A few years ago, my grandma wanted to take me into New York City for a fun, relaxing girls’ day out. I was responsible for planning the entire day – from what we’d do to where we’d eat.
At the time, I have to admit, I wasn’t a huge fan of the city. I didn’t see much excitement in going there. Too many people, too many buildings, and not nearly enough fresh air. In the land of “so much to do, so little time,” I struggled to think of activities that would make both of us happy.
I started exploring our restaurant options and it soon became clear to me that this was what I’d plan our day around – a single meal. I had to find the ultimate, indulgent restaurant.
Hello, The Modern.
After looking at the restaurant’s website, I knew that this was where I wanted to eat. The dishes looked clean, contemporary – unlike anything or any place I’ve eaten in my neck of the woods. To me, this meal was already worth a trip into the city.
Before lunch, we agreed to go to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Neither of us and had been there before and, more importantly, it was right next door to the restaurant.
The plan was set and we were finally ready to go.
Our trip to the museum was . . . interesting. Room after room, my grandma and I went in and examined the art as if we were experts (which we’re definitely not). We enjoyed some of the exhibits, especially that of Monet and Warhol, and others we just didn’t “get.”
To this day, we still can’t figure out how Barnett Newman’s painting “Onement I” is considered his “breakthrough” piece. A line down the center of a canvas doesn’t seem all that groundbreaking. But hey, maybe I’m wrong.
After wandering around the museum, we headed over to The Modern.
To be honest, I can’t seem to remember what we ordered. We had to order a slew of courses because the portions were so small – not that I minded. I was perfectly fine with creating what was, in essence, our own tasting menu.
Even though we sampled a good portion of the menu, none of the dishes were all that memorable.
Except for one.
Before our waiter could even hand me the dessert menu, I knew what I wanted. Beignets.
I had seen a picture of these fried pillows of deliciousness on the restaurant’s website during my hunt for a place to eat. I might be exaggerating, but I think this was the reason I wanted to eat at The Modern in the first place – this was the dish I was waiting for.
After the waiter put the plate down in front of me, my grandma and I admired how the six generously-portioned golden-brown beignets were tucked under a folded white napkin. Alongside them were three small dishes: maple ice cream, caramel, and mango marmalade. Even though the pockets of dough were piping hot, I dove right in.
I kept trying each bite of beignet with a different preparation – a little caramel here, some ice cream there. I wanted to see which way I liked best, but I never settled on one. Each combination was incredible. Memorable.
My grandma and I still talk about that day in the city – the art, the food, the laughs. And somehow, the beignets always get an honorable mention. “I can’t believe, after all those small plates, that the dessert was so huge!”
I think what I liked most about The Modern’s beignets (aside from being delicious) was that they were executed in such a whimsical, fun way. The pile of fried dough, the dusting of powdered sugar, and the assortment of dipping sauces – how can you beat it? So imaginative and fun while still being familiar.
Though I didn’t make donuts or beignets today, these Chocolate Pot de Crème with Caramel Pretzel Crunch are equally (if not even more) indulgent.
This recipe is like my play on a chocolate-covered pretzel. The custard is simple yet decadent; it’s rich in chocolate flavor and not overly sweet. The pretzel topping provides a great, slightly salty contrast that really highlights the flavor and depth of the chocolate. The crunch of the pretzel also perfectly counters the thick and velvety texture of the custard.
A whimsical and inspired version of a chocolate-covered pretzel? I like to think so.
Chocolate Pot de Crème
- 3 oz. 100% Cacao Chocolate, finely chopped (I used Ghiradelli)
- 3 oz. 60% Cacao Chocolate, finely chopped (Also used Ghiradelli)
- 4 Egg Yolks, at room temperature
- 2 C. Heavy Cream*
- ¼ C. Granulated Sugar
- ¼ tsp. Kosher Salt
- ½ tsp. Vanilla Extract
-Boiling water, for water bath
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Set (8) ½ cup ramekins in a roasting pan. Set aside. Combine both types of chocolate in a heat proof bowl. Set aside.
Over medium heat, combine heavy cream and sugar. Bring to a simmer. In a separate bowl, beat egg yolks with vanilla extract and kosher salt. Once the cream mixture is heated, pour ¾ of it over the chocolate. While whisking, pour the remaining cream in to the eggs – this tempers the eggs.
Whisk together the chocolate and cream mixture until completely smooth. Continue whisking and add in egg mixture. Pour through a fine sieve, then distribute evenly among the 8 ramekins.
Fill the roasting pan with boiling water until the water level reaches half-way up the ramekins. Bake in the center of the oven until set, about 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven and carefully transfer ramekins to a cooling rack. Cover and finish chilling in the refrigerator for 4 hours, or overnight.
*As this dessert is extremely rich, you can use ½ C. whole milk and 1½ C. heavy cream (instead of the 2 C. of heavy cream) to lighten it up a bit.
Yields 8 Servings
Caramel Pretzel Crunch
Adapted from Martha Stewart
- 1 C. Granulated Sugar
- 2 Tbsp. Water
- 1 tsp. Fresh Lemon Juice
- 4 oz. Thin Pretzel Sticks (I used Rold Gold)
-Butter, for greasing the baking sheet
- Coarse Sea Salt, for garnish
Line a jelly-roll pan with parchment paper; lightly grease with butter. Set aside
Bring sugar, water, and lemon juice to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat, washing down sides of pan often with a wet pastry brush to prevent crystals from forming. Cook, without stirring, until sugar dissolves, 5 to 6 minutes. Raise heat to high, and cook, swirling pan to color evenly, until syrup is amber, about 5 minutes. Remove caramel from heat, and quickly stir in pretzels. Pour mixture out onto prepared jelly-roll pan and spread to an even layer. Let harden, about 20 minutes. Once set, break into smaller pieces.
Top chilled Pot de Crème with desired amount of Caramel Pretzel Crunch.