Friday, March 16, 2018

Chocolate-Pistachio Cookies with Dark & White Chocolate Chunks…(and an anniversary)

A few weeks ago I saw a picture  on Instagram featuring one of my favorite combinations of dessert flavors (pistachio, chocolate and orange).  I think it was just a few days later that someone on Facebook asked for my opinion about incorporating hazelnuts into a recipe for some cookies they were planning on making.  I am not always able to trace the meanderings of my thinking as far as food is concerned, but I’m fairly certain it was the proximity of these two virtual food interactions that put it in my head to rework an old chocolate hazelnut cookie recipe into a new chocolate pistachio cookie (with white chocolate chips and orange zest).  Such is the working of my mind…and the influence of social media….

When I stop to think about it, it surprises me how much social media has come to influence my cooking.  For many years I purposefully avoided the world of social media…thinking that Facebook was a bit odd…and being largely unaware of the other outlets.  I was happily buried in the kitchen and my old-fashioned (non-virtual) social networks. So unlikely was it that I would join Facebook that when I finally did sign up, a friend responded to my "friend" request by christening my new wall with the post, “Hath hell frozen over?!!!”  

In the end, it had been cooking…through my blog…that served as the tipping point for me.  Maintaining a distance from all of this isn’t really an option for a blogger.  When I started For Love of the Table, not only was I putting my work and ideas on a public web page for all (or at least anyone who was interested) to see, I found that if I wanted to get the word out about what I was doing—I would have to participate in at least some of these social media outlets.  I tried Facebook first…and Pinterest soon after.  For a long time these were the only ones I used.   Recently I added Instagram.  (Twitter still doesn’t hold much appeal for me.  But I admit that I have discovered that I love Instagram.)

Even without including the effect that social media has had on my cooking life, For Love of the Table has changed my life in a lot of ways.  I mention all of this because on this date--the anniversary of my first post--I always take a moment to stop and reflect on this thing that has become such a large part of my life.  It has now been eight years…and I’m still at it.  I don’t post as often as I once did (I’m not sure where I found the time!)…but I persist, nevertheless. I truly love writing about the things I am learning and making in my kitchen.  And it continues to be my hope that those who visit will learn something…cook a lot…and share the delicious foods that they make with their family and friends.

For those who might not have been here for other anniversaries, I have also made it an informal tradition to make something with pistachios to mark the date.  There is nothing special or significant about pistachios...other than I happened to make a pistachio cake on the first anniversary...  And I happen to like them.  The fact that my anniversary was approaching is of course the other reason the Instagram image and the Facebook conversation would have made me think to make these chocolate pistachio cookies.  And I'm happy I did.  They are delicious--soft and chewy....chocolaty and sweet...with a delightful pop of orange--a surprisingly special little cookie.  

Chocolate-Pistachio Cookies with Dark & White Chocolate Chunks

The orange flavor in these cookies is a wonderful surprise—don’t leave it out!  If you like dried fruit in your chocolate chip-style cookies, I have made these with dried tart cherries.  The cherries add some nice tartness…and a pleasant chew…but they also tone down the sweetness of the cookies  (which could be good or bad…depending on your perspective and tastes).

1/3 c. (45 g) plus 1/2 c. (68 g) pistachios
1 1/4 c. (150 g) all-purpose flour
1/3 c. (25 g) cocoa powder (Dutch-processed)
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
3/8 t. salt
4 oz. unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. (100 g) golden brown sugar
1/2 c. (100 g) sugar
Zest of 1 orange (about 1/2 T.)
1 egg
1 t. vanilla
1/2 c. bitter-sweet chocolate chips/chunks (60%)
1/2 c. white chocolate chips/chunks

Spread the pistachios on a baking sheet and toast in a 350° oven until fragrant and just beginning to be tinged with color—about 5 minutes. Let the nuts cool.  Take 1/2 c. of the pistachios and chop very coarsely.  Set aside.  Take the remaining 1/3 c. (45 g.) of the nuts and grind them flour-fine. (A rotary nut grinder works best for this, but in a pinch you can grind them in the food processor if you add a couple of tablespoons of the granulated sugar.  If using the food processor, you will not be able to grind the nuts as finely—they would turn into nut butter if you tried.  If this happens and you end up with nut butter, add the nut butter with the unsalted butter, not with the dry ingredients…)  Whisk the nut flour together with the all-purpose flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

Cream the butter with the sugars and zest just until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and beat in the egg followed by the vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until just combined. Add the chocolate chips and the reserved 1/2 c. of pistachios as the last of the dry ingredients are absorbed into the dough.

