I realized something potentially important with this comparison. When Dave and I and whoever else participate in comparisons, we just dive in and start throwing out adjectives. That’s never been a problem before, but this time, Dave and I had some confusion over what we each wanted in a mousse. Perhaps my tasters and I should clarify beforehand what we’re looking for. I know I wanted an exceptionally chocolately flavor and an exceptionally light texture. I don’t think Dave knew what he wanted…or even what chocolate mousse is supposed to be.
I compared David Lebovitz’s recipe from A Sweet Life in Paris (DL), Cooks Illustrated’s Premium Chocolate Mousse recipe from 2006 (CI Premium), and Cooks Illustrated’s older Chocolate Mousse recipe (found in The New Best Recipe) (CI). It drives me crazy when Cooks Illustrated publishes multiple recipes for the same thing without referencing the previous recipe. I’m always left wondering which is the better version. What better way to find out than to make them both?
DL – This recipe is simple: chocolate melted with water, egg yolks added, beaten egg whites folded in. I haven’t read A Sweet Life and couldn’t find this recipe on David’s blog, but according to Annie, he explains in his book that this is the most traditional version of chocolate mousse.
CI Premium – This recipe is designed specifically for fancy schmancy chocolate. (I was using Valrhona.) The recipe contains the chocolate, water, and eggs called for in Lebovitz’s recipe, but spices things up with cocoa (balanced by the addition of sugar), brandy, and espresso powder. Folding in whipped cream lightens the mixture.
CI – Unlike the other two recipes, this one contains butter and no water. In addition to the requisite chocolate and eggs, it includes coffee (or alcohol), vanilla, sugar and whipped cream.
DL – Lightened by only beaten egg whites and not whipped cream, this was the heaviest mousse of the three. It was thicker, grainy, and more solid, with a cocoa-like flavor (despite containing no cocoa) and a bitter aftertaste. For Dave, it was too much – too rich and too dense. For me, it just wasn’t as light as I want my mousse.
CI Premium – This was softer and sweeter than the other mousses. Dave thought it was the most balanced.
CI – This was light and airy and chocolately, and for me, perfect in every way. I love its bittersweetness, I love the meringue bubbles that pop in my mouth, I love how it’s firm but light.
The confusion came when Dave said that none of them were as good as my standard recipe – but I hadn’t made chocolate mousse in nearly four years, and CI’s recipe from The New Best Recipe was what I used then. Furthermore, Dave’s favorite of the three was CI’s Premium recipe, because it was “puddinglike”. But a mousse shouldn’t be puddinglike (and I confess it probably hadn’t chilled long enough).
It looks like for this comparison, there is only one opinion that matters, and that is mine, of course. Good thing Cooks Illustrated’s Chocolate Mousse was so clearly the winner. Well, I was the winner too, because I got to eat three delicious chocolate mousses – and one perfect mousse – in one sitting.
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Chocolate Mousse (from Cooks Illustrated’s The New Best Recipe)
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped coarse
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons strong coffee or 4 teaspoons brandy, orange-flavored liqueur, or light rum
4 large eggs, separated
2 tablespoons sugar
½ cup chilled heavy cream, plus more for serving
1. Melt the chocolate in a medium bowl set over a large saucepan of barely simmering water or in an uncovered Pyrex measuring cup microwaved at 50 percent power for 3 minutes, stirring once at the 2-minute mark. Whisk the butter into the melted chocolate, 1 tablespoon at a time. Stir in the salt, vanilla, and coffee until completely incorporated. Whisk in the yolks, one at a time, making sure that each is fully incorporated before adding the next; set the mixture aside.
2. Stir the egg whites in a clean mixing bowl set over a saucepan of hot water until slightly warm, 1 to 2 minutes; remove the bowl from the saucepan. Beat with an electric mixer set at medium speed until soft peaks form. Raise the mixer speed to high and slowly add the sugar; beat to soft peaks. Whisk a quarter of the beaten whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it, then gently fold in the remaining whites.
3. Whip the cream to soft peaks. Gently fold the whipped cream into the mousse. Spoon portions of the mousse into 6 or 8 individual serving dishes or goblets. Cover and refrigerate to allow the flavors to blend, at least 2 hours. (The mousse may be covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.) Serve with additional whipped cream.
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Dark Chocolate Mousse (from Cooks Illustrated)
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, 62 to 70 percent cacao, chopped fine
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-processed
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
7 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon brandy
3 large eggs, separated
⅛ teaspoon table salt
1 cup heavy cream, plus 2 more tablespoons (chilled)
1. Melt the chocolate, 2 tablespoons sugar, cocoa powder, espresso powder, water, and brandy in a medium heatproof bowl set over a saucepan filled with 1 inch of barely simmering water, stirring frequently until smooth. Remove from the heat.
2. Whisk the egg yolks, 1½ teaspoons sugar, and salt in a medium bowl until the mixture lightens in color and thickens slightly, about 30 seconds. Pour the melted chocolate into the egg mixture and whisk until thoroughly combined. Let cool until slightly warmer than room temperature, 3 to 5 minutes.
3. In the clean bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites at medium-low speed until frothy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the remaining 1½ teaspoons sugar, increase the mixer speed to medium-high, and beat until soft peaks form when the whisk is lifted, about 1 minute. Detach the whisk and bowl from the mixer and whisk the last few strokes by hand, making sure to scrape any unbeaten whites from the bottom of the bowl. Using the whisk, stir about one-quarter of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it; gently fold in the remaining egg whites with a rubber spatula until a few white streaks remain.
4. Whip the heavy cream at medium speed until it begins to thicken, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to high and whip until soft peaks form when the whisk is lifted, about 15 seconds longer. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the whipped cream into the mousse until no white streaks remain. Spoon the mousse into 6 to 8 individual serving dishes or goblets. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until set and firm, at least 2 hours. (The mousse may be covered and refrigerated for up to 24 hours.)
I just got David Lebovitz’s The Sweet Life in Paris, which contains this original recipe, in the mail. I’ve copied the recipe in his words. I also noticed that he calls for 2 tablespoons brandy or coffee, which I didn’t use.
7 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 tablespoons water
4 large eggs, at room temperature, separated
Pinch of coarse salt
1. In a medium-sized bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water, begin melting the chocolate with the water, making sure not to let it get too hot. Take the bowl off the heat when the chocolate is almost completely melted, then stir gently until smooth. Set aside.
2. In a clean, dry bowl, whip the egg whites with the salt until they form stiff peaks when you lift the whip. They should still be smooth and creamy, not grainy.
3. Stir the egg yolks into the chocolate, then fold one-third of the whites into the chocolate to lighten it up.
4. Fold the remaining egg whites into the chocolate just until there are no visible streaks of whites. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and chill for at least 3 hours. (You can also divide the mousse into individual custard cups, ramekins, or goblets before serving.)