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)

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