Scoop the dough with a level tablespoon-sized cookie scoop. Roll the scooped cookies into balls.  You can bake these immediately, but I think they taste better—and have a nicer texture—if the dough balls are chilled overnight (or frozen for longer storage).  When you are ready to bake them, place the balls of dough on a parchment-lined baking sheet, spreading them 2 inches apart. Flatten the balls slightly (if the dough has been frozen or chilled, you will need to let it sit at room temperature for a few moments so that it will soften enough to do this).

Bake the cookies in a 350° oven for about 8 to 9 minutes, turning the sheet half way through the baking. The cookies are done with they have puffed up and have lost their wet sheen. 

They will also have begun to crack slightly.  Remove them from the oven at this point.  (You will think it's too soon, but take them out anyway.  You can always bake the next batch longer…and these cookies are so much better when they are soft and chewy.  They will be hard and crisp if baked too long.)  Leave the cookies on the sheet for two or three minutes (they will be too soft to remove right away).  They will collapse slightly and then firm up enough so that you can remove them from the sheet.  Transfer the warm cookies to wire racks to cool.

Makes 40 cookies

For Tart Cherry Variation:  Instead of 1/2 cup each of dark chocolate, white chocolate and pistachio, add a rounded third cup each of dark and white chocolate, pistachios and dried tart cherries.

Printable Version

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Moroccan Carrot Salad with Labneh Toast...and a short discussion of how to make perfect "toast"

Today’s post is one hundred percent inspired by my favorite local bakery.  If you live in the Kansas City Metropolitan area and you have never been to Ibis, you need to make a point to visit soon.  Their breads are some of the best I have ever had…if not the best.  Likewise, their pastries, sweets and laminated doughs are fantastic.  I don’t know why I was so surprised that the items on their limited little breakfast and lunch menus would be so delicious too…but they are. 

I mentioned the avocado toast that my friends ordered at my first outing to the new Ibis location in my grain bowl post.  What I didn’t say in that post was how perfect the toast itself was…which may seem like a strange thing to make note of.  “Toast”—meaning a knife and fork little plate with a slice of toast topped with something (hopefully) delicious—has become a thing.  You can get them everywhere…and they are easy to make yourself since basically decent artisanal-style bread is widely available.  The thing is, delicious as these “toasts” can be, often eating them is a bit of a wrestling match.  The toasting process hardens the crust (which usually has the “chew” desirable in artisanal-style breads) into something that is quite difficult to cut through and eat with any semblance of the grace appropriate for polite dining.  We put up with this, I suppose, because the toppings are delicious…and the bread is delicious…but it is at the very least an inconvenience.  I’ll be honest…I really don’t like to fight with my food.  And I don’t like to worry that it might fly off the plate during the battle.

Anyway, the toast portion of that avocado toast was, as I said, perfect:  It had substance…but was easy to cut.  You may recall from my earlier post that I didn’t order the avocado toast, but one of my friends who did drew my attention to the perfection of the toast (that is, the bread portion).  So, the next time I ate there, I ordered a “toast” (with house made pastrami…which was truly excellent as well).  And the toasted bread was, as my friend had pointed out, extraordinary:  flavorful, with a beautiful golden browned and crisped surface (it’s toast, after all)—and substantial enough to absorb the flavors of the toppings without disintegrating.  The whole thing did require the use of a knife and fork…but it was yielding enough that it wasn’t a fight.  Perfect. 

I began to wonder how they achieved this balance.  Did they have a better toaster than I did?  Had they aged the bread a bit…then soaked it in something?  I really don’t know.  What was obvious to me though, was that in the process of toasting the bread, they still managed to conserve the moisture of the bread.  So, I set about figuring out how I could do the same thing in my own kitchen.

The first thing I did was ditch the toaster.  It occurred to me that well buttered bread, fried in a skillet, was more likely to be uniformly crisped and golden while still maintaining a bit of interior softness than bread that was subjected to the dry heat of the toaster.  (If you have ever made croutons by sautéing them in a skillet as opposed to tossing them in oil and toasting them in an oven, you know exactly what I mean.)  But even this isn’t enough to keep those wonderful artisanal crusts from becoming unmanageably hard.  I decided that a little bit of steam might do the trick…so I tried covering the skillet while I toasted the bread, thinking the moisture still inherent in the bread would be captured by a lid.  I’m happy to report that this did the trick.    

