Light and simple, but chocolatey and absolutely delicious, chocolate mousse is the perfect representative of the French cuisine. This easy-to-make dessert has become iconic precisely because of its simplicity. Unlike complicated delights that come and go, this elegant dessert withstands the test of time, offering the best, airy texture and unmatched, rich taste.
Mousse is a dessert that incorporates air bubbles. Depending on the ingredients and method of preparation, it can be light and fluffy, or dense and creamy. Basic chocolate mousse recipes consist of chocolate, sugar, and egg whites, usually in combination with other flavorings and add-ins.
The Invention of Chocolate Mousse
Mousse first appeared in 1894 as a savory dish that was made with pureed meat or fish and vegetables. Savory mousses are still cooked today, either in a mold similar to terrine or as a semi-liquid dish, often served as a dip.
Mousse au chocolat, which translates as ‘foamy chocolate’, owes its existence partly to French chefs and partly to an internationally recognized painter.
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Chocolate became a part of French cuisine soon after it was brought to Europe by Spanish conquistadors from the new continent. French chefs immediately started creating wonders with this new ingredient. Formerly known as ‘mayonnaise de chocolat’, this divine dessert obtained its final form at the beginning of the 18th century, when the famous artist Henry Toulouse-Lautrec decided to mix chocolate into an airy, creamy base.
At first, this delight was only found in French restaurants and it took quite a long time until it entered people’s homes. The first written record of chocolate mousse in the US dates from the late 1800s, from a Food exposition in New York City. A few years later, the Boston Daily Globe published one a chocolate mousse in their housekeeping column, but it became widely popular in the 1960s.
Chocolate mousse as we know it nowadays came to be with the introduction of the method of separating egg whites from the egg yolks. Its signature feature, airiness, was easier to achieve after the invention of electric mixers.
The Perfect Ingredients for a Perfect Chocolate Mousse
As mentioned before, there are three ingredients in the base of every chocolate mousse recipe – chocolate, eggs/cream, and sugar.
Let’s take a look at them one by one.
Your chocolate mousse is as good as the chocolate you are using. That is why you need to pay special attention to this ingredient.
Baking chocolate or milk chocolate? Dark or white? Bittersweet or semisweet? Bars or blocks? Chips or nibs? How about cocoa powder? So many choices to make!
With chocolate mousse, it’s not so much about the shape and size in which your chocolate comes. Even the largest block of chocolate can be broken into chunks or shaved off with a serrated knife. These chunks and savings can be further decreased with the use of a food processor, then melted in the microwave.
Still, chocolate wafers have proven to be most convenient for recipes that call for melted chocolate. By using chocolate in smaller sizes, you can skip the chopping, shaving, and pulsing, and proceed directly to melting. These small chocolate discs have one more upside – unlike chocolate chips, they don’t contain stabilizers which compromise the chocolatey flavor and alter the texture.
The taste of your chocolate mousse largely depends on the percentage of cocoa the chocolate contains.
Chocolate for cooking should have a big percentage of cocoa because the cooking process will dilute the flavor. That is why the best choice for chocolate mousse recipes is dark chocolate with 75% or more cocoa. Its bitter taste will be perfectly balanced by the whipped egg whites or cream, but the complex cocoa flavors will be the real star of the dish.
Now, should your dark chocolate be sweetened or unsweetened?
Unsweetened chocolate has a crumblier texture and because of that, it should always be combined with cream or butter that contribute richness and smoothness. In addition, the use of sweetener is recommended in order to avoid a bitter final product.
Bittersweet (with about 70% cocoa) or semisweet chocolate (with about 60% cocoa) are probably better than unsweetened chocolate because the amount of sweetener (read: sugar) in the recipe will not be as high. Chances are you won’t be able to tell the difference between these two types of chocolate when used in a dessert, so feel free to choose any of them for your mousse.
What about white chocolate? Well, white chocolate is not actually chocolate at all. It contains no cocoa, only cocoa butter and sugar. It is also quite sweet in taste, so you will often see it used along with a pinch of salt to ‘tame’ this sweetness a bit. It also pairs well with nuts, so consider them as a garnish for your chocolate mousse.
Cocoa powder is an excellent choice because it produces the quickest chocolate mousses. All you need to do is combine cream, cocoa powder, and powdered sugar in a jar and shake for two minutes!
Here are the exact ingredients’ measures:
½ cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
3 teaspoons powdered sugar
The powder you use should be unsweetened. Whenever possible opt for ‘natural’ cocoa powder instead of ‘Dutch process.’ The latter is treated with alkaline to reduce the acidity, which makes it react with the other ingredients in the recipe differently than the natural alternative.
The bottom line is: dark chocolate and unsweetened cocoa powder are your best choices for chocolate mousse recipes, not only because of the abovementioned reasons, but also because of their nutritive value. They are high in soluble dietary fiber, essential minerals, ‘good’ fats, as well as antioxidants. This nutritional profile makes dark chocolate and unsweetened cocoa very efficient in protecting you against various diseases like cancer and heart disease, but they also play an important role in improving brain functions and boosting energy levels.
