Mousses are grand. Mousses are tricky. Mousses are complicated. Mousses are foolproof. All of these statements are true.
When is the last time you had a delicious, light, fluffy, tart and tangy lime mousse filled with flecks of citrusy zest? Or a rich, bittersweet chocolate one? They seem to have gone out of style, but they deserve a comeback.
Nothing could be better as the grand finale to a meal on a hot summer evening. You can tailor the mousse to the menu. Perhaps after some grilled striped bass, corn, and tomatoes you could have a blood-orange and lemon mousse. A mocha-flavored mousse would be perfect after a steak and potatoes feast. Best of all, mousses are inexpensive to make and give you an excuse to use those funny shaped glasses you inherited from Granny. You can layer various flavors and even create your own — coconut, raspberry, ginger, caramel, passion fruit, mango, lemon, hazelnut, and so on.
The name “mousse” comes from the French word for foam. It applies to dishes with a foamy texture, usually cold and often sweet, but also savory and sometimes hot. Cold soufflés are the same as mousses, but mousse is the word used to describe a broad spectrum of foamy confections thickened with egg white and/or cream, often with gelatin added.
A popular dessert in France for over 300 years, chocolate mousse became a huge hit at the Food Exposition at Madison Square Garden in 1892. According to The New York Times, 8,000 people showed up to sample exotic foods and listen to a lecture on lobster a la Newburg, Welsh rarebit, and chocolate mousse.
First, a few suggestions on the making of mousses. If using raw eggs is of concern to you, you can use pasteurized egg whites and yolks. I also recommend using sheet gelatin rather than powdered. You can order this from specialty food shops, buy it online . . . or just borrow some from me. Sheet gelatin produces a more clear and clean tasting product. Also keep in mind when flavoring your base or purée that it will be neutralized, or watered down, by the addition of egg whites and whipped cream. So make the base super intensely flavored.
Be very careful when melting your gelatin, it can’t get too hot. If it boils, it won’t work. As soon as it liquifies, whisk it quickly into your purée. But, before you begin the process, make sure you have your “mise en place,” that is “everything in its place.” Have three bowls at the ready, your egg whites at room temperature, and if you are making layered mousses, some pastry bags are helpful. You can substitute a Ziploc bag and just cut a small corner off so you can pipe your mousse into Granny’s fancy glasses.
How does the magic of light and airy mousses work? Harold McGee explained it best in his book “On Food and Cooking.” For a chocolate mousse, which begins with melted chocolate beaten into tempered egg yolks, you add three to four times this amount of beaten egg whites. “The watery foam walls are thus augmented with the thick, yolky chocolate, and much of the egg moisture is absorbed by the cocoa solids and sugar, which further thickens the bubble walls,” Mr. McGee wrote. “While still warm, the mousse is spooned into serving dishes, and these are then refrigerated for several hours. As the mousse cools, the cocoa butter congeals, and the bubble walls become rigid enough to maintain the foam structure indefinitely. The chocolate thus strengthens the egg foam, and the foam spreads the stodgy chocolate mass into a gossamer structure that melts on the tongue.” In other words, the egg white foam acts as a hidden scaffolding.
So play around with flavors and use your imagination. Try Nutella or caramel sauce whipped into a mousse. Coconut milk, Coco Lopez, and a bit of rum make a snowy white, subtly flavored coconut mousse. Purée raspberries with a few slices of fresh ginger for added zest and depth of flavor. Use extracts and food coloring if you want to punch it up.
Glamorous, ethereal, and almost obsolete, mousse is an easy and inexpensive way to impress your guests. Let’s bring back this once popular dessert! Here are some tried and true recipes. Just remember to follow the directions carefully.
Chocolate Mousse Le Notre
Makes at least 12 servings.
1 lb. good quality bittersweet chocolate, chopped into small pieces
2 oz. butter
8 oz. egg yolks
7 oz. egg whites
3 oz. sugar
2 cups heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
Place chocolate pieces and butter in bowl over pot of boiling water. Melt slowly, scraping bowl with rubber spatula occasionally. Remove from heat. Carefully whisk into egg yolks, tempering them.
Beat egg whites with sugar until soft peaks form. Gently fold egg whites into chocolate mixture, being careful not to deflate. Then gently fold in whipped cream. Spoon or pipe into individual glasses or place in decorative bowl and refrigerate for at least four hours.
Mousse can be topped with berries, shaved chocolate, and additional whipped cream.
Lemon or Lime Mousse
Lemon or Lime Cream
Makes about two cups.
5 lemons or limes
11/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, cut into cubes
Remove zest from lemons or limes and place in bowl. Juice the fruit and add to bowl. Whisk in eggs. Add this to the butter in a heavy-bottom saucepan and bring to boil over medium high heat. Whisk constantly and boil for 30 seconds.
Remove from heat and pour through fine mesh strainer. Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate.
1 cup heavy cream, whipped and put in large bowl in refrigerator
4 large egg whites
1/4 cup sugar
3 Tbsp. cold water
1 envelope unflavored gelatin, or 5 sheets gelatin
1 cup lemon or lime cream
Whisk egg whites with sugar until soft peaks form. Set aside.
Put a small saucepan with one inch water on to boil. Place gelatin and three tablespoons cold water in heatproof bowl. Let gelatin “bloom” for one minute, then place bowl over boiling water. Stir until just melted, making sure there are no lumps that would give mousse a yucky texture.
Whisk melted gelatin into lemon or lime cream. Fold in egg whites, then whipped cream. Pipe or spoon into serving dishes and chill until set, approximately four hours. Can also be frozen.