As I said…I have no idea how they are doing it at Ibis, but thanks to the inspiration of their perfect toasts, I am now much happier with the toasts that come out of my kitchen and appear on my table.  And I have been putting my new found skill to work…

in an avocado toast (of course)…

and recently for a toast smeared with labneh, topped with a sautéed mushrooms and squash, finished with fontina and then run under the broiler… 

Obviously the possibilities are without limit. 

I don’t know if it was the fact that I associate toast with Ibis.  Or the fact that I brought home a loaf of their wonderful bread on the same day I sampled a Moroccan carrot salad in their café that I just had to recreate at home (it was that good).  But ultimately I ended up turning my take on their Moroccan salad into a “toast”. 

The original Moroccan carrot salad at Ibis was a delicious green salad with little baby carrots scattered throughout (which surprised me…when I think of Moroccan carrot salads, I think of a salad of mostly carrots).  The greens were a mix of finely cut arugula, claytonia and baby red veined sorrel.  I didn’t have the sorrel in my pantry, but I did have the arugula and—surprisingly—the claytonia.  I had purchased some at the farmers’ market and had been wondering how I was going to use it.  This…along with the fact that I had also picked up some sweet little baby carrots at the market…played into my desire to recreate Ibis’s wonderful salad.

In addition to the fine little greens and baby carrots, their salad included golden raisins and candied sunflower seeds.  Everything was tossed in a lemony, harissa-spiced vinaigrette.  The whole effect was vibrant and delicious.

I recreated the salad for dinner with my arugula and claytonia and baby carrots.  I have been in the habit of keeping harissa on hand, so I dressed the cooked baby carrots with some of that (if you have never dressed cooked carrots with nothing but a little olive oil and harissa, you should definitely give it a try…it makes a wonderful little side dish…served hot or cold).  Instead of golden raisins and sunflower seeds, I added strips of Medjool dates and toasted pistachios.  I tossed the whole thing with a simple sherry vinaigrette.  And since I wanted to make my salad slightly more substantial, I added some blobs of labneh and served it with a slice of Ibis bread.  It was fantastic.

The very next day, I turned it into a “toast” for lunch.   Instead of dolloping the labneh all over the salad and serving it with bread, I made toast (using my covered skillet method) and smeared it with a generous quantity of labneh and piled the salad on top.  I no longer had any baby carrots, but plain old, full-grown carrots, peeled, cut into fat quills and roasted (using my favorite method) were a perfect stand in…and also something I always have on hand.  And this is a good thing, because I will be making this particular “toast” again and again.


Moroccan Carrot Salad Toast

The Carrots:
Trim and peel the carrots.  Cut the carrots on a diagonal about 1/3-inch thick.  Cut the slices in two or three pieces length-wise.  Your carrots pieces should look about like a piece of penne pasta.  

Toss the carrots with olive oil to coat and season with salt and pepper.  Place the carrots in a baking dish that is just large enough to hold them in a snug single layer. Add a splash of water (just enough to barely film the bottom of the pan).  Cover the pan tightly with foil and place in a 375° to 400° oven.  After 20 minutes, uncover the pan and give the carrots a stir.  Return the pan (uncovered) to the oven and continue to cook until the carrots are tender to the tip of a knife—10 to 20 minutes more.  Add a bit of harissa and toss to coat.  

Serve hot or room temperature.  You can add as much or as little harissa as you like.  I find that about a tablespoon per pound (pre-trim weight) of carrots is about right.  A pound of carrots will make enough carrots for 4 or 5 servings of Moroccan Carrot Salad Toast.

The Toast:
For each toast, you’ll need a thick (about 3/4-inch) slice of a hearty artisanal-style bread.  Something wide is best.  If your loaf is narrow, maybe cut a slice on a diagonal.  Put a cast iron pan over a moderately high heat.  Spread both sides of the bread generously with soft butter.  

