Bootin’ the Gluten

As of late, it seems that before one holiday is even over, another is already on its way. Store displays have been splashed with hues of pink and red since January, in anticipation of Valentine’s Day.

Whether you love or hate the holiday, the suspense of the 14th is quickly drawing to a close, as it’s just around the corner.

It does not take a lot of money or a grand gesture to show someone that you love him or her. At this time of year, rather than buy a teddy bear or a box of chocolates, I show my love for people through food. Cooking for someone is personal – it takes time and patience.

Your favorite meal will always taste good, but I think we can all agree that when it was made with love, it will always stand out.

This Valentine’s Day, a group of my friends will host a gluten-free potluck dinner. The host will make the main course, with each guest bringing a different dish to accompany the spread. With Valentine’s Day falling on a Friday, I offered to bring my favorite pot de creme recipe.

If you use traditional ramekins, it can be neatly stacked, and kept in the refrigerator for up to two days. Pot de creme, which literally translates to “pot of cream” or “pot of custard” transports beautifully, is incredibly rich and velvety, and very little is needed to satisfy.

I cannot wait to share these naturally gluten-free treats that have a unique twist. When steeping the milk, I add star anise and a vanilla bean, which nicely compliment the richness of the chocolate. With a dessert as rich as pot de creme, I love a bit of spicy to help cut what can be conceived as overwhelmingly sweet.

No matter how you do or do not celebrate Valentines Day, these pot de cremes are not to be missed.

Star anise infused pot de creme

Yields: 6 to 4 ounce ramekins

1 1/4 cup whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

1 vanilla bean, split down the middle and seeds removed

10 star anise pods

5 egg yolks

1/3 cup sugar

1 teaspoon cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

10 ounces good quality dark chocolate (I used 72 percent)

Begin by pre-heating the oven to 300 degrees.

In a medium, heavy bottomed saucepot, bring the milk, cream, vanilla (seeds and bean) and star anise pods to a simmer. Turn off the heat and allow the mixture to steep for about 15 minutes.

While the milk mixture is steeping, vigorously whisk the egg yolks, sugar, cocoa powder and salt together until it becomes light and fluffy, resembling the color of peanut butter. Set aside.

Once the milk has steeped, remove the star anise and vanilla bean, and then bring the mixture back to a simmer.

As soon as it reaches a simmer turn off the heat, and very slowly ladle in 1/2 cup of the hot milk into the egg mixture, continuously whisking to prevent cooking the eggs.

Ladle in another 1/2 cup of the hot milk and whisk until the eggs and milk are combined. Pour the egg and milk mixture back into the remaining milk on the stove and whisk.

In a large bowl, add chocolate; if not using chips, cut into small pieces. Pour the milk mixture over the chocolate and allow it to sit for about two minutes.

After two minutes, whisk the chocolate and milk mixture together until completely combined. Evenly divide the custard among the ramekins and set the ramekins within a high-walled baking dish. Open the oven and set the dish on the middle rack.

Pour water (boiling is best) into the baking dish until it reaches about 1 inch up the side of the ramekins. Bake this mixture at 300 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until the edges are set and the middle is still slightly soft.

Pull them from the oven and allow to cool. Once cooled, chill until ready to consume. Garnish with a dollop of whipped cream and enjoy.