It’s not Valentine’s Day without chocolate as far as I’m concerned. No other food can match its sensuous pleasure, slowly melting on the tongue and flooding the palate with the rich, dark, almost sinful flavor of cacao.
We’re talking pudding here, but a pudding unlike any you ever knew in childhood. This is a pudding so dense, so smooth, so deeply chocolate that it bears little resemblance to the bland desserts of the school cafeteria. The addition of top quality bittersweet chocolate and an extra jolt of caffeine from freshly brewed coffee make it a grownup treat, indeed.
This mocha pudding belongs on the same gastronomic plane as pot de creme or chocolate mousse, but it’s far easier to make and there are no raw egg whites to worry about. It begins as a cocoa-infused pastry cream, which is passed through a sieve, enriched by melted chocolate, and beaten until smooth and glossy. The whole process takes about 30 minutes once you’ve assembled the ingredients and the results couldn’t be more impressive.
The secret is to use the best cocoa and bittersweet chocolate you can buy. I prefer Valrhona but Scharffen Berger or Guittard would be wonderful, too.
The recipe was inspired by the chocolate pudding in the terrific cookbook, “Tartine,” by San Francisco bakers Elisabeth M. Prueitt and Chad Robertson (Chronicle Books, 2006). I’ve substituted strong coffee for part of the liquid to develop an extra layer of sophisticated flavor.
For an elegant presentation, spoon the pudding into little demitasse cups or martini glasses and crown with softly whipped cream, Chocolate-dipped coffee beans, make a clever garnish if you can find them.
Cupid isn’t likely to present a more tempting dish.
1½ cups milk
¼ cup strong brewed coffee
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup cornstarch
¾ cup sugar
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
3 large eggs
¼ teaspoon salt
2½ ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
Whipped cream for garnish
Before you begin cooking, set a large, fine-mesh sieve over a heat-proof bowl. Combine the milk, coffee and cream in a heavy, medium saucepan and heat until the mixture just begins to boil. Small bubbles will begin to multiply around the edges and the milk will begin to foam. Remove from heat.
Meanwhile, combine cornstarch and sugar in a medium bowl. Sift in cocoa powder and whisk until blended. In a separate bowl, beat eggs with salt until blended. Add eggs to sugar mixture and whisk until well combined.
Slowly pour half the hot milk mixture into to egg mixture while whisking continuously. Then return the egg mixture back into the pan with the rest of the milk mixture. Return pan to stove and cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until the milk, eggs and sugar mixture has become very thick. It should register 208 degrees on a candy thermometer, taking about 5 to 7 minutes , depending on how cold the eggs were when you started.
Immediately pour the cooked pudding through the sieve. Add the chopped chocolate and stir slowly until it melts from the heat of the milk-egg mixture. Blend with an immersion blender for a full 5 minutes until no lumps are visible, scraping down the sides of the bowl when necessary. You also may use a blender, work in small batches, or use a whisk to beat by hand. Take care not to get burned by the hot mixture.
Immediately, spoon the pudding into cups or bowls, let cool, and serve at room temperature. The pudding will keep for up to four days, wrapped in plastic in the refrigerator–if you don’t eat it all the first night.
Adapted from ”Tartine,” by Elizabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson (Chronicle Books, 2006)