Chocolate mousse, besides being delectable, also has a fascinating history. It was first known as "mayonnaise de chocolat" - and, even more interesting, was invented by world-renowned French post-Impressionist painter Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, in the late 19th century.
Primarily famous as a bohemian artist, Toulouse-Lautrec also was an experienced cook who found time to dabble in creating signature dishes.This one was a singular success. Chocolate mousse has become a classic, traditional but still versatile, which can be served in different ways.
Whether it's piped into delicate pastry shells or hollowed fruits or served in elegant glassware, it's a favorite dessert for countless diners, ranging from those who enjoy simple desserts to unashamed "chocoholics."
Although chocolate mousse is the most popular flavor, mousses can be flavored with other ingredients, including fruit purees or juices, vanilla or flavored syrups.
To prepare a mousse with a delicate texture and flavor, the base - generally made of cooked egg yolks and sugar combined with the flavoring ingredient - should be at room temperature and liquid enough to fold together with the whipped cream or egg whites without deflating their volume.
To make chocolate mousse, you prepare the chocolate by chopping it into small pieces and melting it in a bowl set over slowly simmering water. Alternatively, you can use a microwave to melt chocolate, but the process should be monitored carefully to make sure the chocolate is not overheated.
When cooled to room temperature, the chocolate should be pourable so that it can be easily incorporated into the base.
Eggs, both yolks and whites, are standard ingredients in most mousse recipes. When you are separating yolks and whites, be careful to keep the whites free of all traces of yolk. For best results, prepare a simmering water bath ahead of time, to be ready to cook the base of egg yolks and sugar.
"Egg whites should be brought to room temperature before being whipped to achieve the greatest volume," says chef Stephane Weber, lecturing instructor in baking and pastry arts at The Culinary Institute of America.
In addition, Weber recommends "a very clean bowl and whip to ensure that there are no traces of fat (found in egg yolks) present on utensils." Fat can dramatically affect egg whites' ability to be whipped to a foam because its presence slows down the process and causes a reduction in the volume.
Cream should be kept very cold and whipped to soft or medium peaks just before it is incorporated. For the best volume, chill the bowl and beaters before whipping the cream. Then use a rubber spatula to fold the components together, and have portion cups ready to fill with the finished mousse.
The following recipe for chocolate mousse is among the 200 recipes in the new "Cooking at Home With the Culinary Institute of America" (Wiley, $40), which will be published this fall.
2 large egg yolks plus 1 large egg white
1 1/2 tablespoons brandy
2 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate, melted
1/2 cup heavy cream
Combine the egg yolks with the brandy and 1 tablespoon sugar in the top of a double boiler or a stainless-steel bowl set over simmering water. Whisk until the mixture is very warm, about 110 F, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the melted chocolate. Remove from the heat and whip with a handheld mixer on high speed until cool.
In another bowl, combine the egg white with the remaining 1 tablespoon sugar and whisk until it holds a medium peak when the whisk is turned upright.
In another bowl, whip the cream until it holds soft peaks when the whisk is turned upright.
Add 1/3 of the egg whites to the chocolate mixture, and gently fold until incorporated. Fold in the remaining egg whites, then fold in the whipped cream until just blended. Pipe or spoon into serving dishes, cover, and chill for at least 3 hours and up to 24 hours before serving.
Makes 4 servings. Nutrition information per serving: 310 calories, 5 grams protein, 29 grams carbohydrates, 21 grams fat, 95 milligrams cholesterol, 50 milligrams sodium.