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Saturday, February 03, 2007

Chocolate as winter survival strategy


I need to eat chocolate in the winter. I do. I need to eat chocolate all year 'round. But I especially need to eat chocolate in the winter. Not enough serotonin, or something like that. Until we managed to buy a winter house in Marbella I have to up my dose of chocolate January through March.

I'm feeling something chocolate and creamy, but ice cream is so unappetizing in the middle of winter. I'm freezing; I don't want more frozen stuff. I've been eating a lot of mass-produced pudding, and I'm perfectly happy to do so.

But last time it wasn't quite enough. I had chocolate pots de creme on my mind, and as if by magic, Living appeared in my mail with a recipe. Oh, but I had a conversation with a friend immediately after about Martha that deflated my enthusiasm. Eh, those recipes, she said. I'd rather just look in a good pastry cookbook. Drat, I thought, she's right! They probably dumb down the recipes. But the dessert actually looked respectable -- mostly chocolate and cream. Why, the recipe in the Joy of Cooking included plain milk (ugh!) and cocoa powder (feh!). Living's pudding is an improvement over that. Worth trying, I think!

6 oz. "best-quality" bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (Is it just me, or do you find it incredibly condescending when the writers at Living admonish you to use the finest quality?)
3 1/2 cups heavy cream
6 large egg yolks 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extra (don't even THINK about using artificial vanilla flavor. Martha would not approve.)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Boiling water, for roasting pan (which is why they're not insisting you use pure spring water)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Bring 2 1/2 cups cream to a simmer and pour over chocolate in medium bowl. Let stand five minutes and stir.
Whisk together egg yolks, vanilla, and salt.

Whisk in chocolate mixture. Pour through fine sieve into large measuring cup.
Place 6 ramekins into roasting pan and pour chocolate into cups. Pour boiling water into pan so it reaches halfway up sides of cups. Cover whole pan with tinfoil. Cook until custards are barely set, about 25 minutes. Transfer cups to wire rack to cook. Cover with plastic and refrigerate two hours (or up to overnight). Serve with whipped cream.

The pots turned out thick and luscious. They should have -- I used that overpriced Ronnybrook Farm cream. One thing I like about pots de creme vs. cornstarch pudding is that with the creme you don't get that annoying watery separation that you get with pudding. By the way, this recipe is not on the MSLO website. They have two other chocolate pots de creme recipes, neither of which looked as good.

Alas, as luscious as the pots de creme are they just aren't dark enough for me. As we move further into winter I need to sublimate my dark thoughts with dark chocolate, eeeeevil, belly-of-the-beast, Kurtz darkest dark chocolate. I started hunting for a chocolate pudding that lurked beyond the land of cream.

Julia Child has a chocolate mousse that would be perfect, but hers has both orange liqueur and espresso, which means I would have to tell Jasper no. I hate telling Jasper no. I looked at other cream-less chocolate mousse recipes and found basically the same thing, alcohol and coffee. But I remembered a pudding in a back issue of Saveur (yes, them again) that originates from an old cookbook, Eating in Bed. The dessert is called The Thin Edge of the Wedge. (If any of you have read Nancy Mitford's Pursuit of Love you will recognize that phrase from Uncle Matthew. It's the small indulgence that leads to overindulgence, like a tiny sample of a chocolate pudding that leads to devouring the entire pot. The "thin edge of the wedge" is probably a very common phrase that everyone in the English-speaking world but me is familiar with.)

If pots de creme is a starchless pudding, custard actually, chocolate mousse is a starchless pudding that includes stiffly-beaten egg whites. That's my theory, anyway.

I've actually never had much success with this recipe. It calls for gelatin dissolved in water, which you mix into egg whites. Perhaps I'm using stronger gelatin than the gelatin of 1962, but the gelatin always becomes too rigid and I end up with little chunks of gelatin in my pudding, ruining the texture. Remove the gelatin and you have almost the same recipe as Child's classic chocolate mousse, minus the booze and coffee. Would it work? I had to try.

Because I like to court disaster I also cut the recipe in half. But guess what? It was marvelous. Valentines, I give you chocolate mousse for two:

4 oz. bittersweet chocolate
1 1/2 tablespoons butter

2 eggs, separated


Melt chocolate and butter in medium saucepan over a pan of simmering water, stirring occasionally until smooth. Separate eggs, putting yolks into a small bowl and whites into large mixing bowl. Beat egg whites with electric mixer on medium until they form medium-stiff peaks, about 3 minutes.


Remove saucepan from heat and beat in egg yolks with a wooden spoon. Return pan to heat for 2 minutes (and not a moment more, or it will all start to separate), stirring chocolate mixture constantly. Remove pan from heat.

Add about a third of the egg whites to the chocolate, and gently fold whites and chocolate together with a rubber spatula. Repeat, carefully folding in remaining egg whites. Spoon pudding into small dessert cups, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight.


5 comments:

janeannechovy said...

Great minds think alike. Monday I made chocolate pudding to use up some leftover stuff in the fridge (and I didn't have to go out and buy any missing ingredients!), following a recipe from Cook's Illustrated. It was good, but not so much better than Kozy Shack or that intense stuff from Trader Joe's to justify making it that way every time.

On the docket for this afternoon is Cream Cheese Brownies, again from Cook's, and again to use up ingredients (and this time I *did* have to buy a couple of things that were missing, but both were things I *should* have had on hand and therefore don't really count).

Hevansrich said...

JA - one of my favorite recipes involving chocolate is still one I got from you in NY - the triple chocolate mousse made mainly from whipped cream and three kinds of chocolate! I get compliments on it every time....but the best thing about it is it's not very labor intensive and has only four ingredients! Just my speed...

janeannechovy said...

Credit where credit is due: I got that recipe from Christie Fisher. Yeah, that one's always a big hit.

Swizzies said...

Mmm, love JA's triple chocolate mousse - chocolate and cream, where could you possibly go wrong??

I hate it when Martha and Co specify FINEST quality all the time. Alternately makes me defensive (what else would I buy?!) and rebellious (hah! I have a bag of Hershey's Kisses just for this recipe!).

Hmph.

Luisa Perkins said...

Yummy--can't wait to try this recipe. BTW, you can make the Julia Child recipe without liqueur or espresso; I've done it many times. And I have a fab recipe for Chocolate Souffles with Lava Centers (a la Gramercy Tavern) that was printed in the NY Times Mag many years ago, if you are interested. Okay, heading to the kitchen now....