The first serious dessert I ever made was this chocolate mousse forty years ago. Every time I serve it people go nuts over it, even those who don't like chocolate. I can't figure that one out. This is perhaps the most chocolaty of all chocolate desserts! It is in Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking Vol I and even though I would like to say it is an adaptation, it is not. How can you tinker with sheer perfection?! The only thing I could loosely call an adaptation in this recipe might be the specific use of Grand Marnier for her orange liqueur. She does not specify, and there are indeed other orange liqueurs, but I think Grand Marnier is the king of them all!
I have seen later versions of her chocolate mousse recipe and none come close to the original. For one thing, this one has more butter than the one in her book The Way to Cook and it also adds orange liqueur. David Leibowitz posted her recipe and also called it perfection, but he substituted rum and I think that makes a big difference. Don't do it. This recipe also taught me the importance of adding a little coffee to the chocolate when melting to bring out its flavor. Another big difference.
Chocolate mousse is one of those desserts that fits any occasion. Have you noticed when you go to an elegant French restaurant and they roll out the dessert cart how chocolate mousse is always in the mix? No matter how you serve it, with whipped cream or creme anglaise or simply by itself, it always brings out the mmms and the ahs from everyone around the table
For Christmas Eve, when I have all my family around, I usually serve this as one of two or three desserts. It complements whatever anyone else brings. It is so practical... you can make it the day before, and it keeps for a couple of days. You also can double the recipe if you are entertaining a bigger crowd.
Do go out and buy a small bottle of Grand Marnier even though I know it's expensive. You can use it later for the orange sauce in Duck a l'Orange and for a million other things, including some Chinese dishes and more chocolate mousse! It keeps forever and believe me, it won't go to waste. As to the orange peel, I made it once incorporating it and it was heaven, but if you want to to skip it it's okay. Don't skip anything else though, it won't be the same!
Serves 6-8 people
6 ounces (170g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
6 ounces (170g) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
4 TB (60ml) dark-brewed coffee
4 large eggs, separated
3/4 cup (170g), sugar
1/4 cup Grand Marnier (orange liqueur)
1/4 cup finely diced glazed orange peel (optional)
1 tablespoon (15ml) water
pinch of salt
1. Heat a saucepan one-third full with hot water, and in a bowl set on top, melt together the chocolate, butter and coffee, stirring over the barely simmering water, until smooth. Remove from heat.
2. Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside.
3. In a bowl large enough to nest securely on the saucepan of simmering water, whisk the yolks of the eggs with the 3/4 cup of sugar, Grand Marnier, and water for about 3 minutes until the mixture is thick, like runny mayonnaise. (You can also use a handheld electric mixer.)
3. Remove from heat and place the bowl of whipped egg yolks within the bowl of ice water and beat until cool and thick. Then fold the chocolate mixture into the egg yolks. Add the optional orange peel.
4. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt until frothy. Continue to beat until they start to hold their shape. Whip in the tablespoon of sugar and continue to beat until thick and shiny, but not completely stiff.
5. Fold one-third of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then fold in the remainder of the whites just until incorporated, but don't overdo it or the mousse will lose volume.
6. Transfer the mousse to a serving bowl or divide into serving dishes, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, until firm.
Serving: I like to serve the chocolate mousse as it is, maybe with just a small dollop of whipped cream; it neither needs, nor wants, much adornment.
Storage: The mousse au chocolat can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.
Photo credit David Leibowitz