Place the bread in the skillet.  You should hear a quiet sizzle.  Cover the pan with a lid.  (The lid for my cast iron skillet does not fit tightly, so you may find that you may need to put a tight fitting lid on so that it is slightly ajar.  Or perhaps not.  It’s hard to say.  If you find your bread is too soft when covered tightly—leave the lid ajar…if it is too crunchy when the lid is ajar—cover it tightly.  You should make it work for you.)  After about a minute, check the bread—if it looks dry, add a bit of butter to the pan…if it’s cooking too quickly (burning in spots) lower the heat.  Adjust the position of the bread if you pan/burner has hot/cold spots.  After about 2 minutes, the bread should be golden and crisp.  Flip it over and cook it the same way (covered) on the second side.

Labneh is yogurt cheese.  You can purchase it…or make your own.  I like to make my own with homemade whole milk yogurt (you can make it with purchased yogurt too).  Whisk 3/4 t. kosher salt into a quart of yogurt.  Line a strainer suspended over a bowl with some cheesecloth.  Scrape the yogurt into the cheesecloth and let drain (in the refrigerator).  The longer it drains, the thicker it will be.  I usually let it drain for 48 hours (and since I don’t want my strainer out of commission for that long, I gather the ends of the cheesecloth together and tie them in a knot and then slide a wooden spoon through the loop and suspend the bundle over a bowl and let it drain that way.)  But labneh comes in all kinds of textures.  It can be fairly soft (the texture of Greek yogurt)…or very thick (the texture of firm fresh goat cheese).  The longer it drains, the thicker it will be.  If you only let it drain for 6 hours or so, it will be soft.  Sometimes, I will make just a small “quick” amount (not even bothering to salt it and letting it drain for only an hour or two) if I want something soft and tangy to dollop on a grain salad.  For the toasts, I like the really thick stuff (48 hours)…and I have been in the habit of keeping a jar of it in my fridge.  It will keep for about a month.  You can also use the whey that drains off…for baking, cooking, etc.   A quick internet search will yield a multitude of uses.  A quart of yogurt will make about a cup and a half of thick labneh. 

The Vinaigrette:
Place 2 T. finely diced shallots in a small bowl and cover with 2 T. Sherry vinegar. Add a good pinch of salt and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes (or longer) so the shallots can soften.  Add 6 T. olive oil in a thin stream while whisking constantly.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt & pepper.  Add more vinegar or olive oil to balance.  The dressing should be tangy.

The Salad (one serving):
1 slice of skillet fried bread
3 to 4 T. (or more, to taste) thick labneh
1 handful fine baby lettuces (arugula and claytonia, arugula alone, baby lettuces, etc—whatever you can find that is flavorful and perky), washed and spun dry
1 serving harissa-spiced carrots (see above)
2 large Medjool dates, halved, pitted and each half cut into four lengthwise strips
2 T. lightly toasted pistachios, coarsely chopped
A spoonful or two of sherry vinaigrette
Salt & pepper

While the toast cooks, place the greens in a bowl with the carrots, dates, and pistachios. 

Smear a generous quantity of labneh on the toast and place on a plate. 

Season the salad with salt and pepper and drizzle sparingly with the vinaigrette.  Toss carefully and gently to coat the greens.  Add more vinaigrette if the salad seems dry…but don’t add too much, the small tender greens can become soggy very quickly. 

Mound the salad on top of the toast, allowing some of the cheese covered toast to show and allowing the salad to spill over onto the plate.  Drizzle everything with more vinaigrette and serve with a knife and fork.

Serves 1

The salad is great with a quesadilla too!

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Pecan Shortbread Cookies

If you read my last post, you probably noticed the little pecan shortbread cookies in some of the pictures.  For some reason I have never posted the recipe for these cookies, even though they are a favorite.  As I nibbled on the cookies and thought about how delicious their slightly salty, slightly caramel-y crunch was alongside the mousse, I decided I needed to share the recipe.

The original recipe is from Maria Helm Sinskey’s book The Vineyard Kitchen.  As with most recipes that I make fairly regularly, this one is not exactly like the original…but it is very close.  I find that most of the recipes in this particular book work very well for me as written.  And Sinskey’s preferences and palate are similar to mine, so I have tried an unusually high number of them.  It is one of my favorite cookbooks and I highly recommend adding it to your cookbook library

It was my chef friend Nancy who first saw this book.  Knowing I would really like it, she gave me a copy.  It was also Nancy who first noticed the recipe for these cookies and made them for a dinner we were preparing when we worked together at The Culinary Center of Kansas City.  We both loved them and have both continued to make them over the years.  They are a great companion for all kinds of cool, creamy desserts--things like custard, flan, panna cotta, and ice cream.  I particularly like them with the butterscotch pot de crème I posted a few years ago.  I probably wouldn’t have made them on purpose to go with the mousse (I just so happened to have some in my freezer), but they were perfect.  They are also very good all by themselves…perhaps with a cup of coffee or tea….or even a glass of milk.

