Have you ever cast a spell on someone with your cooking? Utterly impossible!” You say. Once, I would have agreed. Yes, I’ve read Chocolat, The Food of Love, and Like Water For Chocolate. Stories where spells are cast with food on fictional characters. Again, I repeat fictional, the stories and the characters. The only thing is I actually did it. Well, I kind of did it.
I made this magical Chocolate Kahlua Budino, and I watched as a guy, a cute guy, one I even had a little crush on, became very strange after he ate it. He started talking wildly, his eyes got droopy then bulged out, then raced from side to side as he ranted. He tried to take other people's dessets. He was hot and bothered, giddy even, and we had to turn on three fans to cool him off. I remember thinking, “What is he on?”
The next day, I was accused of putting “something extra” in his dessert. He was my Italian teacher, tall, with a thick wavy mane of dark hair, intelligent, and handsome. And, he spoke Italian like he was singing a love song. Of course, I had a crush on him. Almost everyone in our class had a crush on him, even some of the married women and at least one of the gay men. His reaction to my dessert caused many to wonder about my cooking prowess, and they wanted to know what I had done to that budino.
I have a confession. No, I didn’t “spike” his dessert. My confession is that the budino isn’t as magical as everyone thought. Or, maybe it is, and I’m just a fumbling fool when it comes to mastering its magical powers because it cast the spell on the WRONG guy!
The guy I was really interested in was J, my roommate’s friend. No one knew because I’m actually painfully shy and awkward when it comes to flirting. It hurts to watch; it's as bad as watching Kate Gosselin on "Dancing with The Stars" (maybe it's worse). So useless am I in this arena, I use cooking as a means of flirting. If I like someone, I cook for him. If I REALY like him, I make him dessert. I offered to make dinner for my roommates and casually invited J to come.
My roommate Daniel had other plans for this dinner; he decided to make it a party. His scheme was to bring the Italian teacher and me together. He had already invited much of the class (only those that didn't have a crush on the Italian teacher) and the Italian teacher before I even knew what was going on. After class he explained the entire plan to me with J standing right there. “No, stop! Stop!” I kept saying. I told them it wasn't a real crush. It was like having a crush on an actor or singer. J nor Daniel heard me, and now J was even in on the planning. We spent an entire dinner at Bottega ai Promessi Sposi talking about the Italian teacher, the party, and Daniel's scheme. I couldn't stop it. My suggestions for new topics were ignored. Finally, I went along with it and agreed to make dessert.
Sparse is an understatement when explaining the kitchen setup in my temporary Venice apartment. I’m used to having all my pastry equipment. For this dessert, I usually use a thermometer and ice bath to stop the cooking at the exact temperature, an immersion blender to ensure the silkiness of the pudding, and a sauce gun to pour it so the surface is smooth and without air bubbles. I had none of these, so I used my senses to guide me. Before my trip, I had been working in a professional kitchen where gadgets helped me to precisely produce large quantities, but they also came between the food and me. Having to touch, taste, and really look and work with the food made it that much more a labor of love. Believe it or not, when you cook this way, part of you actually goes into the food. And, this night, I was reminded of that. While I poured the mixture into the serving cups, I could see the dessert was creamy and silky. And, even though the surface was not perfection, I hid the air bubbles with a topping of whipped cream.
The dinner was an international potluck of sorts. My roommate from Japan made sushi. Daniel, who is from Spain, made gazpacho. The Italian teacher brought Prosecco. A group of people from all over the world gathered together ate, drank, laughed, and became better friends. Even though J was completely unenamored by my not-so magical budino (I think it may have actually put him to sleep), the dessert was a fitting end to a magical evening.
The day after the party, J told me that the Italian teacher was still raving about the desserts and acting odd. J said, “I think you put something in his dessert. What was it?” With an eye-roll and a smile I said, “I didn’t put anything different in his dessert than I put in everyone else's,” while thinking, “I might have put a little extra love in it, but it went into yours too. Obviously, it didn’t work on you!”
Here's the recipe. It may or may not work magic on that special someone, but it is creamy, chocolately and decadently delicous.
Chocolate Kahlua Budino
Makes four 6-ounce servings
1 cup (250 ml) whole milk
1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream
1/3 cup (70 grams) granulated sugar
6 egg yolks
2 sheets gelatin or 1 1/2 teaspoons powdered gelatine
6 ounces (170 grams) high quality dark chocolate (at least 65%), finely chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons Kahlua liqueur
About 1 cup whipped cream, optional
Scald the milk, cream, and half of the sugar in a saucepan. Meanwhile, whisk together the remaining half of the sugar and the egg yolks until the mixture lightens in color. Soak the gelatin sheets in cold water.
Once you have scalded the milk mixture, pour a little into the yolk mixture and whisk together. Slowly bring the eggs up to temperature by adding in the milk mixture and whisking until all the milk mixture is combined. Return the mixture to the saucepan and cook on medium heat stirring slowly and constantly. Heat the mixture to 175° F, or when it coats the back of a spoon. Remove from the heat.
Ring all of the excess water out of the gelatin and add to the milk and egg mixture. Stir in until it is incorporated into the mixture. Strain half the mixture over the finely chopped chocolate and slowly whisk together until the mixture combines. Strain the remaining half of the milk mixture over the chocolate mixture and whisk together. Add the vanilla extract and Kahlua and combine.
Pour into serving dishes. (It’s best to use a saucer to eliminate all bubbles. You can also use a crème brûlee torch on each serving. Lightly torch after pouring.) Refrigerate until set, about 4 hours. Serve with optional whipped cream, if desired. Buon Appetitio!