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The time has come to resurrect the chocolate mousse

May 18, 2015

Chocolate mousse.

The rage over 1950s and 1960s style is still going strong. Midcentury architecture is back. Midcentury furniture is back. Midcentury fashions are back. So why not some midcentury food?

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you chocolate mousse.

Chocolate mousse has been gracing American tables at least since 1896. But it truly came to prominence around 1950, when a recipe for it ó using canned chocolate syrup ó appeared in the best-selling first edition of "Betty Crockerís Picture Cook Book."

For a couple of decades after that, fashionable dinner parties were more likely than not to end with a dish of chocolate mousse. It was part of the swinging í60s and the stylish í70s. And then, relatively quickly, chocolate mousse almost completely disappeared from American tables. Perhaps too many people made it with canned chocolate syrup.

The time has come to resurrect the popularity of this once beloved dessert. Itís light and decadent and melts seductively on your tongue. Itís not too sweet, itís not too fancy.

In many respects, it is the perfect dessert.

The Maisonette in Cincinnati was long considered one of the best restaurants in the country; it held a rare 5-star rating from what was then the Mobil Travel Guide for 41 years, longer than any other restaurant. My parents would go on occasion, and one night, as the restaurant was closing, the proprietor brought my father a big bowl of the nightís remaining chocolate mousse. He ate every morsel.

Many years later, my father was diagnosed with diabetes even though he was fairly trim and exercised regularly. At the time, he said, "If this is because of that chocolate mousse at the Maisonette, it was worth it."

Chocolate mousse is the kind of dessert that can inspire that kind of passion. And why not? It begins with chocolate, cream, eggs and sugar ó a combination that is timeless on its own ó and then turns it transcendent by whipping it full of air. Thatís what turns a luscious and rich dessert into something creamy and light.

The only question is how to serve it. Iím a big fan of using it in a tart, or you can also use it to fill those little chocolate cups. But the classic way may be the purest and the best: in a glass bowl, topped with whipped cream.

At this point, it needs to be said that mousses are made with raw eggs, and that the U.S. Department of Agriculture says that no one should eat raw eggs (unless the eggs have been pasteurized in the shell). Raw eggs should especially be avoided by infants, young children, older adults, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems.

But chocolate mousse is just so good. Strictly for the purposes of science, you understand, I decided to make it in three ways: ridiculously easy, somewhat more involved and fancy.

The ridiculously easy way is also ridiculously fast ó you can pull it together in about five minutes. This is the way I make it at home, partly because of the five-minutes thing and partly because it is so chocolaty and delicious. The recipe was created by Annemarie Huste, who was the personal chef to Jacqueline Kennedy after she left the White House, and I figure if it is good enough for Jackie O (or Jackie K at the time), itís good enough for me.

Itís more than good enough; itís great. All you do is melt chocolate with Kahlua (a coffee liqueur) and orange juice, mix in egg yolks, vanilla and sugar, whip in some cream and cool until it sets. Itís pure, smooth, rich goodness.

The more involved version comes from Julia Child. I decided to make it because mousse is a French dish, and with all French dishes one should always consult Mme. Child.

While Husteís version uses Kahlua and orange juice, Childís requires Grand Marnier (an orange liqueur) and coffee. Totally different thing.

But the method of making it is different too, and that yields a decidedly distinct result. Childís version uses heat to combine egg yolk and sugar, chills it to thicken it, and then stirs in chocolate melted with coffee and butter. Egg whites that have been beaten to soft peaks are then folded in, giving the mousse its texture. Though it is still light, this one is sturdier than the faster version. It lasts longer on your tongue, if not necessarily in your memory.

For the fancy version of a mousse, I turned to Dominique Ansel, the New York pastry chef who became instantly famous when he created the crazily trendy cronut, a cross between a croissant and a doughnut. His mousse is made by folding a thick chocolate ganache into a fairly stiff meringue, giving his version even more body than Julia Childís.

But then he goes the extra step, which makes his mousse as delightful to see as it is to eat. Just before serving, he swirls in a tablespoon of fresh whipped cream, creating a lovely and enticing pattern in the chocolate. You gobble it up with your eyes before you ever introduce it to your tongue.

Itís a clever way of taking a midcentury classic and bringing it up to date.

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RIDICULOUSLY FAST CHOCOLATE MOUSSE

Yield: 3 servings (can easily be doubled, tripled or more)

6 ounces semisweet chocolate

2 tablespoons Kahlua

3 tablespoons orange juice

2 egg yolks

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 cup heavy cream

1. In a small pot on low heat, melt the chocolate in the Kahlua and orange juice, and set aside to cool.

2. Put the egg yolks, eggs, vanilla and sugar in a blender or food processor; blend for 2 minutes on medium high speed. Add the heavy cream and blend 30 more seconds. Add the melted chocolate mixture and blend until smooth.