The original recipe for these cookies was for a smaller quantity of dough, baked in a smaller pan (a nine inch square).  Because we were making the cookies that first time for a very large group, Nancy multiplied the recipe by three and put it in a half sheet pan.  This turned out to be a fortuitous adjustment since these cookies—like all shortbread cookies—must be cut when they are warm.  Flipping even the original small square out of a deep baking pan without breaking the thin, tender cookie would have been difficult….flipping an entire half sheet without some collateral damage, almost impossible.  Instead, Nancy cut the cookie while it was still in the half sheet pan with the long edge of her bench scraper.  I thought this was brilliant…and even though I only make a quarter sheet pan-sized batch when I bake them now, I still employ this method. 

There is only one thing about this recipe that I have found to be a little bit difficult.  The baking time seems to be highly dependent on the peculiarities of your oven...and varies more than just a little bit from oven to oven.  I have no idea why this might be, other than that the sheet of cookies is quite thin.  Once it is cooked through and begins to turn golden, it can go from under-baked to burned in a flash.   If your baking pan has a dark finish (like mine) this problem is compounded.  I have baked these in my home oven—which tends to bake hot and fast, and has very strong bottom heat—and they have been done in 20 minutes.  Recently I baked them in a professional convection oven and they took at least twice that long (I can’t tell you exactly how long because I was doing other things and just keeping an eye on the cookies occasionally…).  While baking them for this post, I slid an insulated baking sheet onto the bottom rack of my oven to help mitigate the effects of the strong bottom heat and my dark pan, and the cookies took 35 minutes. 

The moral here seems to be that you should take a peek at the cookies at around 20 minutes…and then keep an eye on them.  They will most likely take somewhere in the range of 30 to 35 minutes.  When they are springy to the touch in the center, and golden at the edges, they are done.  After a minute or two, cut the cookies in the pan with the edge of your bench scraper.  Then, let them cool completely before removing them from the pan (simply slide a thin palette knife under the cookies and they will lift right out). 

After you have made them a time or two, you will have your system down pat and you will find that these are the easiest cookies imaginable to make.  Which is a good thing:  I’m pretty sure that if you like pecans…and shortbread…once you taste these cookies, you will want to make them again and again.

Pecan Shortbread Fingers

3/4 c. lightly toasted pecans (3 oz.)
1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour (6 oz.)
3/4 t. kosher salt (or 1/2 t. table salt)
12 T. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 c. powdered sugar (3 oz.)
3/4 t. pure vanilla extract

Place the pecans in the food processor along with the flour and salt and process until the pecans are very finely chopped. 

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or with an electric hand mixer, cream the butter and confectioners’ sugar until smooth.  Beat in the vanilla.  Add the pecan-flour mixture and mix until the dough comes together in clumps. 

Press the dough (using lightly floured hands or a sheet of plastic wrap) into an ungreased (see note) quarter sheet (13x9) pan 

and prick all over with a fork.  

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes in a preheated 325° oven until the edges are golden.

Cool a moment or two, (the shortbread should still be warm) then cut into long, thin, rectangular “fingers” using the edge of a bench scraper.  I usually trim a small amount—less than a quarter inch—around the edges first.  (Not only does this give all of the cookies nice square edges, it produces a warm crunchy cookie snack for the baker….) 

I then cut into 36 fingers—3 cuts down the length of the pan and 12 across.  Allow the cookies to cool completely before removing from the pan. 

Makes 3 dozen

(Adapted from The Vineyard Kitchen by Maria Helm Sinskey)

Note:  I always line the pan with a sheet of parchment.  In order to keep the parchment from sliding around while I press the dough into the pan, I very lightly grease the bottom of the pan—and then leave the parchment itself ungreased.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Classic Chocolate Mousse

This coming week I will be teaching a class that includes some of what I consider to be the most classic of all French Bistro dishes.  Because they are “classic,” recipes for them can be found everywhere and I didn’t think I would ever be posting any of them here.  But after working on the recipes a bit, I have found that I like the versions I am teaching so much that I will probably…eventually…share them all.  Since I usually think about dessert first, I thought I would start with the chocolate mousse.

