That question is clearly rhetorical. No dessert, no matter how beautifully constructed, is beyond someone’s desire to consume it, although this one might elicit a pang of regret as your knife nears that solid chocolate border. A moment’s hesitation would be normal, truly, for this gorgeous, smooth mousse before the blade plunges through that unyielding bittersweet barrier and parses the silky, whipped custard into manageable helpings, the satin bow that once encircled this confection discarded like an ostrich feather boa in a fit of passion. Of course, after that first bite, regret is replaced with jubilation.
Like all things sensuous, mousse is a demanding, temperamental and fragile lover. She needs constant care during cooking, and only a few degrees separate total bliss from utter ruination. The chocolate that dresses this beautiful confection is almost as delicate. Melting it in the top of a double boiler alleviates the possibility of burning the chocolate. But spread too thickly or thinly or set too firmly and it won’t bend to wrap this mousse in a loving embrace. In short, you’ve got to want to make this dessert, and accept the fact that you will likely have to throw the first batch away. I did.
Because this mousse is made with whole milk and not cream, the temperature of the cooked custard cannot exceed 175°F or it will curdle. But it’s got to reach at least 170°F to be cooked properly. Likewise, if the chocolate you add to the custard isn’t still soft, or thoroughly melted, you’ll end up with a grainy chocolate mousse rather than the super smooth version you were angling for. Once the custard’s cooked, you’re not off the hook yet. The custards need to be chilled until they can mound. But if you let them firm up too much, you won’t be able to swirl them together. To make matters more complicated, the chocolate custard will set up more quickly than the vanilla custard.
There is a silver lining to all this misery. If you’ve messed up any of the cooking or cooling steps and need to start over, you’re only out a few egg yolks, a cup of sugar, two packets of unflavored gelatin, some milk and possibly two ounces of chocolate. A mulligan at this juncture, while time consuming, is at least not expensive.
If you’ve managed to get this mousse together, swirled properly, set and depanned without calamity, you’ve only got one step left: that eye catching chocolate border. While not technically difficult to make, it will require some skill with a blade and a warm kitchen. The heavier the knife, the more control you’ll have when cutting the strips. A 10-inch long chef’s knife is easier to cut a straight line with than a small paring knife. And a warm kitchen, 75-80°F will keep the chocolate strips flexible enough to bend without breaking.
Don’t forget that ribbon. Not only does it add a lovely decoration to this mousse, it serves a practical purpose as well. The ribbon will help hold the chocolate in place while it sets the rest of the way, and can keep everything in place, especially if this dessert is transported anywhere.
If you’re properly motivated, and can take a failure on the chin and keep on going, this mousse will give more than it’s taken.
- 1¾ cups whole milk
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 3 large egg yolks
- 1 cup white sugar, divided
- 2 envelopes unflavored gelatin
- 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
- 3 teaspoons vanilla extract, divided
- 3 cups heavy whipping cream
- 5 ounces semisweet chocolate, cut up
- 5 teaspoons vegetable shortening
In a medium saucepan, mix the milk, egg yolks, salt and ¾ cup sugar. Sprinkle the gelatin over the surface and allow it to soften slightly, about 1 minute. Cook over low heat, stirring frequently until the mixture reaches between 170-175°F. Using a probe thermometer with an alarm will help you keep track of the temperature. This should take about 30 minutes.
Divide the egg yolk mixture evenly between two medium mixing bowls. Add the cooled, melted unsweetened chocolate and one teaspoon vanilla extract to one bowl and thoroughly combine. Add the remaining two teaspoons vanilla to the other mixture and stir to combine.
Cover both bowls and refrigerate until the mixtures mound when spooned, stirring frequently. This should take about 20 to 25 minutes. Cut a circle of parchment paper to the size of the bottom of the springform pan. Assemble the pan with the parchment in the bottom.
Once the mixture has set up properly, whip the whipping cream and remaining ¼ cup sugar in a large mixing bowl until stiff peaks form. Do not overwhip.
Divide the whipped cream evenly between the mixtures and gently fold it in to incorporate. Spoon the mixtures, alternately, into a 9×3” springform pan. Using a knife or metal spatula, swirl the mixtures to create a marbled pattern—less is more. Cover and refrigerate the mousse until it’s completely set, about 4 hours.
Meanwhile, melt the semisweet chocolate and shortening in the top of a double boiler. Cut a 10×12” piece of parchment paper and place it on a cookie sheet. Spread the melted chocolate evenly over the sheet to a thickness of 1/16 to 1/8 inch. Refrigerate the chocolate for one hour, and then allow it to warm to room temperature until you are ready to use it.
Using a thin blade, loosen the mousse from the sides of the springform pan before unlatching the spring. Carefully slide the mousse, along with the parchment paper, onto your serving plate. Using a guide, if necessary, cut strips of chocolate the width that the mousse is tall from the long side of the rectangle all the way through the paper. Lift the chocolate strips by the paper, and arrange them around the mousse overlapping as you go. You should have two layers of chocolate around the mousse. Peel the paper away from each strip as it’s put in place. Tie the ribbon around the chocolate strips and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to make sure everything is set.