3. Pour into a bowl or individual cups and refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Per serving: 758 calories; 56 g fat; 33 g saturated fat; 357 mg cholesterol; 12 g protein; 58 g carbohydrate; 48 g sugar; 4 g fiber; 85 mg sodium; 87 mg calcium.

Recipe by Annemarie Huste, Annemarieís Cookingschool

JULIA CHILDíS CHOCOLATE MOUSSE

Yield: 6 to 8 servings (about 5 cups)

4 eggs, separated

3/4 cup superfine sugar, see note

1/4 cup orange liqueur

6 ounces semisweet baking chocolate

4 tablespoons strong coffee

6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Note: Superfine sugar can be purchased at a store, or you can make it yourself by placing sugar in a blender and blending it on medium high for 10 to 15 seconds.

1. Heat a pot of water almost large enough to hold a mixing bowl until it is not quite simmering. Fill a basin or bowl with ice water. The bowl should be large enough to hold a mixing bowl.

2. Using a hand-held mixer, beat the egg yolks and superfine sugar together until the mixture is thick, pale yellow and falls back upon itself forming a slowly dissolving ribbon. Beat in the orange liqueur. Then set the mixing bowl over the not-quite-simmering water and continue beating for 3 to 4 minutes until the mixture is foamy and too hot for your finger. Place the bowl in the ice water and beat 3 to 4 minutes until the mixture is cool and again forms the ribbon. It will have the consistency of mayonnaise.

3. In another bowl, melt the chocolate with coffee over the pot of hot water. Remove from heat and beat in the butter, a bit at a time, to make a smooth cream. Beat the chocolate into the egg yolks and sugar.

4. In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites and salt until soft peaks are formed; sprinkle on the granulated sugar and beat until stiff peaks are formed. Stir 1/4 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Fold in the rest. Turn into serving dish, dessert cups or ramekins. Refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.

5. Serve with whipped cream or creme anglaise.

Per serving (based on 8): 404 calories; 27 g fat; 16 g saturated fat; 139 mg cholesterol; 5 g protein; 35 g carbohydrate; 32 g sugar; 2 g fiber; 58 mg sodium; 20 mg calcium.

Recipe from "Mastering the Art of French Cooking," by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck

EXTRA-CREAMY CHOCOLATE MOUSSE

Yield: 10 to 12 servings

1 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup water

3 large egg whites, at room temperature

14 ounces bittersweet chocolate, preferably 70 percent cacao, finely chopped

1 cup whole milk

2 cups heavy cream

1. In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and water and bring to a boil over moderately high heat. Cook, without stirring, until the syrup reaches 250 degrees on a candy thermometer, 4 to 6 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk, beat the egg whites at medium-high speed until soft peaks form. With the mixer on, gradually pour in the hot syrup in a steady stream and beat at high speed until the whites are stiff, 2 to 3 minutes. Cover this meringue with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature.

3. Put the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl. In a small saucepan, heat the milk just to a simmer. Pour the milk over the chocolate and let stand for 1 minute, then stir until smooth and let cool.

4. In a bowl, beat the cream to soft peaks. Reserve a generous 1/2 cup of the whipped cream for serving.

5. Scoop half of the meringue into a bowl (reserve the rest for another use). Whisk in the remaining whipped cream.

6. Warm the chocolate mixture in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stirring, until just melted. Pour the chocolate over the meringue and quickly fold it in. Spoon the mousse into glasses, swirl in the reserved whipped cream (about 1 tablespoon per serving) and serve.

Per serving (based on 12): 385 calories; 30 g fat; 18 g saturated fat; 57 mg cholesterol; 6 g protein; 34 g carbohydrate; 28 g sugar; 4 g fiber; 38 mg sodium; 50 mg calcium.

Recipe by Dominique Ansel in Food and Wine

BROWN BUTTER TART CRUST

Yield: 1 (8 1/2-inch) tart shell

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter (European style is best, such as Plugra)

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

3 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

Pinch of salt

About 5 ounces (1 slightly mounded cup) all-purpose flour

1. Preheat oven to 410 degrees.

2. In an oven-safe bowl, such as Pyrex, combine the butter, oil, water, sugar and salt. Place in the hot oven for 15 minutes, until the mixture is boiling and the butter starts browning. Remove from the oven, add some of the flour, and stir it in quickly. Keep adding flour, one spoonful at a time, until the dough pulls off the sides of the bowl and forms a ball.

3. Once the dough is cool enough to touch, press it into an 8 1/2-inch tart mold evenly with your fingertips. Pierce the bottom with a fork and press the sides with the back of the fork to form ridges. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the crust is light brown.

4. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Fill with chocolate mousse or any other tart filling you wish.

Per serving (based on 8 servings): 162 calories; 11 g fat; 6 g saturated fat; 23 mg cholesterol; 2 g protein; 15 g carbohydrate; 2 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 21 mg sodium; 5 mg calcium.

Recipe by Paule Caillat in "Genius Recipes," by Kristen Miglore

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