Sunday, March 4, 2012

caramel chocolate mousse

If there's one thing I long for, it's counter space.

When we were visiting my dad last weekend, I kept looking longingly at the expanse of counter space in his kitchen. Of course, we made good use of it, with this chicken curry and then buttermilk pancakes with frozen huckleberries and brambles.

Oh, and did I mention the caramel chocolate mousse?

Because that's what I really want to tell you about.

On Sunday afternoon, while Scott and dad were out pouring concrete for a gate (seriously!), I got to hang out in my dad's sunny little house and do my two favourite things: cook and read.

I started with the mousse. As you see, the sun was pouring in and everything was going swimmingly.

Well, it was . . . until I got a bit cocky about melting the chocolate and this horror happened.

What is that monster, you may ask?

That monster is overheated chocolate, where the cocoa has divorced itself from the cocoa butter.

(I don't know how they convince them to join up in the chocolate factories, but let me know tell you, they will never reunite in your kitchen. Goodness knows I tried.)

After that horror – in which my main panic was that my mousse would be a goner and I wouldn't get enough time to read before the boys got back – I found some more chocolate and got back on track. Dear readers, follow these instructions for melting chocolate carefully and don't let it get too hot!

It should look more like this:

Now, back to the whole idea of caramel chocolate mousse. It's a good one, don't you think?

Chef Michael Smith thought it up, and I saw it in his new book when I was flipping through it at the bookstore a couple weeks ago.

I have been intrigued with the idea of using caramel as a deep, dark base for chocolate ever since I saw this video about chocolate ice cream last summer. (Also check out Melissa Clark's cool sunglasses.)

This mousse is dish-heavy – pot to make the caramel, double boiler to melt the chocolate, bowl to whip the cream – but it's actually pretty simple. Also, I am relieved to finally have a reliable technique for caramel.

(Before this, I had a 50% chance of my caramel seizing into grains of horrible hard sugar. Which is not pretty. I'm fairly sure I'll have a 100% success rate of smooth, lovely caramel with Michael Smith's technique.)

I decided to mix the caramel and chocolate cream together before folding it into the whipped cream. I was afraid the sticky caramel would take too much mixing and deflate the whipped cream. Pre-mixed with the chocolate, the caramel folds in like a dream.

After a couple hours in the fridge, it takes on that airy, dense texture that I want in a mousse. (Do  you know what I mean: substantial but light?)

As for the taste – well, let's just say the caramel is worth it. It lends a deeper base of flavour, almost the way a homemade stock does for soup.*

In the end, I got my mousse into the fridge within less than an hour, and had lots of time to get back to my other important goal for the afternoon: sitting in the reclining chair next to the window and reading my book with a cup of tea.

*I will note that the original recipe calls for milk chocolate instead of dark chocolate, so as not to overpower the caramel base. I didn't have any milk chocolate, so I used dark and I think I'll keep it that way. I may also be influenced by the fact that I make my caramels pretty dark so they can stand up to the dark chocolate base.

 Last March: grand forks borscht
Two Marches ago: dahl for dinner, dahling

caramel chocolate mousse
slightly adapted from michael smith

1/4 c. (62.5 ml) sugar
1 c. (250 ml) whipping cream (separated to 2 tbsp + 2 tbsp + 3/4 c.)
2 oz. (62.5 g.) dark or milk chocolate, chopped finely
1/2 tsp. (2.5 ml) vanilla extract

Take out a small saucepan with a heavy bottom. Pour in 1/4 c. of water. Sprinkle the sugar over the water, making sure the sugar doesn't touch the inside edges of the pot. Do NOT stir. Turn on the heat to medium. Keep an eye on it, but don't touch it. Eventually, the sugar will melt and the water will boil. As it begins to lightly brown, you may swirl the pot gently to help it brown evenly, although I don't find it necessary. Once it starts browning, keep an eagle eye on it. When it's deep golden brown, take it off the heat. Get out a shallow bowl and a whisk.

Stand back and get ready for some spattering. Carefully pour 2 tbsp. of cream into the caramel. Whisk until smooth. Transfer the caramel into the shallow bowl. (It is important to do this because the caramel will keep cooking and hardening in the hot pot.) Cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes. Set aside while cooling.

Now, it's time to melt the chocolate and cream. The important part here is not to overheat the chocolate. Get a clean whisk ready. Heat water to a simmer in the bottom of a double-boiler, or nestle a bowl over (but not in) a pot of simmering water. Keep the heat down to minimum so the water only simmers and doesn't boil. Put the chopped chocolate in the bowl. Pour in 2 tbsp. of cream. Whisk until the chocolate is just melted, then take the bowl off the heat and keep whisking until it's smooth. Set aside to cool somewhat.

Whip the remaining 3/4 c. of cream with the vanilla until it's whipped cream. Set aside.

Whisk the caramel and chocolate cream together. Gently fold it into the whipped cream until it's all a nice chocolate brown colour. Leave in bowl or put into serving glasses. Chill for at least two hours or even one to two days. Serve as is or with a bit of shaved chocolate on top.

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