Creamy, Decadent Chocolate Mousse

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I guess I should have posted this yesterday, when it was National Chocolate Mousse Day. Who comes up with these days? And should we really care? I get Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Grandparents’ Day – I am all for showing appreciation to the special people in our lives. But does chocolate mousse really care if it has a day? And there isn’t a chocolate mousse council that needs to make sure people know about chocolate mousse so they can get their daily serving. Hmmm, I’d serve on that council if there were one. Heck, I’d serve on the dairy council. I like cream, butter and cheese.

I have been planning to blog about chocolate mousse since we had it a few weeks ago, to use up our cream supply. I had the post all ready to go and I wasn’t going to delay posting it just to avoid going along with the crowd on Chocolate Mousse Day.

I have always wanted to make chocolate mousse, but I never got around to it, until Rich suggested it as one way to use up some of our lovely cream surplus. Lots of recipes called for a ton of butter and others called for just chocolate and cream. I am all for a pure chocolate flavor, but I wanted something a little different than what is basically whipped chocolate ganache.

I found a recipe at Joy of Baking that was just what I was looking for: a nice balance of chocolate, butter, sugar and cream. It did call for eggs, which were not cooked, but I used pasteurized eggs to eliminate any possibility of salmonella. The recipe went together in no time, with just a bit of whipping and melting.

It was hard to wait for the mousse to chill, but it really made a difference in both the texture and flavor. The little (let’s get real: big) tastes we took were wonderfully creamy and rich, but the mousse was so much better after chilling for a few hours – creamy but still light and airy, with just the right amount of sweetness balanced with deep, dark chocolate. What more can you ask of a chocolate mousse?

Note: I am not posting the recipe here because I didn’t change it at all. I know some people post unchanged recipes, giving credit, but I am just not comfortable with that unless I have permission from the original authors.

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Chocolate Almond Custard

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Rich and Calvin requested a chocolate version of custard when I was testing batches of vanilla custard a few weeks ago. I was perfectly happy with the simple flavors of the vanilla recipe, but they wanted something with more complexity.

I started with the vanilla recipe as a stepping off point. I wanted to add chocolate, but I wasn’t sure what textural issues I would have if I used melted chocolate. When I adapted my vanilla ice cream recipe to make it chocolate, I used cocoa powder with great success. I figured custard wasn’t that different from ice cream, so I decided to go with cocoa powder. Then it was a simple matter of replacing some of the vanilla extract with almond and I had chocolate almond custard.

I wasn’t sure if the cocoa would affect the texture of the custard once it was baked. I was pleased that it didn’t – the custard was still creamy and velvety. It was sweet, without being too sweet, and rich with dark chocolate and almond. I opted not to sprinkle any spices on top to avoid adding any flavors that might compete with the chocolate and almond.

I seem to be on a roll lately, giving you recipes for desserts and then offering you a chocolate version later. I guess there’s nothing wrong with bringing a few more chocolate desserts to the world.

Download or print the recipe here.

Chocolate Almond Custard
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 4-6 servings

Use any kind of milk you have on hand – the richer the milk, the richer the custard. This is not a sweet dessert. You can increase the sugar to ½ cup if you like, with no other changes to the recipe. Or sprinkle sugar on top when serving for added sweetness and crunch.

2 cups milk
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
dash salt
⅓ cup sugar
¼ cup cocoa
sugar, for serving (optional)

Equipment:
Custard cups or ramekins
9 by 13 inch baking pan, or equivalent
boiling water for a water bath

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot or teakettle of water to a boil and keep hot. Lightly grease 4-6 custard cups or small ramekins. I used 6 ounce custard cups and needed five of them. Place ramekins in a 9 by 13 inch baking pan or other pan large enough to hold them without crowding. Set aside, preferably near the oven.

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Heat milk in a 2-3 quart saucepan over medium heat until very hot. The milk will be steaming and there will be bubbles all around the edges when it is hot enough. Don’t let it boil. Stir occasionally at the beginning and more often as it gets hotter. It should take 5-7 minutes to get hot enough, depending on your stove and the size of your pan. The larger the pan, the faster the milk will heat (and the closer you need to watch it).

While milk heats, beat or whisk eggs, extracts and salt together in a large bowl. In a small bowl, stir cocoa and sugar together well mixed. Add cocoa mixture to egg mixture and beat until sugar is no longer gritty.

