Mention the words ‘chocolate’ and ‘mousse’ and three distinct childhood memories immediately spring to my mind.
First up is that of eating little plastic pots of the stuff after the occasional mid-week meal. Nowadays I’m pretty scornful of these foamy excuses for mousses (think ingredients including reduced fat cocoa, skimmed milk, gelatine and some sort of starch), but then they were something of a childhood treat and certainly a step up from Petit Filous in the excitement stakes (chocolate; not yoghurt!). I can clearly remember the satisfying ritual of peeling back and licking the lid, scraping out each mouthful with a tiny teaspoon and trying to make my mousse last longer than my brother’s without him trying to steal any as I ate.
Second is the chocolate mousse they used to serve at our favourite local Italian. An old school family-run restaurant situated in what felt like the ground floor of a London townhouse – our usual table affording us children a sneaky peek into their bustling shoebox of a kitchen – this is a place where my (far less adventurous than now) littler loaf menu choice was almost always the same.
To start, I’d eat mozzarella in carozza – literal meaning: ‘in a carriage’ – crunchy deep-fried crumbs surrounding melting mozzarella cheese and served alongside a silver gravy boat of spicy tomato sauce. My main course was always a plate of homemade pasta with butter and parmesan (the fussy child’s option and a staple of my childhood holidays in Italy between the ages of about five and fifteen), accompanied by a salad or plate of mixed grilled vegetables. For pudding, I’d never think to order anything but that incredible chocolate mousse, light with bubbles and rich with butter, served in a deep white dish that seemed to be all but bottomless.
My third, and favourite, memory, is that of my Mum’s chocolate mousse. Infinitely superior to those shop-bought pots and perhaps a little less indulgent than that buttery restaurant version, I remember her recipe involving double boilers, plenty of patience, a lot of whisking and a shot of coffee. Served in little white ramekins with a blob of cream on top (or shaving foam from a can when I was a certain age and insisted that squirty cream was the absolute height of edible sophistication), this delicious mousse was made only on rare occasions and enjoyed all the more because of it.
The recipe I’m sharing today isn’t anything wildly new. It’s not a vegan version made from tofu or avocado (silken tofu I’ve tried, it’s nice but I’m still not convinced that I’d call it a mousse), coconut milk whipped into amazing moussy heaven or a miracle mixture of just water and chocolate. It is, however, one of my favourite fall-back recipes, inspired by my Mum, made with ingredients I almost always have on hand and reminiscent of happy childhood days.
Like these chocolate frangipane tarts, this recipe is also intended as a springboard from which to try other flavour variations. Omit the coffee and use the same volume of water for a straight-up chocolate mousse, stir in bourbon or rum for an alcoholic kick, add Aperol, orange zest or other fruity flavours and scatter with anything from toasted nuts to dried fruits, chocolate chips, chilli, cardamom and more.
Share this recipe with friends and family, enjoy it in its simplicity and hopefully you’ll be making moussy memories for generations to come.
Chocolate Espresso Mousse Pots* (adapted from a Delia Smith recipe)
(makes 8 – 10 little pots)
265g good quality dark chocolate, chopped
100ml strong brewed coffee topped up with 50ml cold water
4 large free range eggs, separated
50g golden caster sugar
Whipped cream, cocoa nibs, toasted nuts etc to serve
Place the chopped chocolate in a heatproof bowl with the warm coffee and water mixture. Place over a pan of barely simmering water and melt slowly. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool for 2 – 3 minutes.
Beat the egg yolks into the melted chocolate then set aside. In a clean, dry bowl, whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Adding a little sugar at a time and the pinch of salt, continue to whisk until glossy, stiff peaks form.
Using a large metal spoon, gently fold about one quarter of the egg whites into the melted chocolate mixture to loosen it. Tip in the remaining whipped egg whites and gently fold until combined. The more careful you are, the more air will remain in the mixture and the lighter your mousse will be.
Divide the mousse between eight little espresso cups or whatever pots/ramekins you are using. Pop in the fridge, covered with cling film, and allow to chill for at least two hours before serving.
When ready to serve, remove from the fridge, top with a little whipped cream and sprinkle with cocoa nibs or toasted nuts.
*please note, this recipe contains raw eggs