A chocolate mousse for every mood

This classic, easy-to-make, irresistible French dessert is yours to customize

Three servings of chocolate mousse, served in glass tumblers, topped with whipped cream and cacao nibs
Three servings of chocolate mousse, served in glass tumblers, topped with whipped cream and cacao nibs

The first time I had chocolate mousse was when I was five or six years old and my dad took me out to lunch — just the two of us — at a fancy French restaurant. I don’t know what the restaurant was called, but it was on the same plot of land in Los Angeles where Eataly now stands, in Century City. The restaurant was cozy, dark, and — to my five-year-old mind — terribly elegant. I wore white gloves.

I don’t remember most of what we ate, only that I couldn’t wait for dessert. We were going to have a chocolate moose, my dad told me. How fantastic — a chocolate moose! An edible Bullwinkle!

And then it landed, and it was something much better than a moose: It was a Champagne coupe filled with something chocolate, crowned with a dollop of whipped cream and topped with a candied violet.

A sugar-coated tiny purple flower you could eat! This was the best thing ever. And that mousse! In that Champagne glass! I still remember the sensation, the flavor, the mouthfeel: It was like eating a rich, chocolate cloud. Heaven.

Recently, my extreme bouts of culinary adventurism have been punctuated with longings for nostalgic French foods. Onion soup. Quiche. Chocolate mousse.

Anyone can make chocolate mousse, but you do need the right recipe. I like a classic one, which is basically melted chocolate with egg yolks mixed in, folded gently into egg whites. Chill it for three hours, and dessert is yours.

The nice thing is you can dress it up or dress it down for any mood. Spoon it into Champagne coupes if you’re feeling fancy, or jelly jars if the vibe you want is chill. Some people like to leave it in a big bowl and serve it from that, or just give everyone a spoon. You could use pretty tea cups, or ramekins or custard cups — whatever you have.

Make the mousse as sweet or dark chocolatey as you like. We’ve based our recipe on two 3.5 ounce bars of chocolate; choose the one you most love to eat. If you’re a 70 or 72% cacao person, use that. If you like sweeter (60%) or darker, adjust accordingly. My chocolate of choice is 85%. That might be a little un-desserty for dessert, so I use one 72% bar and one 85% bar: That’s perfect for me.

You can really get creative in that melting bowl of chocolate. I like to add orange liqueur, such as Grand Marnier. David Lebovitz, whose chocolate mousse proportions informed our recipe, favors Chartreuse. Julia Child called for strong brewed coffee as well as orange liqueur (which she whipped into the egg whites). Cognac could be nice, or Turkish coffee kissed with cardamom. You can use vanilla or almond extract, or even peppermint (just a touch).

Serve it naked for the full-on, chocolate-forward mousse experience, or top it with whipped cream, lightly sweetened or not, depending on how sweet you went with the mousse.

And then the (totally optional) final flourish, geared to your audience or expressive of your mood. Multi-colored or chocolate sprinkles! Slivered candied orange peel or cacao nibs! Dried rose petals! A candied violet!

If you love this recipe as much as I do, you’ll want to keep a couple of extra chocolate bars on hand for whenever you might want to conjure something special with very little effort. As long as you have four eggs, you’ll be good to go.

Your Favorite Chocolate Mousse

The only sugar in this recipe is what’s already in the two bars of chocolate you use, so choose chocolate with a sweetness level you like. Most dark-chocolate-lovers will want to use two 3.5-ounce bars of chocolate with about 70 to 72% cacao. I like to use one of those and one bar of 85% cacao chocolate — the super dark-chocolate-lovers kind.

Be sure to melt your chocolate very gently. If it seizes up and suddenly becomes grainy-looking, don’t panic; you can fix it by whisking in boiling water a teaspoon at a time until it is smooth and glossy, then proceed with the recipe.

Serves 4.

Ingredients

Two 3.5-ounce bars of chocolate as dark as you like — from 60% cacao to 85% cacao, or a combination, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons orange liqueur, other liqueur, brandy or strong brewed coffee, or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, or 1/2 teaspoon almond extract, or 1/4 teaspoon peppermint extract

3 tablespoons water

4 large eggs (room temperature), separated

Generous pinch of salt

Garnish(es) of your choice (all optional): whipped cream (lightly sweetened or not); some kind of sprinkles such as cacao nibs, slivered candied citrus peel, edible flower petals, rainbow sprinkles, shaved chocolate, etc.

Instructions

1. Place the chocolate in a heat-proof, medium bowl with the liqueur (or other flavoring) and water, and melt slowly and gently over barely simmering water in a double boiler. Alternatively, you can melt it in a microwave, if you have one with a medium setting. Be sure to heat gently or the chocolate may seize. You want it to be smooth and glossy. (If it happens to seize up, whisk in boiling water a teaspoon at a time until it’s smooth and glossy.) Set aside.

2. Place the egg whites and the salt in a large, dry bowl. Using a hand mixer or stand mixer, whip them until they hold stiff peaks.

3. Whisk the egg yolks into the chocolate one by one. Then use a rubber spatula to fold about a third of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture in order to lighten it up. Gently fold the rest of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, until there are hardly any white streaks left, or none. It’s better to have a few white streaks than to overwork and deflate the mixture.

4. Divide the mousse between four ramekins, small jelly jars, custard cups, tea cups, wine glasses or whatever you’d like to serve them in. (Alternatively, you can spoon it all into one serving bowl.) Cover with plastic wrap and let chill and set for at least 3 hours. Top with whipped cream (if using) and any other garnishes and serve.

Originally published at https://cookswithoutborders.com on January 16, 2021.

James Beard Award-winning journalist, author, cook and consultant, Leslie is founder of cookswithoutborders.com.

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