Like many other delicious yet passe desserts, I don't think chocolate mousse appears on many menus anymore. Which is a shame--it's wonderfully decadent, and downright edgy when you think about what's in it: raw eggs, booze, heavy cream chocolate. Wild stuff, that chocolate mousse.
I have to admit that it's not the kind of thing I normally serve because it does seem like something that someone's dinner party-throwing mother or very stylish aunt "who loves to entertain" would make. But that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with it. The dinner parties of the 70's and 80s's have been on my mind lately after reading a very interesting piece over at Gourmet Live titled "Whatever Happened to the Dinner Party." (Answer: uh, it's right here.)
The writer laments that she doesn't throw the type of carefully planned parties that her mother used to do. In fact, she doesn't entertain at all, or go to dinner parties at other people's homes. She writes, "I don’t think I have ever been invited to a meal at someone’s house where the table was laid with china, tablecloth and flowers, the hosts dressed up, the food prepared, the guest list a balance of new people and old friends." Huh. In the writer's world, people are too busy to cook, clean, set a table, host a group of guests. It's easier to go out for dinner or order in food, even if we don't enjoy it as much as we imagine we will.
There's something romantic about the dinner parties of the past, whether you're thinking about a kitschy 1950s cocktail party or friends gathering around a fondue pot in the '70s. Maybe I'm wrong--clearly, I wasn't there--but there seemed to be a bit more care taken when it came to entertaining. On the positive side, our palates have evolved quite a bit since then. And we, meaning women, don't feel the pressure or burden of entertaining (In heels! And lipstick!) as much. There's a lot more freedom in general, which leads to less formality, which can lead to not bothering with any of it at all.
But I think there can be a happy medium. Why not do things your own way? Use your fanciest vintage tablecloth, or the cheapy one you bought at Ikea. Or don't eat around a table at all! Serve something appropriately seasonal and local, or go for the throwback dishes our mothers served. Like chocolate mousse. There may be fresher, cooler desserts in the world to serve, but there's something about chocolate mousse that evokes warm feelings of celebrations from a different time. It may sound corny, but I like the idea of embracing the entertaining traditions of the past, but doing it on my own terms.Bittersweet chocolate orange mousse
Adapted from Gourmet magazine, via Smitten Kitchen. You can flavor chocolate mousse with lots of different liquors, but I like the classic combination of chocolate and orange. For a modern twist, I added a bit of blood orange zest to the mousse and on top. One note: this recipe, while extremely simple, requires dirtying many bowls and an electric mixer.
(Serves six to eight people)
8 oz. bittersweet chocolate (no more than 60% cacao), chopped
3/4 stick (3 oz.) unsalted butter, cut into 6 pieces
3 large eggs, separated
2 Tbsp. orange liquor (or Cognac, or rum, or Chambord, or liquor of your choice)
2 Tbsp. orange zest, plus 1 Tbsp. extra for garnish
1 cup very cold heavy or whipping cream
1/8 tsp. salt
Sweetened whipped cream
Set a large bowl over a saucepan of barely simmering water and melt the chocolate and butter in it, gently stirring it until smooth. Carefully remove the bowl from the heat and add the zest. (Or you can use your microwave, stirring at 30 seconds and every 15 seconds after until the mixture is smooth.)
In a small bowl, beat the yolks with an electric mixer for about three minutes, until they are thick enough to form a ribbon that takes a few seconds to dissolve. Whisk the yolks into the chocolate along with the liquor, then let the mixture cool to warm.
In another bowl, beat the cream with cleaned beaters until it just holds stiff peaks.
In another bowl, beat the egg whites and salt with cleaned beaters until they just hold soft peaks.
Fold the whipped cream and beaten whites into the chocolate mixture, gently but thoroughly. Be sure to scrape the bottom of the bowl to make sure you're not missing anything. Spoon the mixture into individual cups, ramekins, or glasses. Top with the extra whipped cream and garnish with orange zest. Refrigerate for at least three hours.