When milk is hot, beat it gradually into the egg mixture. Add the hot milk very slowly so you don’t scramble the eggs. When all the milk is mixed in, pour the custard into the prepared ramekins, filling them almost full.

Pour boiling water into the larger pan, trying to get the water to the same level as the custard in the cups. Carefully transfer the filled pan to the oven.

Bake custard 25-30 minutes, or until the centers barely jiggle when you move the pan. Remove the pan from the oven. Remove ramekins from the hot water and place on a rack to cool. When cool, cover and refrigerate. Let custards come to room temperature for a few minutes before serving. Store leftovers in the fridge for two or three days, covered.

Vanilla Custard

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Custard is one of those desserts that I forget about. It is sublime in its simplicity – milk, eggs, sugar and vanilla. We didn’t have custard that often when I was growing up, but I always loved it. My mom and grandma made custard pretty much the same way – not too sweet, not too rich and always topped with ground nutmeg before they baked it. That is what custard is to me – plain, simple and delicious.

I decided to try making custard last week during our Colorado vacation. It was a rainy afternoon and we had all the ingredients on hand. I didn’t have my recipe with me, so I trolled the internet until I looked at enough recipes to decide on a ratio of eggs to milk to sugar. In my in-laws’ less-than-stocked kitchen I had to improvise for both custard cups and a water bath. Coffee cups stood in for ramekins, with the overflow going into a serving bowl that was oven safe. The custards baked up just fine, despite the high altitude and the less-than ideal baking vessels.

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Rich’s parents and I were happy, though they didn’t have any nutmeg, so I had to make do with cinnamon. Rich has never liked custard that much – he prefers his desserts to have more substance, and more chocolate. Calvin wasn’t impressed either. They are both requesting chocolate almond custard. I expect you will be seeing a recipe for that sometime soon.

I made another batch of custard once we got home to make sure I could replicate the results. I can’t say that it was really much better than the improvised custard we had on vacation. But I got to use ground nutmeg on top. It brought back a true taste of childhood. Rich and Calvin still aren’t fans, but that leaves more for me.

Download or print recipe here.

Vanilla Custard
From The Cook’s Life
Makes 4-6 servings

Use any kind of milk you have on hand – the richer the milk, the richer the custard. This is not a sweet dessert. You can increase the sugar to ½ cup if you like, with no other changes to the recipe. Or sprinkle sugar on top when serving for added sweetness and crunch.

2 cups milk
4 eggs
⅓ cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
dash salt
nutmeg or cinnamon
sugar, for serving (optional)

Equipment:
Custard cups or ramekins
9 by 13 inch baking pan, or equivalent
boiling water for a water bath

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring a large pot or teakettle of water to a boil and keep hot. Lightly grease 4-6 custard cups or small ramekins. I used 6 ounce custard cups and needed five of them. Set ramekins in a 9 by 13 inch baking pan or other pan large enough to hold them without crowding. Set aside, preferably near the oven.

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Heat milk in a 2-3 quart saucepan over medium heat until very hot. Milk will be steaming and there will be bubbles all around the edges when it is hot enough. Don’t let it boil. Stir occasionally at the beginning and more often as it gets hotter. It should take 5-7 minutes to get hot enough, depending on your stove and the size of your pan. The larger the pan, the faster the milk will heat (and the closer you need to watch it).

While milk heats, beat eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt together in a large bowl until sugar is no longer gritty.

When milk is hot, beat it gradually into the egg mixture. Start very slowly so you don’t scramble the eggs. When all the milk is mixed in, pour the custard into the prepared ramekins, filling them almost full. Sprinkle tops with nutmeg or cinnamon.

Set ramekins, in the larger baking pan, as near to the oven as possible. Pour boiling water into the larger pan, trying to get the water to the same level as the custard in the cups. Carefully transfer the filled pan to the oven.

Bake custard 25-30 minutes, or until the centers barely jiggle when you move the pan. Remove the pan from the oven. Remove ramekins from the hot water and place on a rack to cool. When cool, cover and refrigerate. Let custards come to room temperature for a few minutes before serving. Store leftovers in the fridge for two or three days, covered.

