Sunday, March 25, 2012

Hot Chocolate Chili Pot

A week or two ago I got an email from a former classmate of mine, and in the email was a certain request: would I be willing to tinker around and recreate the "Hot Chocolate Chili Pot" from West Point Grey's coziest restaurant, Burgoo? He said he and his wife had often enjoyed that slightly spicy dessert often while they lived in Vancouver. And now that they moved away, they missed it a little too often.

It didn't take me long to decide. I had the restaurant website and menu up on my computer screen before I even finished his note. I too had spent some good evenings lingering in the warm interior of Burgoo. The food they offer centers around the theme of comfort food. It may be French or Italian, Indian, American, or Vietnamese, but whatever far flung culture, it is a dish known as food for the soul, food made over and over with love and patience and a clear goal: to feed, to comfort, to nourish.

It does not take much prodding anyway to get me to make dessert, and when someone you haven't glimpsed for three years contacts you out of the blue just to ask if you'll make custard, you know it has to be pretty good.

And it was. By the end of that week I had made a batch, and even though I used semi-sweet chocolate instead of bittersweet, and it wasn't as black as I wanted it to be, and even though I don't know yet if it is exactly the way he remembers it, this recipe is a very good place to start (or end). Which is what he wanted in the first place.

The first thing you notice is the texture. When warm, the custard is set enough to not feel too wiggly on the spoon, nor too loose on the tongue. When cold, it takes on a thick, toothsome quality that only chocolate attains. Aside from the chocolate taste and aroma, there is the cinnamon and arbol chili, which are both subtle. It does not kick you in the face. It does not linger for hours on end. (That said, if that is the kind of relationship you are after, by all means, add more chili.) Instead, it slides up next to you and suggests spice, but by the time you've reflected this long on it the bite is gone and you are left with the whisper of vanilla and almond, and a short continuation of the chili. Then you want another bite.

I don't know what went wrong with my classmate's Google searches. He had said the best match he found was a recipe for "Chocolate Chili Con Carne," which apparently did not interest him (me neither). I, on the other hand, had no problem and found at least a few solid launchpads. Some used milk and some cream, others both. Some called for whole eggs and some only yolks. One recipe asked for twelve (obscene) ounces of bittersweet chocolate, but most asked for four to six. After vacillating between possibilities and getting a little nervous, I took a deep breath and just went with my gut, and with what I had.

I wanted something simple, subtle, straightforward, and easy to adapt. I had cream that needed to be used, so I put that in. I had some ground arbol chili that I wanted to test out (the flavor is deep and earthy, not so piquant as cayenne), and I had an abundance of semi-sweet Guittard chocolate. The recipe reflects many of the little choices that may change the flavor slightly. It would be a tragedy, after all, for someone to be very much in need of chocolate custard, read this recipe, and not make it because they had milk and not cream, or ground cayenne instead of arbol chili. I want this recipe to be true to that spirit of Burgoo and be, through and through, a comfort.

Mexican-Spiced Chocolate Custard, or, Hot Chocolate Chili Pot (adapted from Evelyn's recipe)

The spectrum of possibilities for this chocolate custard is very wide. If you want more richness, use the cream, if you want it lighter, use milk. If you prefer a very dark chocolate, go for the bittersweet. If you'd rather a 'normal' chocolate intensity, stay with semi-sweet. Like more spice, use the greater amount. Just keep the proportions the same and you'll be fine.

2 cups milk or cream or a combination of both (I used equal amounts of each)
6 ounces chocolate (60-70% cocoa content)
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4-1/2 teaspoon ground arbol chili or cayenne (I used the smaller amount)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
6 egg yolks
large pinch sea salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Bring milk(s), spices, and sugar to a simmer in a small saucepan over medium heat. Take off the heat and stir in chocolate. Let sit a few minutes to melt, and stir until smooth.

While the chocolate melts, whisk the remaining ingredients together in a medium-large bowl. When the chocolate mixture is smooth, slowly whisk it into the egg mixture.

Set six (or so) ramekins in a large roasting pan or casserole dish and distribute the custard evenly among the cups. Add enough hot water to come halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and bake 20-30 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the edges are set. (My middle was set also this time around, and it was just fine.)

When done, carefully remove pan from oven and cups from the pan to cool on a rack. (I let them sit about twenty minutes before my sister and I dove in.) Eat warm, room temperature, or cold, served as is, topped with a bit of whipped cream or a dusting of cocoa powder. Enjoy!


  1. This sounds good. A lot like pots de creme, but I happen to be big on chocolate spiced with chili.

    Love the way you write! Will be checking back soon.