I feel like my life has been so hectic lately.
I was recently promoted at work (yay!). Basically, the woman who is the Director of Communications is going on leave for most of next year, so I am stepping in and taking over for her. This means that for the past 4 weeks or so, I’ve been putting in 10+ hour days Tuesday through Thursday, and being on-call Friday and Saturday. It also means that with my new position, I’ve been staring at a computer screen for the majority of the day, doing detailed graphic design work. My eyes have become permanently bloodshot from not blinking enough (must remember to blink; never thought I’d be telling myself that!).
So, when I’m home, I’ve been reminding myself to breathe. Slow down. Because I am definitely someone who once I’m too busy and hectic in one aspect of my life, I find myself becoming too busy and hectic in every other aspect. And that’s not always advisable, because that’s when emotional meltdowns tend to happen. So, breathing (and blinking!) are high on my priority list when not at work. I want to be able to enjoy the holidays, enjoy writing this blog, enjoy my downtime; I don’t want to become a huge stressball who gets no joy out of the things she’s doing in her life.
So, on my days off, baking is one of my ways of slowing down. Having to carefully measure, mix, whip; you cannot rush your way through. You have to slow down and be precise. And it’s just the thing to keep me focused. I enjoy it so much, not just the outcome but the process as well. It’s like meditation for me. I look forward to the days when I know I’m going to be baking. I usually plan out what I’m going to make, pour over recipes, trying to find the perfect Friday night dessert. Except with this one.
I was trying to decide what I wanted to do for dessert. I wasn’t in the mood for chocolate, didn’t want to do a cake or souffle. I wanted something with cinnamon, and maple, a pecans. Something with fall flavors, something different. Going through the pantry, I found I had about 5 sweet potatoes left over from a dinner earlier in the week. I also had eggs and a carton of cream. Perfect. I was going to make pots de crème.
Pots de crème are one of my absolute favorite desserts. They fall somewhere in the custard/mousse/pudding category of sweets, but they definitely stand out on their own. Their base consists of cream, egg yolks and sugar, along with whatever flavoring you’ll be adding. They are baked in a water bath until jiggly and put into the refrigerator to set. The finished product is thick, creamy, and has a consistency similar to a pumpkin pie filling (especially this particular take on the pots de crème). They are rich, but not too much so. A small ramekin is the perfect serving size for this dessert, although some people (coughSHAWNcough) can definitely consume two in one sitting. They are just the loveliest little desserts, very comforting and sweet and not-too-gourmet. I’ve made them before with honey for the flavoring, and they take on a much lighter and sweeter quality than these sweet potato ones. Both different, both completely delicious.
I topped the custards with a maple crème fraiche. Super simple; just a package of crème fraiche with a couple of tablespoons of maple syrup mixed in. Trader Joe’s has a really great crème fraiche for just a few dollars; no need to break the bank there. The crème fraiche really cuts the sweetness of the pots de crème with a touch of tartness.
But I didn’t stop there. The dessert didn’t feel quite finished with just the pots de crème. And I kept going back to the idea of pecans, or more importantly, pecan shortbreads. Crunchy, nutty, super buttery shortbreads. Brown sugar instead of regular for an extra maple kick. Completely delicious and addictive.
After a super busy and overwhelming week of training, graphic designing and deadlines, this was a wonderful way to wind down. Boiling cream, roasting sweet potatoes, cutting out small shortbreads, everything forced me to slow down and wait. And breathe. And blink. THG
Sweet Potato Pots de Crème
2 cups heavy cream
1 tsp. bourbon vanilla extract
1 cinnamon stick
6 egg yolks, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup roasted sweet potato, pureed
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 cup crème fraiche
2 Tbsp. maple syrup
Preheat oven to 300ºF.
Add cream and vanilla to medium saucepan. Add cinnamon stick. Heat until simmering; cover and steep 10 to 15 minutes. Discard cinnamon stick.
Beat yolks, sugar, sweet potato and spices until light and ribboned. Add 1/4 cup of cream to temper egg mixture. Pour yolk mixture into cream and mix well. Pour mixture into ramekins 3/4 way full and place in a large roasting pan. Fill pan with water, being careful not to splash into ramekins, until water reaches 2/3 up the sides of ramekins. Cover with foil. Bake in middle of oven 30-45 minutes or until set on the sides and center jiggles. Remove from water bath a refrigerate until set, at least 2 hours.
Mix crème fraiche and maple syrup. Spoon on top of pots de crème.
3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup pecans, toasted and ground in food processor
1/4 tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 350ºF.
Cream butter and sugar in mixer until fluffy. Add vanilla and mix. Sift in flour and salt and mix to incorporate. Add ground pecans and mix on low until just coming together into a ball. Dump ball of dough onto a lightly floured surface and shape into a disk. Wrap and refrigerate 1-2 hours.
Roll out dough onto a lightly floured surface to 1/2” thickness. Using a small 1 1/2” round cookie cutter, cut out dough and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake in center of oven 20-25 minutes until edges are brown. Let cool before serving.
Makes 50 1 1/2” round shortbreads