What could be more classic than Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse?  If a random sample of people were asked to name a few classic French desserts, chocolate mousse would probably be on every list.  Most of my French cookbooks include recipes for it—and all of the books that focus on French “bistro-style” food include a recipe.

And the recipes are all fairly similar.  Classic French chocolate mousse always begins by melting dark chocolate with butter (some recipes add water and/or strong coffee at this point too).  Egg yolks (sometimes with sugar whipped in) are added to the tepid chocolate mixture.  And finally, the chocolate-yolk base is given its loft (or “mousse-y” quality) with whipped egg whites.  Frequently whipped cream is folded in as well. 

Some recipes use loads of butter.  Julia Child’s recipe in Mastering the Art of French Cooking uses as much butter as chocolate.  Joel Robuchon’s recipe recorded by Patricia Wells in Simply French only uses a very small amount.  Most recipes are somewhere in the middle of these two.

Similarly, the amount of whipping cream can vary quite a bit.  Some (Julia’s, for example) use no whipped cream—getting all of the loft from eggs.  And some use a fair amount.  (Thomas Keller’s recipe in Bouchon and Deb Perleman’s are good examples of this.)

Besides the chocolate, the main thing that is consistent from recipe to recipe is the eggs.  There are probably fluffy chocolate dessert recipes out there…some even calling themselves “mousse”…that don’t include any eggs, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that if a recipe doesn’t include eggs, it isn’t really chocolate mousse.  

Furthermore, classically the eggs are used (and eventually served) raw.  In our era of an egg supply that has become contaminated with salmonella bacteria, using eggs in this way may seem shocking, dangerous and even gross (although, I find that people aren’t nearly as bothered by the thought of eating raw eggs if the vehicle is cookie dough…).  I understand the fear—and as a food professional I am particularly careful about serving foods that include raw eggs.  For myself, when consuming raw eggs I make sure that I am using not only best quality farm fresh eggs, but eggs that are from a supplier that I know or have met (or that someone I trust has met).  You must feel confident that your eggs have come from a clean, well-run, well-maintained farm/operation.   And even if the eggs meet all these criteria…I would never serve them raw to someone who is very young, very old, pregnant or immune compromised. 

To get around serving raw eggs, you can use pasteurized eggs.  Pasteurized eggs have been heat treated so that they are completely safe.  Unfortunately, I find them difficult to use.  The heating of the eggs for pasteurization initiates the denaturing process that occurs as eggs cook.  This makes the yolks and whites much more difficult to separate—and you must separate them completely (no yolks can remain with the whites) in order to whip the whites.  Furthermore, both the yolks and whites of pasteurized eggs take much longer to whip.  The images on this post were taken when I made the mousse with pasteurized eggs (you might notice the pasteurization stamp on a couple of the eggs) and if I hadn’t known from reading about them that the whites of pasteurized eggs would indeed eventually whip, I would have quit, thrown everything out and started over with farm fresh eggs.

Some modern recipes for mousse get around the raw egg issue by “cooking” the egg yolks and/or egg whites with a hot sugar syrup. When applied to the yolks, the resulting egg yolk-sugar syrup foam is called a pâte à bombe. When applied to the whites, you have an Italian meringue. Some recipes use both a pâte à bombe and an Italian meringue…others use just the pâte à bombe in the base of the mousse and get the final loft from whipped cream alone. If you are interested in the pâte à bombe technique, I used it in a Bing cherry semifreddo a few years ago and Joe Pastry has a good explanation of it on his site (and he also has a chocolate mousse that uses it). I think though that most home cooks will find the process cumbersome. Pâte à bombe is difficult to make in small quantities (when I made it for my semifreddo, I called for almost twice as many yolks as you need for the mousse recipe).

The mousse recipe that I ended up with for my class is an adaptation of Joel Robuchon’s recipe.  It appeals to me for all kinds of reasons.  For one, it is deeply chocolate-y...and not too sweet or too rich.  But mostly, I love the final texture of this mousse.  Some chocolate mousses can be quite firm and almost sticky when they are cold (and this isn’t a bad thing—some people love that stiff and sticky texture).  When cold, this particular mousse is still quite soft…yet still holds a beautiful shape.  (I assume the soft texture is due to the lower quantity of butter when compared to other recipes.)

