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Valentine’s Day Chocolate Mousse
In each issue of Paleo Magazine, I share the history of a traditional recipe and adapt it to fit into a healthier paleo lifestyle. Now that we’re in the depths of winter and Valentine’s Day is on its way, I thought something a little sweet was in order.
Chocolate Mousse—also known as the vastly more romantic name mousseline au chocolat—is what would happen if clouds were made of chocolate and could be coaxed down from the sky to float on the dinner table. Chocolate mousse somehow manages to be light and substantial, creamy and luxurious, all at once.
Although chocolate mousse is probably one of the most beloved desserts to be found sur la table, its exact origins remain a sweet mystery. French chefs have been cooking with chocolate since the early 17th century, and they used a kitchen gadget called a moulinet to whip chocolate for drinking. At some point, a clever chef added eggs to his hot chocolate to increase the amount of foam. Word got around, as delicious ideas will, and soon, people preferred the foamy “mousse” to the plain chocolate.
In 1470, Menon (author of the French cookbook La Cuisinière Bourgeoise) described a chocolate mousse recipe like this:
Chocolate mousse [foam]. It is made in the same way by melting six tablets of chocolate on hot coals with a little cream and mixing them well after with as many egg yolks, cream and sugar.
We need to fast forward a few hundred years and a few thousand miles to find the first written record of chocolate mousse in the United States. A food exposition was held in New York City’s Madison Square Garden in 1892 and five years later, the Boston Daily Globe published a “Housekeeper’s Column” with a recipe for chocolate mousse. It was more like a pudding than the airy confection from France, but it was chocolate, so I suspect no one complained.
After hundreds of years of tinkering, a traditional chocolate mousse recipe has become somewhat standardized: semi-sweet chocolate, butter, sugar, and cream. Julia Child’s classic recipe includes a touch of coffee, orange liqueur, and egg whites for fluffiness. Bon Appétit magazine, in contrast, adds egg yolks for silkiness.
All of which is irrelevant to us.
Because we’re making chocolate mousse with water and dark chocolate. C’est tout.
Thanks to the culinary brilliance of Hervé This, king of molecular gastronomy, we are kitchen alchemists, turning water and chocolate into mousse. Creamy, rich, lick-the-bowl-clean mousse, which also happens to be dairy free and relatively low in sugar.
This mousse is elegant enough for a special dinner and easy enough to sweeten a random Wednesday. You can fancy it up with a dollop of coconut milk whipped cream or make it exotic with a pinch of chipotle pepper or cinnamon. You might also want to replace some of the water with a little espresso. Or be a purist and go straight-up chocolate. Choose your chocolate carefully—70% cacao works best—and indulge in the rich, deep, dark, complex flavor. Bon appétit!
Dark Chocolate Mousse From Hervé This
The original recipe says it serves 4, but they would be massive servings. I cut the recipe in half and still think it serves 4. If you want to top it with coconut milk whipped cream, put the can of coconut milk in the refrigerator at least 24 hours before you want to eat it. I also recommend putting your mixing bowl and beaters in the freezer for at least an hour before whipping. For what it’s worth, Dave liked it more without the whipped cream, so you might want to skip the extra work.
4 ounces 71% cacao dark chocolate
3 ounces water
1-2 ice cube trays worth of ice
1/2 can coconut milk
1/4 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
coarse sea salt
Place a medium sauce pan over medium-low heat. Break the chocolate into large chunks and place in the pan with the water and a pinch of salt. Stir with a whisk to melt the chocolate into the water. It should look like old fashioned chocolate syrup: smooth, slightly shiny, and liquidy. Turn off the heat.
Dump the ice cubes into a large bowl and add about 1 cup of cold water. Place a slightly smaller bowl inside the large bowl and scrape the hot chocolate sauce into the top bowl. Grab a wire whisk and whisk that stuff like your life depends on it. The ice bath underneath cools the cbocolate, and the whisking action incorporates air that create the fluffy, mousse-like texture. It took me about 3-4 minutes to get to the desired consistency. At first, it seemed like it would never happen. My arm may have gotten very tired. But I kept going — and you will, too! If your mousse suddenly cools and thickens too quickly, you can re-melt it and start over. So forgiving! (See the original recipe for troubleshooting, but I had no problems.) Spoon the mousse into serving dishes and refrigerate if you’re not going to eat it immediately.
If you’re making whipped cream, remove your bowl and beater from the freezer. Spoon half the thickened, chilled coconut milk into the mixing bowl and save the rest for a curry. Add the extract to the bowl, then beat the coconut milk for 5 or so minutes until it takes on the texture of whipped cream. Dollop on top of the mousse, then sprinkle the top of the dessert with a pinch of coarse sea salt. Serve and relish the compliments.