Yesterday I attended (and helped judge) a Mini-Burger Challenge with our local foodie group. In addition to the burger challenge there was also a pie-off (determined by popular vote only), and I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring.
Each pie was supposed to be cut into 16 slices but I knew that was a disaster in the making for my pie plans: chocolate mousse would end up so incredibly messy once it was transported and cut. Instead, I decided to make mine into mini-pies, aka tartlets, and save everyone the trouble.
Thanks to the JC100 campaign going on through August to celebrate what would have been Julia Child’s 100th birthday on August 15th, I had to go only as far as my inbox to find the perfect chocolate mousse recipe. (This was actually the recipe for 2 weeks ago, but work on my own book has kept me too busy to participate for the first few weeks.) Combined with a tender cream cheese crust borrowed from a pecan tassie recipe I’ve made many times, I hoped to wow my constituents on Sunday afternoon.
Presentation counts for a lot–we eat with our eyes, remember–and while I”m all for the wonders of simple food, simply prepared, this particular occasion called for a little extra touch. When I went to pick up the chocolate (at the local Cost Plus World Market) I happened across a tin of roller wafer cookies filled with orange-flavored chocolate. It was kismet! Julia’s mousse is flavored with both strong coffee and orange liqueur, so these cookies would make a fitting garnish. The only thing was that they were the same color as the mouse, and I was looking for a little contrast. Dipping one in end in candy coating and sprinkling with a bit of freshly grated orange zest gave me just the look I was after.
Sadly, I didn’t even place in the pie-off (we had 6 entries and there were medals for the top 3). Oh, well, the fact that 2/3 of them were gone when we left still tells me people enjoyed them, and that’s all that really matters.
But don’t let that stop you from giving this a try, yourself. They are phenomenal!
Cream Cheese Crust
7 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
3 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup all-purpose flour
Combine the butter and cream cheese and stir until evening mixed before adding in the flour and working into a soft dough. A spoon is just going to make a mess once the flour is in there, so use your hands and gently combine everything. Don’t over-knead, though, as this can toughen the dough.
Scoop or shape the dough into 1-inch balls and chill until firm (half an hour or so).
Preheat your oven to 350º F and grease 2 mini-muffin pans or 24 tartlet molds.
Press the chilled dough balls into the molds, making as even a layer as crust as possible.
Blind-bake the crusts for 12 minutes, turning halfway through, and let cool for 5 minutes or so in the pans. Unmold (use a toothpick to help lift them out of their wells) and let cool completely on racks.
Makes about 2 dozen tarlets.
Julia’s Chocolate Mousse aka Mousseline Au Chocolat
(from Mastering the art of French Cooking, Volume 1)
4 eggs, separated
3/4 cup superfine sugar
1/4 cup orange liqueur
6 oz semi-sweet baking chocolate, broken up or chopped
1/4 cup strong coffee
6 oz unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup finely diced candied orange peel (optional)
pinch of salt
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
From Julia’s description:
Among all the recipes for chocolate mousse this is one of the best, we think; it uses egg yolks, sugar, and butter, and instead of cream, beaten egg whites. . . [It] may be unmolded after chilling, or served in a bowl, or in dessert cups, or in little covered pots. (Note: When served in pots, this dessert is sometimes erroneously called pots de crème au chocolat. French dessert crèmes are custards [this mousse is not].
Making the Mousse:
Separate your eggs into yolks and whites, the yolks into a bowl large enough to hold the final mixture and allow for folding in of the egg whites, the whites into the bowl of a stand mixer (if you have one). Set the whites aside, for now.
Start a pot of water (an inch or so) on the stove so that it’s just below simmering and prepare an ice bath in a pot big enough to accommodate your yolk bowl. Sprinkling a little salt on your ice cubes before adding the water will keep them from melting quite so quickly.
To the yolks add the superfine sugar (granulated sugar pulsed in your food processor is a decent substitute if you can’t locate superfine–it’s not the same as powdered sugar, not that fine) and whisk together until the “mixture is thick, pale yellow, and falls back upon itself forming a slowly dissolving ribbon.” Whisk in the liqueur. (I used Cointreau, Grand Marnier would also be a good option. If you come near this recipe with Triple Sec I will disown you.)
Whisk the yolk mixture over hot water for 3-4 minutes until “foamy and too hot for your finger.” This gently ‘cooks’ the egg yolks to a safe temperature and the constant whipping keeps it from scrambling and causing lumps in your mousse. Move your yolk bowl to the ice bath and continue to whisk until it’s cool, thick, and doing the ribbon thing again. Set aside.
I broke a whisk right about here, so choose a sturdy one to start with.
Combine the chocolate and coffee in a bowl and melt over that hot water bath the yolks just vacated until nice and smooth. Remove from the heat and beat in the butter a bit at a time until nice and smooth, then add the chocolate mixture into the yolk mixture and beat until totally incorporated–no streaks. Now is when you would add the candied peel, if you’re going that way (I did not, I wanted the smooth mousse, not bits of peel laying in wait, but that’s me.)
Beat the egg whites and salt until soft peaks form, sprinkle in the sugar and continue to beat until stiff peaks form and hold when you raise the whip. Doing this by hand is possible, but a pain (though a great arm workout); use a mixer for this step if no other and save yourself.
Stir 1/4 of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, get it nice and uniform, and then oh-so-gently fold in the rest of the whites until it’s all a nice, even, color and consistency. The first quarter of the whites are like a sacrifice, they lose a lot of their loft in loosening up the chocolate and yolks, the remaining whites are what give this mousse a light, airy texture and you want to be gentle getting them incorporated or you’ll stir all the air out of them and have wasted your time. It’ll still taste okay, but the texture won’t be right.
Makes about 5 cups.
Spoon (I used the mini-ladle from my gravy boat) the mousse into the waiting pie shells and chill until set. 2 hours minimum, overnight is better. What doesn’t fit into the shells can go into ramekins or coffee mugs or whatever. I made a double batch of the mousse and it was WAY more than enough for the triple batch of crusts I made plus 6 ramekins and one small casserole dish. Seriously, I could have made a single batch and still had extra, but where’s the fun in that?
In case you couldn’t tell, I have paraphrased the hell out of the source material, though I like to think she would have understood my vehemence against the Triple Sec, seeing as how she was a devotee to butter and cream and all things delicious.
Excerpted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child. Copyright © 1961 by Alfred A. Knopf. Reprinted with permission from the publisher Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.