Wednesday, February 16, 2011

bittersweet chocolate-orange mousse

Chocolate mousse! Doesn't that just scream 1980's dinner party?

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.


Margaret Pinard said...

First of all, I LOVE chocolate and orange as a combination. Perfect 10.
Second of all, I never saw chocolate mousse as a 'throwback.' I think this may be an association thing, that depends on the environemtn you grew up in. TO me, it was a decadent restaurant dessert! Thanks for bringing it home :-)

Lisa said...

I love orange and chocolate too!

I guess I think of chocolate mousse as being of the 80s, whether you ate it in a restaurant or made it at home. Or maybe made the instant Jell-O version of it at home. :)

Julie said...

I made this for a Valentine's Day dessert! It was my husbands favorite dessert as a kid (growing up in the 80s!), and you're right - hard to find these days!

Lisa said...

Julie: I predict it will make a comeback and replace the ever-present pot de creme.

Daniel said...

Whether for hair or dessert, the '80s were all about the mousse.

judy said...

I'm so old. I never thought mousse was a throwback but I guess I felt very stylish when I made it in the 70's, 80's. To me, chocolate pudding is a throwback and I've served that to guests a few times this year. In the 50's, my mom made instant chocolate pudding all the time.

Love the little bowls.

Lisa said...

Daniel: Ha, yes. Very true.

Judy: Exactly--it was a very chic dessert in the 70s and 80s. Although I maintain it is poised for a comeback, much like 50s retro desserts like chocolate pudding. It all comes back around, just like clothes.


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