Is this dessert decadent? Absolutely. Difficult? Absolutely not. Once you know its secrets, you’ll make perfect mousse every time. We've broken them down for you.
Temperamental chocolate: Ever had melted chocolate suddenly harden stiff? It’s called “seizing” and it happens when melting chocolate comes in contact with water. The tiniest molecule will do it. Never add any liquid to melting chocolate (unless it’s a fat-based product such as butter, 35% cream or oil-based flavouring). When melting chocolate over a double boiler, a spoon standing in the bowl can collect steam that condenses and rolls down into the chocolate – enough water to ruin the batch. Be sure your bowl is clean and dry to start. I have best success melting chocolate in a glass measuring cup in the microwave on half power, with a stir midway to break up the chips or chunks. Always use pure chocolate or chips, not “chocolate flavoured” chips.
Egg whites: Eggs are easiest to separate when cold, but whip best when warm. I separate eggs by breaking the whole, cold egg into my hand and letting the white slip through my fingers into a bowl. I drop the yolk into another bowl. When beating egg whites, it’s critical that you use a scrupulously clean bowl and there’s not a trace of yolk – or they won’t whip. I rinse my bowl with hot water before starting; the warm bowl heats the whites before mixing. Don’t overwhip the whites; stop when peaks form. Any longer and they become dry and coarse and won’t fold into your mousse. It’s also important to “temper” the yolks before adding warm chocolate (or any warm liquid) to them – or you’ll end up with chocolate-flavoured scrambled eggs! Whisking a little very warm (but not boiling) water into the yolks raises their temperature slowly so you can incorporate the next ingredient.
Whipping cream: Like egg whites, stop when the cream holds peaks. If you keep going, the cream will separate into butter and buttermilk.
(makes 12 modest servings or 8 indulgent ones)
16 oz pure chocolate (semi-sweet is nice)
4 eggs, separated
¼ cup very warm water
¼ cup brandy (or spirit of your choice, or substitute water or orange juice)
1 tsp vanilla (or extract of your choice)
Pinch of salt
1½ cups 35% whipping cream
Extra whipped cream for garnish
Melt chocolate in a clean, dry bowl over a double boiler, or using microwave. For double boiler, place a saucepan over medium heat, 1/3-filled with water on gentle simmer. Place a clean, dry stainless-steel bowl larger than the pot over top. Make sure the bowl’s bottom is not touching water. Heat chocolate in the bowl until just until melted (6-10 min.). Stir occasionally with a clean, dry spatula and remove from heat when nearly smooth. Microwave method: heat chocolate in a microwave-safe vessel at 50% power for 2-min. intervals until melted, intermittently stirring. Using either method, when nearly all chips are melted, remove from heat and leave a moment, then stir till smooth.
In a large bowl, whisk egg yolks just to break them up. Whisk in a tiny bit of warm water, then brandy. Whisk in melted chocolate until smooth.
In a very clean bowl, add egg whites and a pinch of salt. Use a mixer to whip whites until they hold peaks. Set aside. In another bowl, whip the cream to soft peaks.
Using a spatula, fold one dollop of egg whites into chocolate-egg yolk mixture until it pretty well disappears into the chocolate. Gently fold in remaining egg whites, trying not to lose the air. Add whipped cream the same way.
Spoon mousse evenly into champagne, martini or parfait glasses and chill. (You could use a piping bag for a neater job.) Serve, garnished with a dollop of whipped cream and fresh berries or a sprig of mint.