Chocolate is one of my favourite ingredients to bake with. Whether it’s chunked and studded through cookies, stirred into the smoothest mousse, melted over ice cream or baked into a dense, fudgy cake, chocolate is an ingredient reliable enough to be called on for comfort, yet versatile enough to always be exciting.
While chocolate and cocoa regularly make an appearance in my shopping basket, it’s rare that I’ll buy a bar to simply eat on its own. It’s not that I don’t like it, but I really enjoy experimenting in the kitchen and combining chocolate with other ingredients, making it into more of a meal or occasion than a snack straight from the packet. However there are two major exceptions to this rule when I (and a pretty a large percentage of the UK population) can’t seem to help but over indulge: Christmas and Easter.
This Easter just gone, Carnivorous Boyfriend and I spent the long weekend with his family in Yorkshire. On the way up, we stopped off at my parents’ house to say hello and to pick up a bag of chocolate based treats. I can’t remember an Easter when I haven’t received some sort of amazing chocolate from my Mum and Dad. When we were little it was all about Easter egg hunts in the garden, but as we got older, and didn’t always spend Easter at home, my Mum would still find ingenious ways to indulge in this seasonal sillyness. I can remember her packing eggs in and amongst the clothes in my brother’s suitcase before he went away one weekend, and, on one particularly memorable occasion, into my beach bag when we were on holiday in a hot country. Of course I didn’t know she’d done this until I discovered a sarong sticky with melted chocolate later that afternoon, but I can’t complain: it takes a lot of love to transport Easter eggs half way around the world like that.
In the seven years I’ve been with Carnivorous Boyfriend, I’ve discovered that his Mum is also a fiend for Easter eggs, but in a slightly different way. Like mine, she loves the excuse to spoil her nearest and dearest with chocolate at Easter, but rather than hiding it in unexpected places, her party trick is to eat and replace it several times over. She’ll readily admit to having eaten the back half of each of her three children’s Easter eggs on several occasions, leaving the rounded front of the egg on display in the box so nothing looks amiss, and apparently one year she bought and replaced their presents three or four times in as many weeks. In other words, she likes her Easter chocolate.
Having heard these stories, and knowing full well that chocolate would be consumed in copious quantities that weekend, my parents had gone all out at Hotel Chocolat, buying us an incredible giant egg filled with chocolate truffles as well as various little boxes of exciting Easter goodies. One of these was an unassming little packet of Choc Cross Buns, six mini milk chocolate cups filled with spiced vanilla mousse which tasted divine. Suffice to say they didn’t survive further than the M25 part of our journey, but while they only lasted a few minutes in our mouths, I couldn’t get the thought of making a lovely light, spiced mousse out of my head.
This Friday just gone we went round to my parents for dinner, and, as usual, I’d offered to bring something sweet. Having waxed lyrical about the Choc Cross Buns, but with none left for them to try, I decided to use them as inspiration for an altogether more deluxe dessert. The result is this spiced chocolate orange mousse cake, loosely inspired by both these chocolates and Easter spice in general. At first I considered incorporating mixed peel into the base, but decided I didn’t really want coarsely chopped fruit interrupting the smoothness of my dense, dark chocolate mousse cake. Instead it’s flavoured with orange and a hint of cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla, then topped off with a light white chocolate and ginger mousse. Where the bottom layer is dark and fudgy, the top is soft and sweet, sprinkled with a few bittersweet cocoa nibs for added contrast of texture.
For some it might seem a bit too soon to be eating chocolate after the Easter overload. For everyone else – Easter egg stealing Mums included – I hope this recipe will fulfil all your wildest chocolate dreams. It did mine.
Spiced Chocolate Orange Mousse Cake
For the dark chocolate orange layer (adapted from this recipe)
200g dark chocolate*
160g golden caster sugar
100g unsalted butter
1tbsp ground almonds
3 medium free range eggs
1/2 – 1 tsp orange essence, to taste*
1/2 – 1 tsp cinnamon, to taste*
Grated nutmeg, to taste*
*The inspiration for these flavours comes from Green & Blacks Maya Gold chocolate bar, so you could also substitute this for the dark chocolate, and omit the starred ingredients.
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C. Grease and line an 18cm round spring form cake tin with baking parchment.
Melt the chocolate, sugar and butter in a bain marie over a low heat, add the pinch of salt and set aside to cool slightly. Whisk together the ground almonds and eggs.
Stir the orange essence and spice (if using) into the cooled chocolate mixture, then fold in the egg mixture. It will all thicken slightly.
Pour into the prepared cake tin and bake for 20 minutes, checking after about 18 depending on the heat of your oven. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely in the tin. Don’t worry that it doesn’t rise very much – the cake should be dense and thin.
For the spiced white chocolate mousse layer (adapted from the Green & Blacks Chocolate Recipes)
200g good quality white chocolate, chopped
2 leaves gelatine
300ml double cream
3 large egg yolks
100g icing sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
Cocoa nibs, to serve
Melt the white chocolate in a bain marie over a low heat. Warm 4 tablespoons of the double cream gently in a small saucepan and dissolve the gelatine in this.
Whisk together the egg yolks, icing sugar and ginger until thick and creamy, then add the gelatine mixture, white chocolate and milk, stirring to combine.
Whip the remaining double cream then fold into your chocolate mixture. Pour this white chocolate mousse over the cooled dark chocolate cake and put in the fridge to set, preferably overnight.
When ready to serve, release the tin and carefully peel back the lining paper. If the edges look a little ragged, use a palette knife dipped in boiling water to smooth. Sprinkle with cocoa nibs and serve.