One of the highlights of our recent trip to San Francisco was a visit to the California Academy of Sciences. The only place on the planet with an aquarium, a planetarium, a natural history museum, and a 4-story rainforest all under one roof, it’s a stunning architectural achievement with hundreds of unique exhibits and nearly 40,000 live animals. It was spectacular. But perhaps the best part was the cafeteria.
Under the expertise of renowned chefs-in-residence Charles Phan (Slanted Door) and Loretta Keller (COCO500), the Academy Café offers a multicultural menu divided into stations – one offering interesting salads (roasted beets! quinoa!), another sandwiches, another Vietnamese rice paper rolls with peanut dipping sauce. The entrees station featured interesting vegetarian options such as a roasted vegetable curry with a choice of sides, and there was a taco bar. All the meals were served on real, reusable plates – the Café (along with the more upscale Moss Room) is committed to sustainability, organics and proper farming — values which are harmonious with the California Academy of Sciences’ mission to explore, explain and protect the natural world.
And then there was dessert. What caught my eye were the rows of teeny jars filled with pot de crème (French for pot of cream– can you think of anything better?) – there was Scharffen Berger chocolate, and organic caramel, and mango with a layer of tapioca.
I grabbed a couple to stash in my bag and eat out on the green grass. Bliss.
Scharffen Berger Chocolate Pot de Crème
adapted from Gourmet, February 2004
6 oz Scharffen Berger bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
6 large egg yolks
2 Tbsp sugar
Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 300°F.
Put chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Bring cream, milk and a pinch of salt just to a boil in a small heavy saucepan, then pour over chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.
Whisk together yolks, sugar, and a pinch of salt in another bowl, then add warm chocolate mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a 1-quart glass measure and cool completely, stirring occasionally, about 15 minutes.
Line bottom of a baking pan (large enough to hold ramekins) with a folded kitchen towel and arrange ramekins on towel. Poke several holes in a large sheet of foil with a skewer. Divide custard among ramekins, then bake custards in a hot water bath , pan covered tightly with foil, until custards are set around edges but still slightly wobbly in centers, 30 to 35 minutes.
Transfer ramekins to a rack to cool completely, uncovered, about 1 hour. (Custards will set as they cool.) Chill, covered, until cold, at least 3 hours.