Chocolate mousse has a reputation for being difficult to make…and I can’t quite figure out why this might be.  Other than the fact that you have to be prepared to use several bowls, it is a very straightforward thing to make…and uses ingredients that many people will already have on hand.  Perhaps the perceived difficulty is the whipping of the egg whites (and cream) and the final folding process.

If these are the things that make you pause, I can assure you that they aren’t difficult to do.  If  you err on the side of slightly under whipping your whites and cream (rather than over whipping) you will be in good shape.  (If you are totally new to whipping whites and folding them into another mixture, I explained both techniques in detail on my angel food cake post.)

I love to serve this mousse in little pot de crème cups…or pretty cut glass sherbets…  But if you want to serve this to your family and friends the way you would most likely enjoy it in a traditional French Bistro, pile the mousse into a serving bowl and pass it at the table accompanied by a big spoon so that everyone can help themselves to as much as they want.  And while you could  serve it with a dollop of whipped cream…or a little vanilla custard sauce…I find that these things interfere with the pure chocolate experience of the mousse (which is what chocolate mousse is all about when you come right down to it...).  A few chocolate shavings scattered over the surface is the perfect finishing touch…. with maybe a few crisp shortbread cookies on the side for a little contrasting crunch… 

Bittersweet Chocolate Mousse
Mousse au Chocolat Amer

5 oz. bittersweet (60 to 64%) chocolate, chopped
2 T. butter, cut into pieces
2 T. espresso or hot water
1/4 c. heavy whipping cream, chilled
4 large eggs (best quality farm fresh or pasteurized—see notes), separated
4 T. vanilla sugar, divided (see notes)

Place the chocolate, butter and espresso in a large heat proof bowl and set the bowl over barely simmering water.  Stir frequently until the chocolate and butter are mostly melted.  Remove from heat, continuing to stir occasionally until completely smooth.  Let cool until the chocolate is just slightly warmer than body temperature.

While the chocolate cools, place the cream in a small bowl and whip until softly mounding.  Chill until ready to finish the mousse.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the egg yolks with a tablespoon of the sugar until thick and lightened in color (the mixture should be pale yellow). 

Whisk this mixture into the tepid chocolate.

Fold the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture and set aside while you whip the whites. 

Whip the whites in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment (or by hand with a wire whisk) until they begin to hold a shape.  Sprinkle in the remaining sugar and continue to whisk/whip until the whites form soft peaks.  

Whisk a third of the whites into the chocolate mixture.   

Gently fold the remaining whites into the lightened chocolate mixture until no white streaks remain. 

Spoon or pipe the mousse into a one quart serving bowl or individual dessert dishes.  

Refrigerate for at least an hour…four or more hours is optimal (the mousse may be safely stored for 24 hours)…before serving.  Garnish with shaved chocolate.  Serves 6 to 8. 

  • If you don’t have vanilla sugar, plain granulated will be fine.  Add a half teaspoon of vanilla to the yolks.  You can make your own vanilla sugar.  Whenever you use a vanilla bean, rinse it well and then allow it to dry (it will become hard and crunchy).  Place the dried vanilla pod(s) in the food processor with some sugar and cover the machine with a damp towel.  Process until the bean is finely ground.  Let the sugar “dust” settle for a moment before removing the towel and the lid.  You will have superfine vanilla sugar when done.  Sift the finished vanilla sugar and discard any large bits of vanilla pod remaining in the sifter.  I have never measured the sugar when I do this…but I probably use about a quarter to a third cup of sugar for each used vanilla bean.
  • If you are serving this to someone very young, very old, pregnant or immune compromised, you may use pasteurized eggs.  I have made the recipe with both farm fresh and pasteurized eggs and I vastly prefer the mousse with farm fresh.  Pasteurized eggs are difficult to separate without breaking the yolks and because the pasteurization is accomplished by raising the eggs to a safe temperature, they have been lightly cooked. This makes them resistant to whipping.  The yolks will eventually become “thick and lightened in color” and the whites will eventually “form soft peaks”—of a sort—but neither will achieve the loft and shape of fresh eggs.  And be warned…it takes a long time to get them to whip (much longer than fresh eggs)…you will definitely need an electric mixer if you use pasteurized eggs.
  • If you only have one set of beaters or one whisk attachment for your mixer, make sure that you wash it and dry it thoroughly between each step.  The whites in particular will not whip if there is any fat from the cream or eggs that gets into the bowl with the whites. 
(Recipe adapted from Simply French by Patricia Wells)