For me, Easter has always been and always will be, all about the Cadbury Creme Egg. It seems everyone pledges their allegiance to one treat over any other at this time of year. There are the chocolate peanut butter bunny fanatics, the jelly bean addicts, and don’t even get me started on those misguided Peep people – ick!
As a child, Easter always meant a visit to the grandparents’ house and a special trip to dinky Mercer Mall for a pair of pristine white cotton gloves and matching dresses of pastel flowers for Ash and I. In the wee hours before Easter Sunday, I would creep up the basement stairs where Ash and I shared a pull-out sofa, and squint into the darkness. One year, I glimpsed a figure moving around our baskets and though his stature was suspiciously similar to my mom’s, I swore up and down that I saw those tell-tale bunny ears.
We dove into our baskets as dawn broke. I pushed past the stray jelly beans and decoy Peeps, digging until I found gold – the Cadbury Creme Egg. Each year I found one, maybe two or even (jackpot!) three. The other candy barely lasted a week but the eggs were rationed, savored.
Over many Easters I learned that there is an art to eating a Cadbury Creme Egg. It’s best to unwrap the egg as you eat to avoid any melting chocolate mishaps on those new white Easter gloves. Start at the top by licking a hole in the chocolate shell and gradually suck out the custard-y yolk. The goal is to work your way through the egg without causing a tragic shell implosion. In the end it’s best to just accept that it’s nearly impossible to eat one attractively or daintily. The entire process is grotesque really, but with smears of chocolate on your face and fingers sticky with filling, you may just find your inner 7-year-old self again. And what is so wrong about that?
This week’s recipe is a take on my Easter sweet favorite via a spin on the classic French dessert – Pots de Creme. The rich vanilla custard stands in for the creme egg filling and a thin layer of poured chocolate, for the milk chocolate shell yields a tidier and more adult Pots de Creme Egg. I opted for semi-sweet chocolate as I feared milk chocolate too rich for this application. To mimic the egg shape I used oval ramekins and tartlet pans to mimic flowers for spring. Decorating with bits of royal icing and silver dragees is optional but I figured, with a clever little idea like this one, why not live up to my name and go all Martha on you?
Pots de Creme Eggs
Custard recipe adapted from Mark Bittman
A vanilla pots de creme marries with a thin shell of semi-sweet chocolate for an Easter dessert that can’t be beat. Warning, the melted chocolate shell contains an entire stick of butter (I know, I know, is my name Paula?) but trust me, this is the best way to get the chocolate runny enough to achieve a thin shell that won’t bruise the custard. Plus, the goal is to spread as thin a layer as possible – so go light on the chocolate, relax – then eat a carrot.
Yields 4, 6-ounce ramekins or 8, 3-ounce oval ramekins (here)
For the custard
2 cups heavy cream
2 vanilla beans or 1 tsp vanilla extract
6 large egg yolks
1/2 cup sugar
For the chocolate shell
1 1/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 stick unsalted butter
For the royal icing
1 1/2 Tbs meringue powder
2 cups powdered sugar
3-4 Tbs warm water
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Split and scrape seeds from vanilla beans and combine with the cream in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Warm over medium heat until cream just begins to steam. Turn off heat, cover, and let steep for 15 minutes. If using vanilla extract, just heat the cream and save the extract to add later.
2. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg yolks and sugar until light yellow. Remove the vanilla bean pods and whisk 1/4 cup of cream into egg mixture to temper. Add eggs to the saucepan with the warm cream and whisk to combine. If using vanilla extract, add it now.
3. Pour custard mixture into ramekins, filling them about 3/4 full, and place in a baking dish. Carefully fill baking dish with water halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover with foil and bake 25-35 minutes until set, but center is still jiggly. Remove and chill in the refrigerator.
Tip: I transfer the baking dish with ramekins to the oven and then pour the water into the baking dish. This will keep the water from sloshing into the ramekins as you move them.
4. While the custards chill, combine the chocolate chips and butter in a microwave safe bowl and heat at 30 second intervals, stirring occasionally, until completely melted. Pour a very thin layer of melted chocolate on the tops of each custard and spread evenly. Return to refrigerator to set.
5. For the royal icing, mix the meringue powder, powdered sugar, and water together on low speed in an electric mixer. Beat until smooth, adding more water as needed to achieve a stiff, but flexible consistency for piping. Dye with food coloring as desired, and pipe away! Store finished custards in the refrigerator until ready to serve. These keep wonderfully and can be made a day ahead.
Tip: Royal icing can be made in advance and will keep for weeks in an airtight container at room temperature. If it becomes stiff, add a few teaspoons of warm water to thin.