Butterscotch Pot de Crème

If you're anything like me, you're probably not really up for major New Year's resolution talk right now. I'm totally with you on that. I'd much rather talk about cookies and the new cookbooks you got. So let's just keep it simple. For the New Year, let's all make a pact to actively start trying to blow minds. Might I suggest starting with this Butterscotch Pot de Crème for New Year's Eve dessert?

I first experienced this dish when I was visiting Sara, my best friend in the whole wide world, down in Santa Monica back in October. Feeling bold and fancy-free (or as bold and fancy-free as one possibly can, as Sara was super pregnant at the time), we headed out to brave the lunchtime crowd at Gjelina in Venice. Now, as much as I'd like to seem like I'm all San Francisco and into dining only at the latest and greatest new restaurants, the truth is that when you have a three-year-old, the dining decision usually comes down to relatively kid-friendly places that still serve wine. Gjelina is indeed one of the latest and greatest, definitely serves wine, but isn't the kind of place you'd want to be seen with a kid. You might, however, catch a dressed-down celebrity or three, and you'll put some of the most deliciously simple food ever created in your face, marveling all the while at how such pared-down dishes can be so transformative. Plus, I didn't even have a kid with me on that trip. Bliss. A lot of chewing and sighing took place during our lunch, is what I'm saying.

I still dream of the raw kale salad with fennel, lemon and crisp breadcrumbs (I mean, who makes a dreamworthy kale salad, really?), the perfectly wood-fired blanco pizza with multiple fragrant cheeses and plump, salty Casteveltrano olives. A few glasses of Prosecco. And the dessert. Oh, the dessert. I just--oh, people. There are no words for the butterscotch pot de crème at Gjelina. "Butterscotch pudding on steroids" may begin to spell it out for you, but even then. Oh. Special moments, friends. Special. Moments.

So fast forward to Christmas Eve day, when I was mulling over the menus for the next couple of days. I sort of heard that needle scratching sound in my head when I realized that I had completely forgotten to even think about dessert for Christmas Day. I won't go into how alien this realization was for me, I think you can probably guess. So I was left with no other choice but to go simple and go with what was in the house at that moment. Because Christmas Eve dinner had us Midwesterners embracing San Francisco tradition and feasting on garlic-roasted Dungeness crab and fresh sourdough bread, and the line in which I had to stand to claim said crabs left me scarred and vowing not to return to any store until at least December 28th. The results, however, were totally finger-lickin' worth it, and we now have a new little family Christmas Eve crab tradition, which warms the cockles.

So anyway, back to the forgotten Christmas Day dessert debacle. Dinner would be traditional--ham, potatoes, vegetables, the whole thing. So I wanted to go with something tasty, decadent and kind of unexpected. And again, it had to be made without another trip to the store. A flashback to my dessert at Gjelina, a quick Google search, and a double check for the pantry basics of eggs, cream, dark brown sugar and butter, and we were on our way to a slap-the-table-level of dessert greatness.

It really is that simple guys. Just a handful of ingredients, plus a good hit of salt, and you're well on your way to keeping that New Years' pact to blow minds that I tricked you into making with me earlier.

Butterscotch Pot de Crème

Adapted from The Los Angeles Times and Gjelina in Venice, California

Serves 6 to 8

The original printed recipe says it serves 10, but I've scaled it down here by a third. Even so, with these amounts and the decadent richness of the dish, I think it can still serve 6 to 8 people. It is so dense, so creamy, so full of sweet-salty butterscotch flavor, a 4-ounce portion is all anyone really wants or needs. Even putting it in tiny 2-ounce ramekins would be plenty. This stuff is serious.

For the caramel sauce, I opted to use a good-quality storebought sauce that I already had on hand, since just a couple tablespoons is needed for garnish. But of course you can get fancy and make your own. A smattering of crunchy, flaky sea salt just sort of gilds the lily here, but dang, is it ever worth it.

6 large egg yolks

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and caviar scraped

2 1/3 cups heavy cream

Whipped cream, caramel sauce and flaky sea salt (I like Maldon), for serving

Position a rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 325 degrees. Set 6 to 8 small ramekins, cups or coffee cups in a small roasting pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks until smooth.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt together the butter, brown sugar, salt and vanilla bean caviar. Whisk often until the mixture becomes smooth. Cook until it begins to caramelize, darkening slightly in color and smelling nutty, almost smoky, 3 to 4 minutes. Carefully and slowly whisk in the cream. The caramel will harden and seize at first, but will smooth out as all the cream is whisked in. Stirring often, bring the mixture to a simmer and then remove the pan from the heat.

Whisk a small amount of the hot cream into the yolks--just a couple tablespoons at first. Then gradually whisk in the remaining cream. When the custard is smooth, set a fine mesh sieve over a large heatproof measuring cup. Pour the custard through the sieve. Divide the custard evenly among the ramekins.

Slide out the oven rack and place the roasting pan on the rack. Carefully fill the roasting pan with hot water, just about halfway up the ramkeins, being careful not to splash any water into the custards. Slide the rack slowly back into place. Bake the custard until they are just set but still jiggle when tapped, anywhere from 30 to 40 minutes depending on the depth of the ramekins. Let the custards cool on the counter for 5 minutes before covering them loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerating until thoroughly chilled, 3 to 4 hours.

To serve, top each pot de creme with a dollop of whipped cream, a drizzle of caramel sauce, and a smattering of flaky sea salt. Serve slightly chilled.

CustardsShauna Sever