Chocolate mousse is one of those treats that broadcasts “date night!” or some other kind of special-ish occasion, and frankly, I don’t mind the cliche. (Although it tastes just as good as a before-bed snack while you’re wearing pajamas as it would in a little black dress on Valentine’s Day, in case you were wondering.) Its pure chocolate flavor is classic, and it manages to be both rich and light at the same time.
Traditional chocolate mousse can be tricky to perfect when it comes to texture, and not everyone is comfortable with or medically cleared for the whole raw-egg thing. That’s why I’m such a huge fan of this recipe from Serious Eats contributor and pastry wizard Stella Parks, culled from her debut cookbook, “BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts.”
Parks describes her whipped cremeux (“creamy” in French) as a cross between pot de crème and mousse. It will remind you of a mousse - hence our “almost-mousse” moniker - but it is egg-free and easier to make, and it’ll last longer, too. The recipe combines a gelatin-stabilized pudding, straight out of your childhood memories of a certain packaged brand that begins with “J” and ends in “ell-O,” and softly whipped cream. I’ve made this four times, and each time it varied slightly. If you deflate the cream a bit too much in folding or find little bits of pudding that didn’t disappear completely, no sweat. You’ll still love it.
If you’re more of a pudding fan, you can skip combining it with the whipped cream altogether, or serve the cream on top, and still have a fantastic treat.
Otherwise, serve the cremeux in your fanciest glassware . . . or those 14-year-old bowls you bought at Walmart (who, me?). As long as you’re eating it, this unfussy dessert lives up to whatever the occasion happens (or doesn’t happen) to be.
Recipe notes: Parks likes using full-fat Dutch-process cocoa powder here (Droste is one widely available brand), for its rich flavor and because it has been treated to reduce acidity, which would otherwise lead to a tangy and thin pudding. Parks also prefers using Diamond Crystal kosher salt to achieve the right flavor balance. A handheld electric mixer can be used to beat the whipped cream, but it is not recommended for the chocolate pudding; Parks says a strong arm and a flexible spatula is the alternative way to go.
The pudding mixture needs to set in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours or up to a week. After it’s smoothed out, leftovers can keep up to 2 weeks in the refrigerator; just rewhip before serving. The combined pudding and whipped cream needs to be refrigerated for at least 30 minutes and up to 5 days.
Servings: 8 (makes about 4 cups)
2 1/2 teaspoons (1/4 ounce; 1 packet) unflavored powdered gelatin
2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 cups milk (13 ounces total)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup (5 ounces) packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) Dutch-process cocoa powder (see headnote)
1/4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (see headnote)
1 cup (8 ounces) heavy cream
Chocolate shavings or curls, for garnish (optional)
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Use a fork to stir together the gelatin, 2 tablespoons of the milk and all the vanilla extract in a small bowl, until well incorporated. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes, so the gelatin can set up.
Combine the brown sugar, cocoa powder and salt in a small stainless-steel (or other nonreactive) saucepan, using a flexible spatula to stir together the ingredients and break up any lumps. Add the remaining 1 1/2 cups of milk; cook over medium heat, stirring gently until steaming hot - for no more than 5 minutes and no higher than 200 degrees, otherwise the milk will curdle. Remove from the heat.
Add the gelatin-milk mixture, stirring until it has fully dissolved. Transfer to a 4-cup container and cool for 5 minutes, then cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours until firm, and up to 1 week. This is the chocolate pudding part of your almost-mousse.
Scrape the chilled chocolate pudding into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on low speed for a few seconds, then slowly increase to medium-high. At first, the pudding will clump like curds of cottage cheese, but continue beating and it will smooth out in a minute. Return to its original container, then pour the cream into the now-empty mixer bowl (without cleaning the bowl).
Switch the attachment on your mixer to a balloon-whisk; beat on medium speed for about 4 minutes, until the cream is whipped just enough that it begins to ball up inside the balloon-whisk attachment.
Use a flexible spatula to gently fold in the chocolate pudding by hand in several additions, until no streaks of white remain. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes, and up to 5 days.
Spoon the chilled mixture into parfait dishes or small bowls.
Source: Adapted from “BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts,” by Stella Parks (W.W. Norton, 2017).
Nutrition Calories: 220; Total Fat: 13 g; Saturated Fat: 8 g; Cholesterol: 45 mg; Sodium: 70 mg; Carbohydrates: 24 g; Dietary Fiber: 2 g; Sugars: 21 g; Protein: 4 g.