Chocolate mousse and panna cotta layered in flex mold and turned out, sprinkled with coconut macaroon. The same dessert layered in a martini glass topped with a thin dusting of cocoa powder
This recipe for chocolate mousse came from Bittersweet by Alice Medrich. I'm sure that is familiar to you by now if you've read the past few posts. Yes, this is my go to book for anything chocolate related, not my only chocolate book, but so far my favorite and most reliable. There are a lot of different ways to make chocolate mousse, using different ingredients to give you different textures and characteristics, which is why you will see so many different recipes. The classic will use eggs that are separated, and the yolk is added to melted chocolate and butter, the whites are whipped to a soft peak and folded in along with some whipped cream. It produces a great mousse. I chose this recipe though because it leaves the cream out (with the intention of garnishing with it instead) which concentrates the chocolate flavor and makes for a more intensely flavored mousse. That in turn pairs well with the creamy panna cotta I have layered with it. Without the addition of cream this also makes it dairy free.
Chocolate mousse served simply with some slightly sweetened whipped cream
Chocolate Mousse ("Albert's Chocolate Mousse" from Bittersweet by Alice Medrich)
Serves about 6-8
You can cut this recipe in half if you choose to use this in conjunction with the panna cotta for a layered dessert for 6 (depending on the size of each portion)
6 oz bittersweet chocolate*
1/4 cup water, coffee, milk or 1/2 cup cream- I used coffee
1 1/2 TBS brandy or other liquor of choice (optional)
3 large eggs at room temperature
3 TBS of water
3 TBS of sugar
Melt the chocolate and water (or other liquid) in a heat proof bowl over a pan of simmering hot water. Stir frequently so it melts evenly and quickly, taking the bowl off after the chocolate has completely melted making sure the mixture doesn't get too hot. (Keep the water hot in the pan- you will be using it again for the eggs) After it is off the heat stir in the brandy, if using.
In another medium heat proof bowl whisk together the eggs, the 3 TBS water and sugar. Place this over the pan of hot water and keep the water at a low simmer while you whisk the eggs.
whipping the eggs over a pan of hot water after the eggs are cooked, whip to cool
It's important to make sure you are whisking all of the mixture the whole time- if the eggs are sitting still in the bowl they will scramble. Keep whisking until the mixture reaches 160 degrees F. Once they are hot enough, take the bowl off the heat and continue to whisk for a few more minutes until the mixture cools slightly (the mixture will also thicken slightly).
Fold the egg mixture into the chocolate (which should still be fairly warm and fluid). Pour into serving container.
You can portion this out into individual glasses or if you want pour into one bowl and let it set up and then scoop into individual glasses. At this point you could also layer into a glass, leaving room for the panna cotta and let it set up in the refrigerator. If you have any silicone molds (they seem to be selling these everywhere these days) you can pour the mousse into the molds and fill it up all the way, or as one of my pictures shows, leave room for the panna cotta. To get the mousse out you want to freeze it solid, then it is easy to pop them out and just make sure you let them completely thaw before serving.
If serving the mousse on it's own I highly suggest garnishing with some lightly sweetened whipped cream.
Panna cotta served in a dish with some cream and chocolate shavings and panna cotta unmolded topped with coconut macaroon pieces.
This recipe for panna cotta was a bit of a revelation for me. Most panna cotta recipes are usually a combination of milk and cream the some sugar, flavoring and gelatin to hold it together. It is good, but doesn't have much body to it. I saw a slightly unusual recipe for panna cotta in The Sweet Life by Kate Zuckerman that thickened the milk and cream by cooking it with egg white before adding the gelatin. It uses the same method used to make creme anglaise, and then is set with gelatin. The result gave the custard more body and made it addictively good. With that said, this could easily be served on it's own, but is also great layered with the mousse. Panna Cotta can be made using all sorts of dairy, like buttermilk, yogurt, or all milk or other non dairy liquids. The addition of some cream or full fat dairy does give it a certain needed richness. Panna cotta can be infused with all sorts of flavors. Feel free to play around with the flavors. I love to use cocoa nibs (I know this is becoming a very repetitive ingredient lately, but it is "chocolate week"!) infused into the cream/milk because it gives it a great subtle chocolate flavor. Make sure to remeasure the liquid before using it in the recipe as some items can absorb a lot of liquid while infusing.
Panna Cotta (from The Sweet Life by Kate Zuckerman)
This can be cut in half if layering it with the chocolate mousse
1 1/4 tsp unflavored gelatin
1 tsp vanilla (or 1 vanilla bean)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
4 egg whites
I used 1/4 cup of crushed cocoa nibs and added them to the warm milk and cream and let them sit for two hours to infuse before using. You would do the same if you were using the vanilla bean, scrape out the seeds and put both the seeds and outside of the bean into the custard and let infuse for at least 1/2 an hour before using.
In a small bowl sprinkle the gelatin over 5 tsp of water and let it sit for 5-10 minutes, if the gelatin doesn't dissolve in the water give it a quick stir. The gelatin will absorb all the water as it sits. Heat the cream and milk,with half of the sugar and add the vanilla bean if using, or if you are using cocoa nibs add them now. Let the milk and cream sit covered off the heat for 30 minutes to 2 hours (some ingredients will take longer to infuse into the custard).
To make the custard: put the egg whites, other half of the sugar and salt into a bowl and whisk to combine. Uncover the pan, heat the cream and milk back up and slowly stream it into the egg white mixture, whisking the whole time. Return this mixture back to the heat and make sure the heat is on a medium low. Using a rubber spatula stir the whole time and cook until the mixture reaches 180 F or coats the back of the spoon. If using a thermometer make sure to temporarily take the pan off the stove while getting the reading (so your custard doesn't overcook).
adding hot milk to egg and sugar mix, then pouring back into the pan, returning to the heat to cook until thick
You want to make sure while stirring the custard you are scraping the entire bottom of the pan. If any of the custard sits too long, it will scramble the whites. Also if the the custard gets too hot it can scramble the whites, at which point you want to start over! After the custard is done, add 1/4 of the custard to the gelatin, stir making sure it is completely dissolved, add it back to the pan, then strain the whole mixture, with a fine mesh strainer,into a clean bowl. Chill the custard until it feels neutral to the touch (touch the center of the bottom of the bowl). If you were to take a temperature it should be about 75-80 degrees F. At this point you can pour it into serving dishes, or layer it with the mousse, or put it into a flex mold or a metal mold. If using a flex mold, to unmold you want to freeze it solid, pop it out and let it thaw out before serving. If using a metal mold (like a muffin pan)you can briefly dip the bottom in warm water briefly and invert on to a plate, and the custard will slide out. Alternatively you can use a small glass or cup and turn it out using the same method. You can keep the custard in the refrigerator for up to 3-4 days before serving.
This is wonderful garnished with fresh fruit, and or any small crunchy cookie which provides a wonderful textural contrast.