FARGO — Valentine's Day is two weeks away, and we're turning our focus this month to foods of love and comfort. Food is intricately tied to pleasure, and now is the perfect time to play in the indulgent world of edible aphrodisiacs that just might inspire desire, passion and (for me), happiness. This week, that means chocolate, and one of my favorite new recipes is a classic Chocolate Mousse.
Mousse is a French word that, when translated, means foam, and this is the defining quality that separates a mousse from a pudding. While pudding is typically thick and dense in texture, mousse is light and airy with a marvelous, foamy texture.
Good chocolate is key to a great mousse, and you can use semi-sweet, bittersweet or even milk chocolate. The chocolate is melted with a bit of butter and brewed coffee, ingredients that work well in bringing out even more flavor from the chocolate.
When it comes to cooking with chocolate, a good rule of thumb is to pick one that you would enjoy eating out of hand. I prefer semi-sweet chocolate, either as chips or blocks, and I look for one that has a shiny finish and a clean snap upon breaking (Ghiradelli, Guittard, Valrhona and Callebaut all qualify). However, if you're dying to try this recipe and you already have a supply of ordinary semi-sweet chocolate chips in your pantry, by all means, move ahead.
Eggs are an important factor in creating the frothy, pleasing mouthfeel of a mousse, and this recipe uses both the egg yolks and whites, separately. The yolks are incorporated into the melted chocolate mixture, making it rich and supple, and the whites are beaten until stiff but not as dry as with a meringue or angel food cake.
The whites are ready when the peaks droop just slightly but are firm enough to cling tightly to the whisk. If you're squeamish about using raw eggs, you can find alternative recipes all over the web, but they won't result in the light and silky smoothness of this mousse.
Heavy whipping cream is also added to enhance the lightness and richness of the mousse. Unlike a whipped cream that can be served as flourishing garnish, this cream is whipped only until soft peaks form, and a touch of cream of tartar is added to stabilize the whipped cream and keep it from deflating once it is mixed into the mousse.
There are only eight ingredients in this chocolate mousse recipe, and, while the steps may seem a little putzy, they are easy enough that even a beginner should have success. Chocolate mousse can be served in just about any kind of vessel, including martini or champagne glasses, small demitasse cups, or as a filling in cakes, tarts and cream puffs.
There is a supple richness to chocolate mousse that only intensifies when served at the end of a romantic evening, but it's tame enough to serve to your kids at breakfast, too (not that I've ever done that).
Well, maybe just on Valentine's Day, of course.
Serves: 4 to 6
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, either chips or cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
2 tablespoons brewed coffee or espresso (optional)
2 large eggs, separated
⅛ teaspoon cream of tartar
4 tablespoons sugar, divided
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
½ cup heavy whipping cream
Optional flavor add-ins:
2 teaspoons flavored liqueur (orange, coffee, Irish cream, hazelnut, etc.)
Place the chocolate, butter and coffee in a medium-sized stainless steel bowl and set it over a saucepan of simmering water, so that the bowl completely covers the pan. Melt the chocolate while stirring in the butter and coffee, and any additional flavoring, until the chocolate is completely melted. Remove from heat and allow to cool for a few minutes at room temperature.
Whisk in the two egg yolks until well combined and the chocolate is glossy in appearance. Cover bowl and refrigerate.
Meanwhile, use a handheld or stand mixer (with the whisk attachment) to whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar until foamy. Gradually add 2 tablespoons of sugar and continue to beat on medium speed until the egg whites form stiff (but slightly wilted) peaks and appear glossy and not dry. Set aside.
In another bowl, use a handheld or stand mixer (with the whisk attachment) to whip the heavy cream, remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar and vanilla extract until soft peaks form.
Remove the chocolate mixture from the refrigerator and gently stir a couple of spoonfuls of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Use a rubber spatula to gently fold in the remaining whites into the mixture until thoroughly incorporated.
Fold in the whipped cream and serve immediately or, for best results, refrigerate for at least 2 hours or overnight. Serve in small bowls or glasses (martini, flutes, champagne goblets) topped with additional whipped cream, fresh berries and/or shaved chocolate. Best served within 24 hours of making.
Lightly adapted from TheJoyOfBaking.com.