If something is receiving a lot of hype, I’ll make an effort to keep my voice out of that choir for a little while.

But I couldn’t do that this time. I have this signature dessert that I have kept near. The time was never right to share it. It’s special. I had conjured it up for a contest I had thought about entering but never did (typical). I had no intention of posting about it today…

Tuile Cookies
Remember this tart? I lined the shell with this intoxicating substance with which I’ve been experimenting since David Lebovitz tipped me off to it in 2009 (again, not an original idea but a borrowed one). I’ve played with it and manipulated it, using it in a handful of new desserts. But these pots de crème were my first (and best) creations. The first time I made them, I was gobsmacked. It worked. It worked? Every component added up to a magical sum. But I needed to try it again, and again, because the alchemy was just too astonishing. Yes, it worked. And it rocked. And I was saving it for a special time, whatever that might mean — the right season, the right wind, the dawning of the age of Aquarius, who knows?

Well I just kept on waiting until the good folks at Food52 republished Valhrona’s recipe for caramelized white chocolate. And then everyone and their social media–savvy mothers was tweeting about it and reposting it onto their channels of choice. The post author, Kristen Miglore, didn’t provide a recipe for pot de crème, but it was inevitable that some big blogger with an established fan base would be making one soon.

Cocoa Nib Tuile
And instead of backing off, feeling the hype building momentum as I read, cresting and curling as I thought, I said “NOT THIS TIME” (yes, in all caps, grrr) and remade it (no complaints here; I love this stuff). And I’m finally now presenting it to you.

In truth, I’ve learned that company usually is better. If some beloved institution like Food52 posts about your elixir of desire, more people might be interested in trying your recipe. Maybe it will gain more traction. And what about “great minds think alike,” huh? Right?

Right. So here you go. The recipe I’ve been saving for over a year and a half: Caramelized White Chocolate Pots de Crème with Cocoa Nib Tuile “Crust.” To give you the quick-and-dirty, caramelized white chocolate is made by lowly and slowly roasting and agitating white chocolate so that not only its sugars, but to me most importantly, its dairy solids, brown, creating the complex flavor of caramel with a deep, deep nutty note, reminiscent of browned butter. Boring, killer-sweet white chocolate becomes liquid gold. And then, it can be manipulated — carefully, as its properties have changed, but manipulated nonetheless.

A pot de crème is a wonderful use of caramelized white chocolate, because it really lets that unique flavor shine. And the white chocolate contributes to the creamiest pots I’ve ever had. And this is coming from Mama Modest. I love pairing caramelized white chocolate with cocoa nibs and salt (a combination I learned after developing this recipe that my favorite chocolate company utilizes, though I wish they took the color of the white chocolate much further). Here, I’m playing on the similarities between pot de crème and crème brûlée and creating a crust out of a salty cocoa nib tuile, whose lacy base and cocoa nibs add a pleasing bitterness to offset the caramelized white chocolate and an accompanying crunch that any good custard dessert requires. You, of course, have the option, but I’m gaga over serving the custard pots with a dollop or quenelle if you want to be all fancy-like (this is an elegant dessert) of earthy, unsweetened cocoa whipped cream

Cocoa whipped cream
And while this post has nothing to do with Valentine’s day, I have to say that this desert is super sexy. So thank you for getting me off my butt, Food52. I don’t know what I was waiting for.

Caramelized White Chocolate Pot de Crème with Cocoa Nib Tuile

402 grams (about 1 3/4 cups) heavy cream, room temperature
180 grams (about 3/4 cups) whole milk
Pinch kosher salt
225 grams (about 8 ounces) melted Caramelized White Chocolate (recipe follows)
6 large egg yolks
1 recipe Cocoa Nib Tuile (recipe follows)

Cocoa whipped cream (recipe follows)

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees F. Bring full kettle to boil. Reduce heat to low once kettle comes to boil. Place folded dish towel or triple layer of paper towels on bottom of roasting pan.

Combine 3/4 cup heavy cream, milk, and salt in small saucepan and heat over medium-low heat until warm but not bubbling (around 165 degrees F). Meanwhile, place Caramelized White Chocolate in large bowl. Whisk in remaining heavy cream until fully combined. Whisk egg yolks together in medium bowl until combined.

Slowly pour about 1/3 of warm milk mixture into egg yolks, whisking constantly. Gradually pour in remaining milk mixture, whisking constantly. Strain custard into chocolate mixture and whisk to fully combine. Divide mixture evenly between eight 4- to 5- ounce ramekins (you should have about 70 grams or a scant 1/3 cup of custard per ramekin). Space ramekins evenly in prepared roasting pan and carefully pour contents of tea kettle into pan to come about half way up ramekins. Immediately cover pan with aluminum foil and transfer pan to oven.

