This is a lovely light (and nondairy, if you want it to be) chocolate mousse with intense chocolate flavor. It is the lightest mousse of all if you make it with water or coffee. Milk or cream adds a little body. Either way, you can top it with whipping cream.
Spinning sugar is so easy that there is no reason to save it for the occasional showpiece dessert. Spun sugar turns a simple dish of ice cream or chocolate mousse into a celebration.—Alice Medrich
Six to eight 4- to 6-ounce ramekins or dessert cups
For the mousse
6 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup water, coffee, or milk, or 1/2 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 tablespoons brandy, rum, or liquor of choice (optional)
3 large eggs, at room temperature
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons sugar
Whipped cream (optional)
For the caramel spun sugar
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
Make the mousse
1. Place the chocolate and the 1/4 cup water (or liquid of your choice) in a medium heatproof bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir frequently until chocolate is nearly melted. Remove the bowl and stir until completely melted smooth. Stir in the liquor, if using, and set aside.
2. In a medium heatproof bowl, whisk the eggs with the 3 tablespoons water the sugar until well blended. Set the bowl in a skillet of not-even-simmering water and, stirring constantly to prevent the eggs from scrambling, cook until they register 160°F (70°C) on an instant-read thermometer. (You will have to remove the bowl from skillet to check the temperature unless you are agile enough to both stir and hold and read the thermometer at the same time!)
3. Remove the bowl and beat with electric mixer at high speed for 3 to 4 minutes, until the eggs have a texture softly whipped cream. Fold about one-quarter of the eggs into the chocolate. Scrape the chocolate mixture onto the remaining beaten eggs and fold just until evenly incorporated. Divide the mousse among the ramekins.
4. Chill for at least 1 hour, or until set, before serving. If you are not serving the mousses within a few hours, cover them with plastic wrap.
Make the caramel spun sugar
1. You can make a reusable sugar-spinning tool from a wire whisk by snipping off the curved section of each wire (using a wire cutter) until the whisk resembles a bouquet of wire stems, or you can use a handful of skewers. Have ready the altered whisk or a few wooden or metal skewers, and a sheet of foil or parchment.
2. Have a white saucer and a skewer at the side of the stove to test the color of the syrup.
3. Pour the water into a 1-quart saucepan and set it over medium heat. Mix the sugar and cream of tartar and pour the mixture carefully in a thin stream into the center of the pan to form a low mound. Without stirring, use your fingers to pat the sugar mound down until it is entirely moistened; any sugar at the edges of the pan will be safely below the water line.
4. Cover the pan and cook for a few minutes (still without stirring), until when you lift the lid, the sugar has completely dissolved and the syrup looks clear. Uncover the pan and continue to cook, without stirring, until the syrup begins to color slightly. If the syrup seems to be coloring unevenly, swirl the pan gently, rather than stirring.
5. To test the caramel, use the skewer to drop a bead of syrup onto the white saucer. When a drop of syrup looks pale amber on the saucer, turn the heat to low and pay close attention. Continue to cook and test drops of syrup until it has darkened to a slightly reddish amber color.
6. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and let the caramel cool and thicken for a minute or two. Dip the tips of the whisk or fanned skewers into the caramel and lift them 12 inches above the pan, watching how the caramel flows from the tips back into the pan. At first the caramel will form very fine threads as it flows off the whisk. As it cools, it will flow more slowly and form thicker golden threads: perfect spun sugar. Continue to dip and lift the whisk until this happens.
7. The drips and little globs of caramel that fall from the wires are extremely hot, but the threads are cool enough to touch. Grasp and pull the threads aside with your hand, coiling them into a pretty tangle directly on top of a dessert or onto the foil sheet. Continue to dip the whisk to make more spun sugar. After each dip, raise the whisk and wait until the heaviest flow of caramel subsides into threads before touching them. Pull the threads aside, out from under the whisk, so that any drops of caramel that fall cannot burn you. With your hands, shape the tangle of threads to form a nest, halo, or cloud. When the caramel becomes too thick, re-melt it over the lowest heat, trying not to let it boil and scorch. Depending on the weather, spun sugar is short-lived. Serve desserts with spun sugar as soon as possible.
Recipe © 2003 Alice Medrich. All rights reserved.