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The Boston Globe

Food & dining

The mystique of cremeux: chocolate and finesse

Brian Mercury’s Harvest cremeux has salted caramel center.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Brian Mercury’s Harvest cremeux has salted caramel center.

CAMBRIDGE — Harvest pastry chef Brian Mercury doesn’t care how anyone pronounces the French word cremeux, he just wants people to enjoy the smooth, densely creamy, intensely chocolate-y dessert.

Cremeux (pronounced krem-euh), meaning creamy, is popping up on menus. While neither the word nor the dessert is new, it’s less widely known than chocolate pudding, mousse, pots de creme, and other rich chocolate desserts, such as terrine, pate, or pave.

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The basic recipe for chocolate cremeux is easy but requires a watchful eye and a little finesse at the stove. First, bring a saucepan of cream, milk, and sugar to a simmer. Whisk a little of this liquid into a bowl of egg yolks to heat them so they don’t curdle when combined with the rest of the hot cream (this is called tempering). Then pour the hot custard over chopped chocolate in a bowl, which melts it. Pipe the mixture into molds, spread it in layers, or chill it in small cups.

The kind of chocolate you use matters because you’ll taste the nuances in the finished dessert. “Start with a higher [cocoa] percentage chocolate with more flavor characteristics,” Mercury advises, “because you’ll be diluting it with cream, milk, sugar, and eggs.” (The percentage represents the total ingredients, by weight, that come from the cocoa bean, specifically the amount of dry cocoa solids and cocoa butter. The remaining percentage is mostly sugar, so the higher the cocoa percentage, the less sweet the chocolate.) The chef, a big fan of Taza chocolate, uses the Somerville company’s 80 percent dark stoneground chocolate, which gives the custard a rich and complex flavor.

At Troquet on the Boston Common, pastry chef Sue Drabkin chooses Valrhona’s Guanaja 70 percent, which she calls “a beautiful chocolate with a silky texture and superior flavor.” A sweeter bar won’t do. “I wouldn’t use a lower bittersweet or milk chocolate,” she says, citing the need for a more intense flavor to “balance the other, sweeter elements on the plate.” Drabkin’s cremeux, which has a consistency “denser than a mousse, more like a baked custard,” appears as a small dome accompanying a molten caramel cake with salted caramel ice cream.

Cambridge chef Gabriel Bremer, co-owner of Salts, only uses El Rey chocolate from Venezuela. “It’s a small batch, high quality South American chocolate,” he says. He likes the dark 72 percent, a bittersweet bar, he describes as “almost fruity, with some wine nuances.” His dessert, a riff on s’mores, is a layer of chocolate cremeux over fresh marshmallow that is lightly bruleed on a bed of graham cracker crumbs.

Mercury’s chocolate cremeux is a small round with a center of gooey salted caramel. It’s thick and dense enough to stand on its own, not droopy. The Harvest chef also makes little cylinders of kabocha squash cremeux, with white chocolate, stiffened with a little gelatin.

For the home cook, serving the custard in ramekins or small martini glasses will showcase the rich dessert. Top it with lightly sweetened whipped cream or mascarpone and berries or toasted slivered nuts.

“The name cremeux gives it a mystique,” says Mercury.

Lisa Zwirn can be reached at lisa@lisazwirn.com.

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