Bake custards until they’re set but jiggle when tapped and centers register 175 degrees F. Leave ramekins in water bath for 5-10 minutes then transfer ramekins to wire rack to cool completely. Once cool, cover ramekins tightly with plastic wrap and transfer to refrigerator. Chill custards for at least 3 hours or up to 1 day before serving. When ready to serve top each custard with 1 tuile and dollop with whipped cream. Serve chilled.

Caramelized White Chocolate
adapted from David Lebovitz

DO NOT get a speck of water near the chocolate or it will seize. I have tested this with Guittard, Valrhona, Callebaut, and Ghiradelli white chocolate and just cannot be democratic about this. You must use the best quality white chocolate for this to work. A minimum of 30% cocoa butter is required. Guittard and Valrhona work best. Ghiradelli and Callebaut are not good choices but can be used. If you use a chocolate such as Ghiradelli or Callebaut with a lower cocoa butter content, toss the chocolate with 2 tablespoons canola oil before baking. Lower–cocoa butter brands such as these will also be a lot sweeter (too sweet for me). Do not use supermarket white chocolate. Although you only need 8 ounces for the recipe, I would not advise caramelizing a smaller amount of white chocolate, as there is weight loss from baking, and the recipe is much less finicky with more chocolate (though I’ve caramelized as little as 6 ounces). No worries! Keep the leftover chocolate in an airtight container and heat it back up as you want it. Dip strawberries, spread on baguette, eat off spoon.

1 pound high-quality, high–cocoa butter white chocolate* (very important here), coarsely chopped OR 1 pound white chocolate fêves
Pinch of kosher salt

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 250 degrees F.

Spread white chocolate evenly over rimmed baking sheet. Bake in oven for 10 minutes until melted. Scrape chocolate from pan with spatula and spread into an even layer.

Repeat this process, scraping and spreading every 8-10 minutes until deep peanut butter color (the darker the better, but it cannot get to the point of drying out), about 1 hour. (Don’t worry if it looks lumpy and unpleasant midway through the process; it will smooth out.) Strain white chocolate through fine-mesh strainer to remove any remaining little lumps. Stir in salt.

Cocoa Nib Tuile

1 1/2 teaspoons may seem like a lot of salt. Do not reduce; the tuiles are supposed to be salty. Tuiles are also great on their own or sandwiching a super-rich, super-dark chocolate ganache.

65 grams (about 1/3 cup packed) light brown sugar
100 grams (about 1/4 cup) corn syrup
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
45 grams (about 1/3 cup) all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cocoa nibs

Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees.

Heat sugar, corn syrup, butter, and salt in small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar is dissolved, butter is melted, and ingredients are combined. Off heat, whisk in vanilla extract. Whisk in flour until combined. Fold in cocoa nibs. Set aside for about 15 minutes (or up to 1 hour) to set up a little. (This makes the batter easier to measure. Batter can be stored in refrigerator for up to 1 day.) Drop eight evenly spaced 1 teaspoon-size piles of batter on parchment paper–lined baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes until deep golden brown and bubbling subsides.

Remove sheet from oven and let stand for 10 seconds. Using 2-inch cookie or biscuit cutter, score a circle in the center of each cookie, lifting the cutter quickly. (If the batter moves with the cutter, it needs to stand longer.) When slightly stiffer, transfer cookies to wire rack. Once cool, break away outer edge of cookie leaving perfect 2-inch tuile. (Tuiles can bes stores at room temperature for up to 5 days.)

Cocoa Whipped Cream

This will make more whipped cream than you need to top the custards. Tomorrow’s Valentine’s day. I’m sure you can think of something to do with it.

1/2 cup heavy cream, chilled
1 1/4 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder

You know the rest.

15 responses

  1. This is such a fantastic post. As a blogger it’s so easy to become obsessed with originality but you’re right – someone, somewhere around the world will probably have thought of it, if not made it.
    Having said that, I’ve not seen anything like these before and they look AMAZING. I’ve seen all the hype about caramelized white chocolate and wanted to give it a go. Now I know exactly what to do with it.

    • The great thing about caramelized white chocolate is it’s almost as versatile as regular white chocolate, so the possibilities are truly endless. Definitely try working with it some time!

  2. such an inspirational post. i sometimes used to held back by the fear of something not being my own original work. when i was writing my university thesis i realised that although ideas already exist, it is creativity which important to give them a different life force. now as a writer of a food blog i realise that although i’ve never invented anything from scratch, i nonetheless have some kind of a personal stamp on my cooking. sometimes it comes from the diversity of our cultures and at others how we construct food from different components. your recipe sounds fabulous and i love the creme brulee-esque underpinnings.

    • That means a lot–thank you for those words (and thanks for stopping by)! I had the same conversations with myself when writing my own thesis, and it’s the only thing that pulled me through.

    • That’s too kind. Despite the firm words above, there’s no doubt that food blogging requires some form of creativity even if I struggle to define it. And whatever it is…you have it!

  3. Pingback: Making Sweet Cherries Sour « 729 layers

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: