Editor’s note: Living in the Colorado high country is pure joy. Baking in it isn’t. High altitude makes cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips to make baking in the mountains successful.
This lush French-style chocolate mousse is as classic and elegant as a little black dress; it turns any meal into a special occasion. It’s one of my go-to desserts during the holidays because it’s a fancy dessert that doesn’t act like one; it comes together in about 20 minutes, is ready to eat after an hour in the ’fridge and can wait up to a full day before being served. It’s a great choice when you want to prepare a celebratory dinner but have limited time.
While not time consuming or difficult to make, there are several things critical to its success: 1. Use a high-quality chocolate (one you’d eat out of hand) with a cacao percentage no higher than 62 percent. 2. Be sure to keep the eggs in a liquid state while they’re heating, that’s essential to the mousse’s spectacular texture. And 3. The dessert’s richness calls for small servings, so keep in mind that more is not better; I think it’s perfect presented in two-ounce ramekins.
Some recipes that require a kitchen thermometer can easily be made without one, but I always use one here.
Heating the eggs to the precise temperature specified eliminates any risk of salmonella exposure.
Ooh-La-La Chocolate Mousse
Makes six 2-ounce or four 4-ounce servings. Recipe can be doubled
4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
1⁄3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon brandy, liqueur, or rum (optional)
2 large eggs at room temperature
2 tablespoons superfine sugar, preferably Baker’s
Pinch table salt
1 tablespoon water
Sweetened whipped cream
White sugar sprinkles (optional)
Step 1: Get out the ramekins you plan to use. Once it’s prepared, you want to transfer the mousse to them quickly, before it starts setting up. Have an instant-read thermometer close at hand.
Step 2: Finely chop the chocolate (I do this in a food processor) and combine it with the heavy cream in a microwavable bowl. Microwave on low heat (I use No. 3 in a range from 1-10 for about a minute) until the chocolate is almost all melted. Remove from the heat and stir until completely smooth and shiny. (Alternately, place the chocolate and cream in a heatproof bowl and place it in a skillet of simmering water and stir until blended and smooth.) Remove from the heat, stir in the alcohol if you’re using it, and set aside.
Step 3: If you used a microwave to melt the chocolate and cream, then put about 1 1/2 inches of water in a skillet and bring it to a low boil. Whisk the eggs, sugar and salt in a heatproof glass or stainless steel bowl only until combined (don’t continue until they froth). Add the tablespoon of water and whisk again. Set the bowl in the slowly-boiling water; insert your thermometer and heat, stirring constantly, preferably with a silicone spatula, until the mixture reaches 160 degrees. (Heating the eggs in this manner assures that they are safe to eat.) Be sure to stir with sufficient vigor to prevent the eggs from scrambling during this step. The mixture must remain smooth and liquid. As soon as the proper temperature is achieved, remove the bowl from the hot water.
Step 4: Immediately, beat the egg mixture with an electric mixer until it more than doubles in size, becomes opaque and shiny and holds marks made by the beaters for a second or two; it should look like softly whipped cream.
Step 5: Fold about one fourth of the beaten eggs into the chocolate to lighten it. Then transfer this mixture to the bowl of whipped eggs and gently fold only until the two are combined. Over-folding will make the mousse dense instead of light and airy. Quickly spoon the mousse into the ramekins, clean any drips that may have occurred around the tops of the dishes. Chill, loosely covered, for at least one hour and up to a day.
Step 6: Before serving, top each mousse with sweetened whipped cream. (If you included alcohol in the mousse, then add a splash to the cream as you whip it.) Dust with sugar sprinkles if using them. Serve the mousse cool but not cold for the creamiest texture.
This is a variation of an Alice Medrich recipe. Vera Dawson is a chef instructor with CMC’s Culinary Institute and lives in Summit County, where she bakes almost every day. Her recipes have been tested in her home kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at email@example.com.