Down with Love: Chocolate Mousse

Introduction

Like its cousin, the Chocolate Souffle, the most important ingredient in a Mousse is "air". Thousands and thousands of tiny air bubbles give the chocolate a lightness of being that surprises and delights. Making a mousse seems innocent and easy enough at first: You create two "mixes": a sweet mix of chocolate, liqueur, and egg yolks, and a fluffy scaffolding of egg whites and air.

It is only when you mix the two together that you realize how tricky a beast this can be to tame. If you "mix" the ingredients you end up with thick chocolate syrup. Instead, you must, with the fewest possible gestures, incorporate the white bubbles with the brown mix, so that the air bubbles don't get crushed out of it.

You can succeed at making mousse if you keep three things in mind:

1. Be prepared: Once you start making mousse, things happen fast. Read the recipe carefully and make sure you have all the pans in place, you don't want to be looking for an extra pot while your chocolate is on the heat.

2. Don't let the air out: What separates Chocolate Mousse from Chocolate Syrup is "air". The air is suspended in the egg whites that get added in the final step. If you mush the egg whites you'll force the air out of the dessert.

3.Work Fast: Particularly in the final step, where the egg whites are incorporated into the chocolate, work deliberately and with vigor. If you blend without courage, pushing around the ingredients, rather than slicing through them, your mousse will deflate.

A final safety note: Since the eggs are not fully cooked, there is the risk of Salmonella. The Department of Agriculture recommends cooking eggs to 160 degrees, but this is not possible with this recipe. Whether you want to take the risk, or consign this dish to the dustpan of history is a personal choice. I know of no way to make a traditional chocolate mousse without this risk.

Ingredients

  • 4 Eggs
  • 1/4 C strong coffee
  • 3/4 C finely granulated sugar
  • 1/4 C Grand Marinier or other orange liqueur
  • 6 oz. semisweet baking chocolate
  • 1 1/2 sticks (6 oz.) unsalted butter
  • 1/4 t cream of tartar
  • salt
  • whipped cream

Special equipment: Chocolate mousse messes up more pots and bowls than almost anything else I cook. You're going to need bowls to separate the eggs, mixing bowls for the egg yolks, the egg whites, and sauce pots to melt the chocolate and the yolk mixture. On top of it all you'll need a somewhat larger pan that that will be used as a double boiler to hold the other, smaller sauce pans. You'll also need rubber spatulas, and an electric mixer.

Directions

Separate four eggs.
It is best to work with three bowls. Crack the egg over one bowl, put the yoke in another, and then the egg white into a third. That way you won't contaminate your egg whites with any yoke.
Add 3/4 C of finely granulated sugar into the bowl with the egg yokes and beat.
Continue beating the eggs until they change color. They will turn pale white and, when you lift the beaters, a ribbon will form and then dissolve back into the mix.
Heat 1/4 C of strong coffee in a saucepan.
Dump in 3/4 C finely granulated sugar.
Stir with a wooden spoon so that the sugar dissolves.
Turn on the mixer (unlike in the photo here) and while it is turning, add the hot sugar/coffee mixture in a stream, so that it is well blended.
Here the mix is just right! Now it is time for the chocolate!
You're going to need two pots for this next step, a medium sized saucepan and a smaller saucepan that can fit inside it. Alternatively, you can use a "double boiler" insert for your pan if you have one. The idea is that you will fill the larger pot with an inch or so of water, and then put the smaller pot inside it. That way the ingredients (our precious chocolate) will be warmed by the water, and not burnt by the direct flame. Make sure you don't have so much water in the outer pot that it can overflow into the inner pot. Bring the water to a boil and then add 1/4 cup of Grand Marinier or other orange liqueur to the inner pot.
Now, add 6 ounces of semisweet baking chocolate.
As the chocolate melts, stir it with a spoon. When it has melted, reserve the chocolate, but keep the water in the outer pot at a simmer.
Now, take the bowl containing our egg yoke/coffee/sugar confection and put it over the hot water. Beat it with the mixer until it doubles in volume. This is sometimes tedious, hot work. Be careful not to burn yourself or the mixer's cord! The mix should turn hot to your touch, and thicken. It can take anywhere from five to ten minutes.
OK...here comes another pot! Fill a large pot with cold water and set our bowl with the egg mix into it. Beat for another five unites until it is cool and thick.
Here we've achieved the proper thickness: the eggs fall back into the bowl forming a thick ribbon that slowly fades back into the mix.
Chop up 1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) of unsalted butter into half inch pieces.
Put the hot chocolate pan back in the water and, if it is no longer melted, heat it up over the simmering water. Add the butter and stir until it is all gently mixed in.
Now, working fast, we want to add the chocolate to the egg/coffee/sugar mix. Use a rubber spatula and combine using a scooping motion.
Here is the mix, nearly fully combined. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl with the spatula. The whole process should take less than a minute.
Before you do anything else, make sure your mixer's blades are clean, we'll need them in a second! Remember our egg yolks. They should be at room temperature now. Add 1/4 t of cream of tartar and a pinch of salt and beat with the mixer.
Using the electric mixer, beat the eggs at a medium speed for about a minute , and then increase to high. You will continue beating until you get nice, stiff peaks. These egg yolks
Now, we're going to combine the puffy egg whites into the chocolate batter. The trick is to incorporate the whites without blowing out the air that will give our mousse its fluffiness. If you just stir in the egg whites, they will collapse and you'll have a bowl full of chocolate goop. Put about a quarter of the egg white into the bowl with the chocolate. Working fast, and without mushing it all together, slice through the egg whites, through to the chocolate, and swoosh back up to the surface, incorporating the egg whites into the fold.
Like creature protoplasmic creature from "The Blob", the chocolate will handily suck in almost all of the first bit of egg white. But, if you've done it correctly, the chocolate will be palpably lighter, as if pumped with air.
Now, dump in the rest of the egg whites. Continue the slash and fold technique, turning the bowl as you work. Remember, no stirring, or you'll end up with chocolate syrup. Slash, swoop, and fold. Remember to scrape and fold the edges of the bowl, too.
Here it is, nearly finished. Cover and chill.
Serve a scoop of the mousse with fresh whipped cream on top!

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