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'They are as rich as chocolate mousse, softer and creamier than good pudding, and more tender and elegant than old-fashioned baked custard,' writes Nancy Baggett in 'The International Chocolate Cookbook' (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $40). 1 cup whole milk 1 1/3 cups heavy cream 6 oz. bittersweet or

semisweet chocolate,

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in 1/4-inch pieces Generous 1/3 cup sugar 7 large egg yolks 2 tablespoons coffee (decaf-

feinated is fine, or water) 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla

extract Whipped cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Put chocolate into medium bowl. Put milk and cream in a two-quart (or larger) saucepan. Bring to near-boil over medium-high heat. Immediately remove from heat. Pour 1/4 cup of the hot milk-cream mixture over chocolate, stirring until chocolate fully melts and mixture is well-blended. Stir 1/2 cup more hot liquid into chocolate until fully incorporated and smooth.

In another medium bowl, whisk together sugar and egg yolks until well-blended. Whisking continuously, add about 1/2 cup hot milk-cream mixture to yolk mixture until well-blended. Pour yolk mixture back into hot milk-cream mixture in the saucepan. Whisk chocolate, coffee (or water), and vanilla into saucepan until thoroughly incorporated.

Pour through a fine sieve into 4-cup measure. Divide mixture evenly among 8 3-oz. baking cups, filling each no more than 3/4 full.

Set cups in larger pan. Carefully add enough hot water to larger pan to come halfway up sides of cups. Bake on center oven rack for 30 to 35 minutes or until the custards look almost set when cups are jiggled. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 5 hours and up to 48 hours. Serve with small dollops of whipped cream. Serves 8.

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