Remember pudding cups? Well, Baileys Pot de Creme are like a luxurious, grown-up version of pudding cups flavored with plenty of Irish Cream liquor.
Pot de Creme sounds fancy, doesn’t it? The minute we see a dessert with a French name we assume it must be super complicated to make with very precise and detailed instructions. Honestly, this is often true. But not for this dessert. It’s incredibly easy to make and has only 5 ingredients, counting the salt! And if you’re not super-fussy about the presentation, there’s a shortcut for this recipe that makes it even easier.
When I learned how to make custard in pastry school we were taught the classic technique, that is; scald the milk (or cream), then “liason” the milk with the eggs.
A few months ago I read an article on Serious Eats (one of my favorite blogs!) which asserts there is no need to scald the milk for a custard, unless you want to infuse the custard with a flavor. The author explains the original reason for scalding the dairy was because, in the days before pasteurization, it was necessary to heat the milk or cream to kill harmful bacteria. Since any diary product you buy today (with very few exceptions) is pasteurized, there is no need for this extra step.
Well, this made sense to me. But I Googled around to read more about it before posting this recipe with or without the scalding step.
Of course, as is typical on the internet, I found a whole bunch of blogs and message boards that asked this same question. But none of them gave a definitive answer. Some folks decided there was no reason to scald the milk. Others insisted that scalding alters the chemistry of the milk and, therefore, the final product. But everything I read was based on opinion, with no one giving a scientific explanation for or againt scalding the milk.
I can’t run a chemical analysis in my kitchen, but I can run a kitchen experiment, which is always a good thing for a baking geek like me. Before posting this recipe, I really wanted to know if I could simply skip the scalding step altogether.
I made the custard base for the Baileys Pot de Creme two different ways. For the first batch I used the traditional custard technique; I scalded the cream, whisked the yolks with the sugar, tempered the yolks with the cream, then strained the custard. For the second batch I simply mixed all the ingredients together. To make sure it was the scalding and not the straining step that could make a difference, I strained one of the custards from the simple mix as a comparison.
So, what were the results? The photo above shows the difference between the two batches. The top ramekin is from the batch that was not scalded (but was strained) and the bottom ramekin is from the traditionally made batch.
As you can see in the photo, the batch made without scalding has bubbles on the surface that aren’t particularly attractive. The batch made from the scalded cream had a nice, smooth top. Even though I strained both batches, the batch that wasn’t scalded seemed to hold on to the bubbles longer so they baked into the surface of the custard.
Once I tasted both custards I discovered that the difference was only aesthetic. Beneath the surface the two custards were equally smooth. Eating-wise, there was no difference.
So, what’s the verdict? For me, taking the 2 minutes to scald the cream is worth the effort. The end result is prettier, and it did save 5 minutes of baking time. On the other hand, I had an extra pot to wash.
It’s up to you which way you make Baileys Pot de Creme. If you’re not fussy about having a super-smooth top, there’s no harm in skipping the scalding step. Whichever way you make it, it will be delicious.
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