COMFORT ME WITH SOMETHING SMOOTH AND SWEET
There are days we find ourselves curled up on the sofa under a mountain of blankets cradling a bowl or a plate of something warm and homey, something that comforts, an escape from the big bad world. How often do we step outside, close the door on our safe, familiar haven, step out onto the sidewalk, into the street and feel less and less confident that things will go as planned, not so sure that the world we walk into today is the same one we closed our eyes on last night? We turn off the news, fold up the newspaper and look for something safe, something familiar to grasp onto, yet there are days we only feel the circling sharks of a troubled world closing in, these shaky, uncertain times nipping at our heels and all we want to do is go back inside, run to our warm, cozy corner and have someone bring us something good, something comforting to eat.
Comfort Food is all the rage these days: everyone is cooking it, everyone is eating it, everyone, it seems, is talking about it. More and more, we yearn to be comforted, crave the safety and coziness of childhood when we could crawl onto the sofa and snuggle up against dad, feel his strong, protective arms around us. We long for the days when we could wander into the kitchen sure to find something bubbling on the stove, sending out fragrant clouds of steam, plates of cookies on the table tempting small hands, layers of cake inviting us to pull up a chair and forget all about the woes of the world, the teasing boys, the bad grades, the teacher’s iron eye, the coming of adolescence.
We have finally grown up yet the troubles, the worries that haunt us have grown as well. We may not have mom and dad to turn to for a hug and reassuring words but we do have the food, food made with all the love of a trouble-free world, the smooth serenity of the happiest times of our childhood, food savored and enjoyed with all the ease of a pair of old slippers and a warm dog, the contentment of eating hot popcorn in front of an old movie, our favorite flavors with a dash of nostalgia thrown into the pot and simmered over a flame like a warm embrace, a kiss on the forehead, something toasty, a taste of home.
Heaven knows, as do my family and friends, that I often turn to food for a multitude of reasons and rarely out of simple hunger. I eat to celebrate something large or small, to reward myself for a job well done, to ease tension and stress and, yes, in the search for security-blanket contentment and peace of mind. This is my own personal foible, true, but there is indeed something so consoling about food. Comfort food does play a crucial role in all of our lives and it is something different to each of us. It could be savory or sweet, pop’s special cornbread or mom’s beef stew, grandma’s apple strudel or a bowl of steaming, healing chicken soup. Or it could be something creamy, full of chocolaty goodness, or even sizzling sausages or s’mores straight off the Girl Scout campfire or that ice cold bottle of Yoo Hoo clunking down then slipping out of the soda machine during Summer Rec, cooling down a Florida boiling afternoon. Whatever it is, it usually reminds us of the simpler days, brings us back to our well-worn childhood, days on the beach or evenings in front of the television, summer vacations at grandma’s house or the cabin in the woods.
The food that warms me brings back visions of dad in the kitchen whizzing cake batter in his standing mixer, pouring still-liquid pudding over marble sheet cakes with the concentration of the engineer he was, mesmerizing me as he pushes mounds of dough off onto cookie sheets and the magic of his perfect cream puffs. It is also the aroma of bubbling pots of oatmeal on the stove on those cold, cold Florida December mornings or the scent of cinnamon as it is dusted over melting butter on warm slices of toast. Tender, warm cherry Pop Tarts or my sister’s Chicken & Mushroom Casserole, boxed brownies warm from the oven or huge, gooey slices of mom’s banana cream pie all calm and soothe, pulling me back to a simpler time of Barbies and books, burning sidewalks under bare feet, hopscotch and 60’s tv.
My dad kept the countertop laden with sweet treats, sheet cakes, cupcakes and Bundts, the fridge stuffed with creamy, fruity delights. Bags of Mary Janes and Jolly Ranchers, Tootsie Rolls and Strawberry Whips strewn across the window ledge free for the taking, bowls of jewel-like prune and apricot compote, sweet and tangy, cartons of ice cream and frozen whipped topping, our evening after-dinner fare, were part and parcel of my Florida girlhood. And pudding. Chocolate, vanilla, pistachio, creamy and rich, it may have come from a box but he made it with all the heartfelt love of a dad. Filling for his over-sized homemade cream puffs or simply by the bowlful and always topped with whipped cream – canned or, more often than not, non-dairy whipped topping – dad’s pudding was something that I could rely on in times of sadness or joy, each luscious mouthful washing away one more evil thought, one more worry.
As simple and quick as boxed, these little Chocolate Petits Pots – rich, creamy, full-bodied and delectable, are the perfect adult version of my childhood pleasure. Scoop up the tiniest spoonful and taste the incredible, full chocolate flavor, a touch of cardamom suffusing the pudding with an exotic warmth not known in my youth. This is truly something I turn to in times of trouble when I need to forget my worries, snuggle up in cozy thoughts, a luxurious treat when I simply want to nestle down in the comforting warmth of my memories.
I am sending these Petits Pots to Sugar High Friday, hosted this month by Kate of A Merrier World. Kate has chosen the theme Sweet Comforts for SHF #61. Sugar High Friday is a monthly dessert event created by Jennifer of The Domestic Goddess.
CHOCOLATE PETITS POTS
Cooked rather than baked, this delicate, full-flavored custard is versatile, simple and both homey and elegant.
2 cups (500 ml) milk or half milk and half cream *
6 ½ oz (200 g) semisweet dessert chocolate (54%) **
6 egg yolks, beaten just until blended ***
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp vanilla or ½ a vanilla bean, split
* I used half low-fat 2% milk and half heavy whipping cream
** You can use anywhere from 6 ½ to 8 oz chocolate, bittersweet, semisweet or sweet/milk. You can also add up to 2 Tbs sugar, to be cooked with the milk/cream and chocolate, depending on your taste and choice of chocolate.
*** Save those egg whites for macarons
Prepare 6 small dessert glasses, verrines or tea or demi-tasse cups. Place the yolks in a large pyrex mixing bowl.
Grate or finely chop the chocolate and place it in a small saucepan with the milk/cream and the vanilla bean if using. Cooking over very low heat, scald the mixture (bring it just up to the boil), stirring to make sure the chocolate is completely melted and combined and does not burn.
Gradually whisk the scalded milk/chocolate mixture into the egg yolks, whisking constantly. Whisk until well blended. Stir in the ground cardamom and the vanilla extract if using.
Lift out the vanilla bean, scrape the seeds out of the pod and stir the seeds back into the custard. Pour the custard into the desserts glasses or cups. Cover with plastic wrap and chill until firm.
Serve with plenty of very lightly sweetened whipped cream.