This recipe is the product of a simple extrapolation. I like port with chocolate. I like port with figs. I like figs with chocolate. So it’s no surprise that the three get along really well together. The spices in the port are inspired by, of all things, aargersi’s Spiced Plum and Port Jam, which I made last summer, and have been enjoying quite a bit these past few weeks. (Her recipe calls for five spice powder. I use here the two most interesting flavors from that – star anise and fennel – along with an orange peel for the citrus notes.) If your chocolate is dark or rich, you may not be able to identify particularly the port or the spices in the pudding itself, but they give it a nice depth of flavor nonetheless. Lest those flavors be overwhelmed, I’ve combined them to create a separate component, as the bottom layer of this dessert. This is rich, so servings should be tiny. Enjoy!! ;o) —AntoniaJames
2 cups (serves 4 - 8, depending on the serving size)
1 ½ cup ruby port (you can also use tawny, or Banyuls)
2 star anise pods, each broken into about six pieces
1 teaspoon lightly crushed fennel seeds
2 three-inch pieces of orange peel
½ cup brown sugar (or more or less, to taste) (See note below.)
2 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon of corn starch
1/8 teaspoon salt
¼ cup cold whole milk
6 – 8 small dried black Mission figs, each cut into four slices
4 – 8 ounces semi-sweet or dark baking chocolate
1 ¼ cup half-and-half
1 tablespoon good vanilla extract
2 teaspoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small bits (but only if you are serving the pudding shortly after making it)
1/4 - 1/2 cup mascarpone or whipped cream (measured after whipping) (optional)
In This Recipe
Simmer the port with the spices and orange peel until reduced to one cup. Remove from the heat and allow the spices and peel to steep as the port cools.
Whisk together the sugar, corn starch and salt. Add the milk and whisk until the cornstarch is dissolved and there are no lumps.
Put water in the bottom half of a double boiler and bring to a simmer.
Meanwhile, strain the spices from the port. Reserve 2 tablespoons of the port and set aside for the topping. (This is optional. If not using for the topping, add it to the 1/4 cup of spiced port in which you’ll soak the figs.)
Measure ¼ cup of the spiced port and cover the fig slices with it in a small bowl. Stir occasionally while they're soaking.
If you want some shavings of chocolate for garnish, cut them using a sharp chef’s knife, and set them aside.
In the top insert of double boiler, melt the chocolate, stirring constantly. (Make sure that the top insert does not touch the hot water below it.)
Gradually add the half-and-half, gently stirring with a wooden spoon, until fully combined and very hot.
Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and very gently, but continuously, stir.
After three minutes, very slowly add the remaining spiced port, continuing to stir gently, to incorporate. Taste the pudding, and add more sugar if necessary. (See note below.)
After another two minutes, add the vanilla extract, stirring all the while.
The mixture should be fairly thick after 7 or 8 minutes (total). If not, cook it for another minute or two.
Turn off the heat and remove the top insert from the double boiler.
If you plan to serve the pudding soon, and will not be refrigerating it, add the bits of cold butter, one or two at a time, stirring well after each addition. Otherwise, omit this step.
Cool at room temperature.
Stir the soaking fig slices to distribute the spiced port.
Mix the reserved port with the mascarpone or whipped cream and a teaspoon of sugar. (Or simply sweeten the mascarpone or cheese. Adding the spiced port makes the topping pink.)
Serve the pudding with a few figs slices and their soaking liquid as a surprise in the bottom of the dish, and a good dollop of the flavored cream, garnished with a pinch of chocolate shavings, on top.
N.B. This recipes gives the cook a lot of latitude in deciding how much and what kind of chocolate to use. Please note that there's relatively little sugar called for in the chocolate pudding. That's because the figs and port are both very sweet, on their own. The contrast with just a touch of bitterness in the chocolate tastes perfect to me. If you like your chocolate sweeter, start with a more mellow chocolate and add more sugar, if necessary. Keep in mind though that the port syrup in the figs should find its way onto the spoon with the custard when you eat it. Let your own preferences, however, be your guide. ;o)
When I'm not working (negotiating transactions for internet companies), or outside enjoying the gorgeous surroundings here in the San Francisco Bay Area, I'm likely to be cooking, shopping for food, planning my next culinary experiment, or researching, voraciously, whatever interests me. In my kitchen, no matter what I am doing -- and I actually don't mind cleaning up -- I am deeply grateful for having the means to create, share with others and eat great food. Life is very good. ;o)