Velvety Chocolate and Vanilla Custards (Pots de Crème) and a tutorial.

Pots de crème, a.k.a. baked individual custards, are one of my favorite foods in the entire world.  Just knowing that I have a few little ramekins of this heavenly custard waiting for me in the fridge helps me handle anything the day, or a child, throws my way.  The Evil Genius gets almost weepy when he knows I’m making these for dessert.

There are not enough superlatives in existence to describe these dreamy custards but I’ll try anyway.  If silk or velvet could become a food they would become this one.  I think Lindy gets closer to the appropriate level of food-worshipping description due to these custards when he takes a bite, shuts his eyes and whispers reverently, “It’s like chocolate butter…”  My kids go silent when eating these.  And that silence?  Let’s just say that it’s a precious and rare commodity…

The original recipe that I’ve used for years came from one of the first ‘Everyday Food’ magazines.  It’s available online, but stick with me.  I have some tips that are helpful for both the novice and frustrated custard makers and I have a couple extra touches that make these custards even more wonderful.

For a printable, photo-free copy of the recipe, click here.

Velvety Baked Chocolate and Vanilla Custards

You can make either Vanilla or Chocolate Custard with the same custard base.  Simply omit the chocolate for a pure vanilla custard.  I personally prefer the chocolate, but I know that’s not a shared universal obsession trait.

  • 1 1/2 cups half and half
  • 1/4 cup vanilla sugar (or plain sugar)
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (and/or 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped into the half and half)

If making the chocolate custards, you will also need:

  • 3 ounces of semi-sweet chocolate, chopped (or chocolate chips), melted *see note below for help melting chocolate!

Preheat oven to 325F.  Put a large kettle of water on to boil. In a medium saucepan, bring half and half, and vanilla extract and bean and seeds- if using- just to a boil.

Pretty please do not walk away from this.  It is ever so difficult to clean up scorched half and half from your stovetop.  Really.  As soon as it begins to boil, remove pan from the heat and set aside.

Add yolks, sugar and salt to a medium bowl (or the bowl of a stand mixer)

If you’re the astute type you’ll probably notice that there are vastly more egg yolks in the photo below than the amount called for in the recipe.  That’d be because I don’t make this without making at least a triple batch.  Here you see the egg yolks for a quadruple batch plus one since my chickens are still laying relatively small eggs.  Don’t hate me.

…and whisk until thickened and light.

If making chocolate custard, at this point you will add the melted chocolate to the eggs and whisk until chocolate is fully incorporated.  Carefully whisk in a small amount -about a half a cup- of the hot half and half mixture.  DON’T –and I can’t stress this enough– ADD ALL THE HALF AND HALF AT ONCE.  Sorry for type-screaming, but this is important.  When that is fully incorporated add the rest of the half and half mixture and whisk thoroughly.  If desired, you can scoop any foam off the top. To make sure you have the smoothest possible custard, pour the custard through a fine mesh sieve into a large measuring cup with a pouring spout.  I know that sounds wicked picky, but when you’re pouring hot anything into eggs you stand a chance of lightly scrambling just a wee bit of it no matter how careful you are.  Pouring it through the sieve guarantees you a scrambled-egg free custard.  Divide evenly among ramekins or small jelly jars.

Place jars in a roasting or sided-baking pan that is just large enough to hold them all.  Place pan on center rack in the preheated oven.

Now you’re going to construct something very fancy-schmancy sounding; a bain marie.  This translates loosely as ‘a water bath’.  You are keeping the custard from cooking too quickly around the edges by applying the gentle, moist heat of steam.  If you don’t believe it makes a difference, you can try baking these without the water bath but I’d prefer you took my word for it.  Believe me, I’ve done it without the water bath and it just isn’t as silky and decadent.

Carefully pour water into the pan, taking care not to pour the water into the custard, until it reaches about halfway up the sides of the custard dishes.  Loosely tent the pan with foil and bake for about 45 minutes or until the custard is set on the outside edges, but still a bit wobbly in the center.

Remove custard cups to a cooling rack from the water-filled pan.  Cover and chill in the refrigerator at least 2 hours prior to serving.

*Need help melting chocolate?  The easiest method is to place the chocolate chips or chopped chocolate in a microwave safe dish.  Microwave, uncovered, for about 1minute on HIGH.  Remove, stir well, and return to the microwave.  Heat at 15 second intervals, stirring after each, until the chocolate is glossy, smooth and completely melted.

And in the interest of keeping my moral compass aimed in the right direction I should probably say that I may have eaten a couple baked custards while typing this post.  And I may or may not have waited for it to cool to eat it.  And life looks good right now I tell you.


  1. says

    YUM! I don’t eat artifical sweeteners myself (except for an occasional Diet A&W) but we have a lot of lo-carbers in the family and chocolate pots de creme are great with stevia or splenda. Then you can really splurge with heavey cream as well. Just an idea because it’s a challenge for me, I am usually the dessert maker and feel bad when some people can’t enjoy what I’ve made. I’d much prefer the vanilla sugar in mine.

  2. Rebecca and/or Val says

    Maggie- For me it’s the occasional Diet Vernor’s (whenever I get out to MI, ’cause they don’t sell it here in NY.) I’ll point out your comment to my counterpart here, Val, because my Dad is diabetic and it might be nice for him to be able to eat pots de creme occasionally… But I have to say that the vanilla sugar is one of the things that makes these exceptionally delicious.

  3. Edwina Golombek says

    I am a re-invented Australian living in Marrakech where I have fabulous cooking classes in my riad and a berber village kitchen..I thought I had invented the divine little saffron custards but I just found yours and although sans saffrom all else is the same!
    Come and cook with me if you are ever even CLOSE to Marrakech..It IS truly wonderous living closer to Barcelona than say Dubbo! x Edwina

  4. Jimmy Wood says

    Finally, a custard recipe that works. I love chocolate in almost anything, but am one of those who prefers the yellowish, yolky vanilla version when it comes to custard. I’ll bet this same recipe could be modified slightly to make a crème brulee (I still have to learn how to broil without burning to a crisp). Also, and not exactly related to cooking, if one must pay proper attention while reading through the recipe, in this age of virtually illiterate, cryptic, parrotlike texting and talking, it’s rewarding to encounter an expressive — and entertaining — command of our English language!

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