Egg Whites or Heavy Cream
While chocolate is responsible for the incredible taste, egg whites and heavy cream are the ingredients that take credit for the fluffy texture.
In terms of healthiness, eggs are a better option than whipped cream because they are a natural, protein-packed alternative. Especially if they are organic, obtained from a local farm.
When whipping egg whites or heavy cream, tiny air bubbles are created. With egg whites, these bubbles are made of protein, whereas with heavy cream, they are composed of fat.
In both cases, you can whip them by hand using a big balloon whisk or an electric mixer.
For best results, choose eggs that are not too fresh. Let them reach room temperature before you start whipping. This will allow the proteins to stretch but not break.
As opposed to eggs, heavy cream gives the best results when it is fresh and as cold as possible. If the cream warms up, the bubbles will melt, producing a deflated mass.
In both cases, adding a dash of cream of tartar will help stabilize the mixture and form perfect firm peaks. Firm peaks remain stiff when turning a scoop filled with cream upside down. When stiff peaks are achieved, beating should stop immediately; otherwise, the mousse will become grainy! As for the bowl used for whisking, opt for stainless steel.
So, to sum up, egg whites yield an airier mousse, whereas heavy cream gives a smoother and richer dessert.
The last basic ingredient in a chocolate mousse is sugar. However, you might want to substitute white refined sugar in order to get a healthier dessert. In that case, bear in mind that the final product may differ in both taste and texture from the original. Still, these differences are not too big, as opposed to the health benefits, which are significant. Opt for natural instead if artificial sweeteners; raw honey, pure maple syrup, and stevia are the best sugar substitutes.
Here is how to substitute sugar.
– Honey and maple syrup are sweeter than sugar, so use a smaller amount, i.e. 1/2 – 3/4 cup honey/maple syrup for each cup of sugar, depending on how sweet you want your mousse to be.
– Stevia comes in powdered and liquid form. One teaspoon of stevia replaces a whole cup of sugar.
Strategies for a Perfect Chocolate Mousse
Once you have selected the best ingredients for your easy chocolate mousse recipe, all you need are a few tips and tricks to perfect it.
Melting the chocolate
There are a few different methods to melt chocolate.
– Bring part of the heavy cream to a boil, then pour it over the chocolate. For this method, your chocolate must be chopped into very small chunks. Let the chocolate sit for a minute or so before whisking to avoid the formation of lumps. In case lumps do form, place the bowl over a pot of simmering water and stir until the mixture is smooth.
– Break the chocolate into chunks and melt over a pan of simmering water. Alternatively, you can melt the chocolate in the microwave oven. Set the microwave to 30 seconds and stir. If the chocolate is not fully melted, set the microwave to additional 15 seconds. Repeat, as many times as necessary, until melted.
Add Egg Yolk
Once the chocolate is melted, it is a good time to whisk in an egg yolk for extra richness. Be thorough when whisking.
Whisking the Cream
Whisk the egg whites or heavy cream with a pinch of cream of tartar. This magical ingredient acts as a stabilizer, boosts the volume, and helps the mixture form perfect peaks. In addition, it prevents the formation of lumps and sugar crystals. Use an electric mixer on high speed for about half a minute, or until foamy and voluminous. Add the sugar (or another sweetener of choice) at this point, without stopping the mixer, just reduce the speed. Once you’ve added the whole sweetener, whisk on high speed for about 45 seconds, until you obtain firm peaks.
Folding the Chocolate into the Creamy Base
The melted chocolate should be allowed to cool a bit before folding it in the egg whites or cream. It should be warm, not hot, nor cold. If it is hot, the melted chocolate will ‘cook’ the creamy base and deflate it. If it is cold, the chocolate will form chunks.
Don’t stir. The word to use here is ‘fold’. Stirring is usually done with a spoon and is more vigorous so, it can cause the mixture to deflate. Mousse is very delicate, so it is best to use a whisk or a flexible rubber spatula to perform the folding.
Start by adding about 1/3 of the cream to the chocolate mixture and begin to fold. You don’t need to be too gentle at this stage since all the chocolate has to be mixed with the cream. Once the first batch of cream has been combined with the chocolate, add the rest of the cream and gently fold them together. Bear in mind that the longer you mix, the more your mousse will deflate, so be fast and as gentle as possible. Be careful not to overmix, stop then the mixtures are evenly combined. Leaving streaks of both cream and chocolate is ok.
Serving and Storage
Use a spoon to fill glasses or ramekins, then, for better presentation, smooth the top with a knife. Place the mousse in the fridge to set for 45 minutes to an hour.
It can be stored for up to two days in the fridge, but it will become denser and lose some of the volume.
Chocolate Mousse Flavorings and Garnishes.
Chocolate mousse recipes can be taken to an even higher level with the introduction of numerous flavorings such as vanilla, caramel, coffee, orange, booze like bourbon, rum, brandy, liqueur, or spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, or clove.
Even though this chocolatey dessert is utterly delicious even in its most basic form, there is no harm in using simple garnishes to make it even better! Chocolate in the form of flakes, chips, sticks, or cocoa powder, whipped cream, strawberries, raspberries, nuts, and sometimes mint leaves are most commonly used chocolate mousse toppings.