When it comes to dining, I love a good surprise. These layered butterscotch desserts feature a hidden chocolate base and an unexpected coconut-infused whipped cream topping. Make sure you instruct your guests to really dig down into the bottom of their glasses, as the best bites include all three elements. The butterscotch layer is thickened with egg yolks only, so be patient when cooking, as it takes time for the mixture to reach the thickening point.
1. To make the chocolate base: Heat the cream and milk together in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat until steaming. Whisk the egg yolks well in a medium heatproof bowl. Gradually whisk in the hot cream mixture. Return this to the saucepan and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the custard reaches 185 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer and is thick enough to coat the spoon (a finger swiped through the custard on the spoon will cut a swath), about 3 minutes.
2. Combine the bittersweet and milk chocolates in a medium heatproof bowl, and place a wire sieve over the bowl. Strain the custard (to remove any bits of cooked egg) directly into the chocolates. Let the mixture stand for 1 minute. Whisk until the chocolate is smooth and melted. Divide the chocolate base equally among six 1-cup glasses or jars. Cover and refrigerate until the base is chilled and set, at least 1 hour.
3. To make the butterscotch layer: Bring the cream and vanilla bean to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Remove from the heat and let stand for 15 minutes. Using the tip of a small knife, scrape the seeds from the bean into the cream and discard the bean.
4. Bring the brown sugar and water to a boil in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over high heat, stirring constantly, until the sugar is dissolved and the syrup is boiling. Cook without stirring, occasionally swirling the saucepan by the handle, until the syrup is very thick with large bubbles and reaches 270 degrees F on a candy thermometer, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low. Carefully ladle the hot cream mixture into the brown sugar syrup (it will splatter) and stir until well combined. Remove from the heat.
5. Whisk the egg yolks and granulated sugar together in a medium heatproof bowl. Choose a wide saucepan large enough to nestle the bowl. Bring about 1 inch of water to a simmer in the saucepan over high heat. Reduce the heat to keep the water at a steady simmer.
6. Whisk the hot cream mixture into the egg yolks. Place the bowl over the simmering water (the bowl bottom should not touch the water). Cook, stirring almost constantly with a rubber spatula and scraping down any splashes on the side of the bowl, until the custard reaches at least 190 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer and is thicker than the typical custard sauce, about 10 minutes. The idea is to cook the custard as much as possible without it coming to a simmer and curdling, which takes some time, so be patient.
7. Strain the custard through a wire sieve into another medium bowl to remove any bits of cooked egg. Add the salt. Using an immersion blender or hand mixer on low speed, beat the custard for 1 to 2 minutes to expel some of the steam and help cool it. Place the bowl in a larger bowl of ice water and let stand, stirring occasionally, until the custard is tepid, about 10 minutes. Divide the custard evenly over the chocolate bases in the glasses. Cover each glass with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until the pots de creme are chilled, at least 4 hours or up to 1 day.
8. To make the topping: Combine 1/4 cup of the coconut with the heavy cream in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. Remove from the heat and let infuse for 30 minutes. Strain the mixture through a wire sieve into a medium bowl, pressing hard on the coconut. Place the bowl in a larger bowl of ice water and let stand until chilled, about 30 minutes. Add the confectioners' sugar and vanilla. Whip with an electric mixer until the topping forms soft peaks. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve, up to 4 hours.
9. Meanwhile, position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the remaining 3 tablespoons coconut on a small baking sheet. Bake, stirring occasionally, until the coconut is lightly browned, 7 to 10 minutes. (This can also be done, very efficiently, in a toaster oven.) Let cool.
10. Top each pot de creme with a dollop of whipped topping and a sprinkling of the toasted coconut. Serve chilled.