by Kaitlyn Goalen
photographs by Jillian Clark
When it comes to Valentine’s Day, the last thing I want is the crowded, stressed-out environment of a completely booked restaurant. I much prefer to cook at home, with or for the object of my affection.
While the majority of this year’s meal will likely come down to a game-day decision, I knew months beforehand what I want this year’s dessert to be: chocolate mousse.
This basic dessert has everything going for it in the romance department. For starters, it’s French. What’s more, it features chocolate, the consumption of which on Valentine’s Day is something of an unwritten rule.
And while I don’t expect to find any chocolate that is truly local – the cacao bean needs a tropical climate to flourish – Raleigh does have exceptional bean-to-bar producers within its city limits (for a story about them, see Walter’s August 2013 issue or waltermagazine.com).
Escazu, which launched in 2006, was the first to offer the city a chocolate where producers were involved in the production process from start to finish, giving them complete control over the result. More recently, Videri Chocolate Factory has opened its doors, offering even more transparency into the process of making chocolate at their beautiful glass-encased factory.
For my mousse, I chose Videri’s classic dark bar, because I wanted an intensely rich depth to my dessert. Then I sought out my two mousse ninjas, one close to home and one further afield.
The first is Jody Williams, chef of Buvette, a tiny French boite in New York City’s West Village neighborhood. The mousse on that menu is the Platonic ideal, in my opinion, of what all mousse should be – crazy-dense, but somehow fluffy at the same time; so rich that you must cap it with some fresh whipped cream just to keep going. Furthermore, Williams is a romantic about the process, sweetly but firmly insisting that it comes out best when you whip the egg whites and egg yolks in separate copper bowls, as the French would do. It’s the type of ludicrous (copper bowls? are you kidding me?) but charming detail that adds to the allure of this dessert.
My second reference is in Durham, at Vin Rouge Bistro. Chef Matthew Kelly has had chocolate mousse on the menu since the beginning, and it has become the most frequently ordered dessert by a long shot. He scoffed when I told him about Jody’s copper bowl technique – “that’s ridiculous,” he said – but Kelly has his own romantic ideas about the dessert. For one, his love for mousse is rooted in childhood nostalgia, born of a deep love for mousse’s American step-sister, chocolate pudding. Secondly, he serves the chocolate mousse at Vin Rouge tableside – a waiter comes over with a giant ceramic vessel of the stuff and scoops spoonfuls on to your plate. It’s a retro touch that adds an intimate whimsy to the meal.
I pulled from both recipes in coming to my own. The resulting mousse makes way more than two people would ever need, and it’s a splurge to use Videri, which runs at $8 for two bars, but the luxuriousness of the finished product is as romantic as it gets.
Serves 8 to 10
3 sticks (12 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into cubes
14 ounces Videri dark chocolate (or another high quality dark or bittersweet chocolate), chopped
6 large eggs, separated, plus 3 egg whites
6 teaspoons superfine sugar
Freshly whipped cream, for serving
In a bowl set over a small pot of simmering water, add the butter and the chocolate and stir until melted and combined. Transfer to a large bowl.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks with a pinch of salt until they turn a pale yellow color.
In a second large bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the egg whites and sugar until stiff peaks form.
Whisk a few tablespoons of the warm chocolate mixture into the egg yolk mixture to temper it, then add the egg yolk mixture to the chocolate mixture in small additions, whisking each time to thoroughly incorporate before adding more. **Carefully fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture.**
Transfer the mousse to a large ceramic serving vessel, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight.
Serve by scooping out helpings of the mousse into ramekins and topping each with a dollop of fresh cream. Or, if you’re eating with your loved one, eat the mousse directly from the dish with spoons like it’s a pint of ice cream.
*Note: If your mixture breaks — that is, if the fat from the chocolate separates and the whole thing looks like an oily mess — quickly heat about 1 cup of skim or lowfat milk in a microwave until warm. Then, with an electric mixer running, add the milk in a slow drizzle to the chocolate-egg yolk mixture until it re-emulsifies and becomes smooth again (you may not need to use the whole cup). Then proceed with adding your egg whites.