In my continual quest for food worth every bite, I love to explore the entire culinary world and create unified Seders reminiscent of a specific time and place in Jewish history. This year my theme will be the French countryside. Not exactly associated with Pesach, I know, but Rashi was there, so for me, it works. I wanted to make a no-bake, pareve pot au crème that is simple and has the texture of the creamiest pudding you’ve ever had.
Pot au crème, or pot of cream, is a traditional French dessert that has been found as early as Medieval times. It is a custard cooked in a water bath, or bain marie. The cups used have a history all their own--they were often made of the finest porcelain with either one or two handles and small fitted cover on top. I inherited two sets of Passover dishes but alas, none include a dainty pot au creme set, so I make due with some sturdy tea cups.
In my house the Seders involve well over 30 people, each night. Working a full-time job with three kids and a house to clean for Passover, every year I grab hold of my culinary techniques and create as many foods that can be made in advance as possible. This dessert bursts with the traditional flavors of almonds and chocolate, (like the holiday candies I grew up loving--the same kind my kids sold); it uses one truly handy dandy dessert technique--creating a stovetop custard. Stovetop custard is important for many things--from crème anglaise to ice cream. It opens up a world of French cooking. I also didn’t want to bother with the bain marie when my ovens are already overcrowded with so many other foods, so I modified the usual baking with some stabilizing and quick-setting potato starch to make this dish a fast stove top custard, Chopped style. It was a huge hit right from the pot. Et voilà! This pot de lait d’amande au chocolate was born.
Once you get the hang of stovetop custards, you can improvise with many different flavors and additions. Just a little bit of global culinary wisdom and a soupçon of imagination can make even Passover desserts are new, all over again.
Start by making your own almond milk, you can use store bought if you prefer, but there is nothing like this.
Homemade Toasted Almond Milk (for year round use and for Pesach)
Almond milk has been around for millennia, especially on the Jewish table. Iraqi Jewry traditionally serve a rose water-sweetened almond milk, called hariri for the break fast after Yom Kippur. Versions with orange blossom water can also be found. But almond milk has a long and storied history in many communities (not just among Jews); most often is is used during and around periods of food limitations, such as Lent in the Christian world and Ramadan in the Muslim world, where it remains a homemade treat to prevent contamination by any extracts made with alcohol. Almond milk requires a lot of straining--there are several rounds of letting the mixture drip slowly through cheesecloth here--so it’s the kind of recipe that you should prepare on a day when you are cooking other things or puttering around the house. Once the initial prep is done, you return to it from time to time for a quick stir or transfer to another container. This version is full of vanilla flavor, right from the gorgeous vanilla bean. Using the beans may be a bit pricier, but the taste is worth every penny.