Nearly half a century ago, I ate the most simple of chocolate puddings. The pudding itself was delicious but what really captured my imagination was what it was served in – a tiny white pot with its own lid, decorated with gold trim. It was 19th century porcelain and part of a set of eight little pots with a matching porcelain tray. Nicole, my French friend who had cooked the pudding, told me they were called “petit pots de crème au chocolat” and were made specifically for ‘crème au chocolat’.
The set had once belonged to Nicole’s grandparents who, in the 1890s, had bought Villa Victoria on the Normandy coast to escape the stifling hot Paris summers. It was a house filled with the memories of many meals. Copper saucepans in the kitchen in which casseroles had simmered, dark green platters on which cheese and fruit had been served, old wine glasses and carafes that had poured many vintages. The pages of an ancient sketch book were filled with portraits of friends and family, cartoons of women on the beach in the 1930s wearing swimming costumes down to their knees, and a memorable sketch of family celebrations around the dining table in May 1945 when the end of the war was declared – only a mile away from the Normandy landings, the house and its inhabitants had witnessed the full horrors of the war.
But of all the things that remained in my memory from my summer holidays on the Normandy coast with Nicole and her family, it was those tiny ‘petits pots de crème au chocolat’. I vowed that one day I would own my own set, not realising that it was remarkably rare to find an entire set. Whenever I was in an antique shop in England or France I would look – but in vain. In over thirty years I only once came across three little pots dating from the 18th century, but that was all. As for the pudding, I made it many times but served it up in little plain ramekins – not quite the same effect.
Then, ten years ago, soon after I had moved to France, I found myself in need of a cupboard to put in the spare bedroom for visiting family and friends. I went to a small ‘brocante’ near Cordes sur Ciel and there, sitting on a table in the front of a shop was an entire set. I couldn’t believe it! It had eight little pots, all with their lids – and the tray. So instead of a useful cupboard, I came home with my own set of beautifully decorated porcelain ‘petit pots de crème au chocolat’.
Petits Pots de Crème au Chocolat – fills 8 ‘petit pots’, preparation time 20 mins.
500 ml double cream
170 grams dark chocolate (between 60% and 70%) I used Jeff de Bruges No. 4 Peru
” In the UK, I would use Montezuma’s Organic Dark Chocolate with Orange and Geranium. Orange works brilliantly with chocolate and this brand is gluten free”- Judi
Because it’s strawberry season, I also added a teaspoon of chopped macerated strawberries to the bottom of each pot (chopped small, covered with a slosh of Armagnac and a sprinkling of caster sugar). You can also add some of your favourite liqueur to the cream when it’s hot (Cointreau is great for an orange flavour).
Break the chocolate into squares and place in a china bowl over a pan of simmering water. Stir when the chocolate starts melting and when it’s all melted, remove the bowl from the heat.
Now heat the cream to simmering point in a non-stick saucepan and then add it to the melted chocolate, stirring with a metal whisk. Don’t panic if the chocolate appears all bitty, just keep stirring until you have a thick dark chocolate cream. At this point you can add your liqueur. I usually transfer the mixture to a jug as it’s far easier for pouring into the tiny pots.
A couple of hours in the fridge will be enough to make the cream solid, but take it out around 15 minutes before serving so it’s not too cold. One pot if you just want to have that chocolate taste at the end of the meal, two pots if you’re feeling greedy!
Footnote: In writing this post, I’ve discovered that my pots came from Le Grand Depot, opened by Emile Bourgeois in Paris in 1862. It was the largest shop of its time and specialised in porcelain, china, and glass.