Dessert from the Pantry – Mini Chocolate Pies

As I mentioned yesterday, Calvin spent last Friday night with my parents. They live about an hour away, and after we picked him up on Saturday I was daydreaming about dessert on the drive home (everyone daydreams about making dessert, right?). Saturday is dessert day around our house and I wanted to make something quick and easy, but different from our usual fallback of chocolate chip cookie bars or brownies.

We had part of a package of Double Stuf Oreos in the pantry. I figured it was just about enough to make crusts in my four mini pie pans. We always have the ingredients for Microwave Chocolate Pudding. And if “someone” (Rich) ran to the store for cream to whip, we would be all set for Mini Chocolate Pies.

Here is the method, with links to the chocolate pudding recipe:

Crush, or grind in a food processor, about a third of a package of Oreos. We had Double Stufs, but I think regular ones would have been better. The extra filling made the crust just a little too sweet, and you could see the flecks of white filling. Rich and Calvin thought it was just fine, though.

If you don’t have mini pie pans, you could probably do this in a regular 9-inch pie plate or small casserole dish. You might need more Oreos, or you could just press the crumbs in the bottom and not worry about going up the sides.

Press the crumbs into the pie pan(s). The cookie filling takes the place of butter or sugar in the crusts and holds the crumbs together. I first saw this on “America’s Test Kitchen” on PBS several years ago, so I can’t take credit for the method.

Bake the crust(s) in a preheated 350-degree oven for 5-7 minutes. Stay in the kitchen and let your nose tell you when they are done – they will smell chocolatey and sweet. You can’t tell by the color, because the crumbs are so dark in the first place. These go from just done to burnt in seconds – I rescued mine just in time.  Let the crusts cool on a rack while you make the pudding. We used Microwave Chocolate Pudding, but any pudding will work.

Pour the pudding into the crust(s) and lay plastic wrap directly on the pudding surface to avoid a skin on top. Place in the fridge to cool.

We took the lazy route and got whipped cream in a can. Feel free to whip your own. Top the pies just before serving. Garnish with a few chopped chocolate chips or chocolate shavings, and maraschino cherries (Rich’s choice), if you like.

These are best the same day, or at most the next day, if they last that long.

Dessert in Five Minutes

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There are always going to be days when you NEED dessert. And those times are invariably when you have nothing in the house to bake with. Or you don’t have the time or the energy to make even cookie bars and deal with washing those dishes. Microwave Chocolate Pudding to the rescue!

There is, of course, a story. Rich and I were looking at chocolate pudding mix once in Wild Oats (that dates us, they have long since been swallowed up by Whole Foods), and wondering what made the pudding “health food.” The ingredients were cocoa, evaporated cane juice (otherwise known as sugar?) and cornstarch. That started us thinking about what Jell-O pudding was. Sure enough, the ingredients on the side of a box of cook and serve chocolate pudding were sugar, cocoa and cornstarch, along with dextrose and a few thickeners. We wondered why we were bothering to buy pudding mix (especially with the extra ingredients), when we had cocoa, sugar and cornstarch at home.

Lo and behold, we found this recipe in a book we already had and even better, it was a microwave recipe. So it’s quick, it only dirties one bowl, which is also the serving bowl, and it is the deepest, darkest chocolate pudding you have ever eaten. We haven’t bought pudding mix since.

The original recipe came from a Cooking Light cookbook. The only change I made to the ingredients was to double the vanilla. I did revise the directions a bit to make them a little more precise. Without further ado…

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Microwave Chocolate Pudding
Adapted by The Cook’s Life
from “The Complete Cooking Light Cookbook”

 6 tablespoons sugar
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1½ cups 2% milk*
1 teaspoon vanilla

Combine sugar, cocoa and cornstarch in a 1-quart glass bowl and stir well with a whisk to break up all the lumps. Gradually add milk, stirring with a whisk until well blended. Microwave mixture, uncovered, at 100% power for 90 seconds. Stir well. Microwave at 100% power for another 90 seconds. Stir well. Microwave at 70% power for 60-90 seconds, or until thick. Watch closely so it doesn’t boil over. Add vanilla and mix well. Pudding will thicken more as it cools. Let cool a bit before serving warm, or cover and chill. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on top of the hot pudding if you don’t like the skin that forms as it cools.

Makes 3-4 servings.

* Works really well with skim milk, with no other changes to the recipe, but 2% tastes better, of course. Go all out and use whole milk if you have it.

 Download recipe here.