Cookies and Chocolate Mousse

Correction, make that vanilla bean sugar cookies and dark chocolate mousse. Don’t you just love how good those sound together? Well, they were good together, and I have Thomas Keller (of Bouchon and The French Laundry fame) and his recipes to thank for it. Actually, I have my friends, Shelley and Brett, to thank because they suggested we focus solely on the recipes of Thomas Keller for dinner club this month.

Great idea! Except if you know anything about the venerable Mr. Keller, you know that his recipes can veer toward the detailed, and sometimes, complicated end of the cooking spectrum. But, I had neither the time nor inclination for detailed or complicated as I set about deciding on the dessert I would bring. I wanted simple and easy. I mean, really, isn’t that what we all want from life? It’s already busy and involved. I don’t see any reason to make it more so. Not to mention, I have yet to find that there is an undisputable correlation between complication and time consumption and a superior result. The greatest joys in life are often the ones that come about in the most carefree and unexpected ways.

I don’t own any of Mr. Keller’s esteemed cookbooks, so I harnessed the power of the internet to find some of his dessert recipes that wouldn’t require a lot of time, far in advance or last minute preparation, or a laundry list of ingredients. Enter dark chocolate mousse and vanilla bean sugar cookies from his book, Bouchon. If my dinner club friends read the recipes, I think I’m going to lose a lot of street cred when they realize just how easy it was to make these sweets.

The beauty of both recipes is they can be made the night before. (No one has to know this, though.) In fact, the mousse needs to refrigerate for at least eight hours and the sugar cookie dough needs to be refrigerated for a few hours until it is firm enough to slice. So, since you really do need to make them somewhat in advance, why not make them the night before and spend the day of the party focusing instead on your outfit?

If you’re worried that people will think you just threw something together last minute or didn’t try too hard, do what I did and up the presentation factor. Remember, packaging sells the product. I bought cute little four ounce Bell glass jars and put the mousse in the jars for individual servings. I then plated the jars on antique plates from my grandmother and placed a couple of the sugar cookies alongside. It brought out the rustic, yet sophisticated, theme that is present in much of Keller’s cooking and at his restaurants and bakeries.

All in all, the two together made for the perfect dessert for the perfect ending to a fabulous meal with great friends. Because life shouldn’t be complicated.

Mousse vs. Bavarian Cream

Week 11.

Tell me, do you know the difference between mousse and Bavarian cream? Right, neither did I before week eleven’s class. In fact, I’m not sure I had ever even heard of Bavarian cream before week eleven’s class which, in retrospect, is surprising because as it turns out, technically the two are very similar.

Mousse, on the one hand, may be used as a filling or an individual dessert that is molded or free-form, it’s light and it may be sweet or savory. Bavarian cream, on the other hand, is always only a dessert, it is always only sweet and it is always molded. So with mousse there is quite a bit of wriggle room, but Bavarian cream is a fixed entity for the most part.

So where is the similarity, you ask? Note, I said “technically” they are very similar. That is, the technique for both mousse and Bavarian cream share four characteristics: flavor base, enrichment, lightener and stabilizer.

Flavor base. I think this is self-explanatory, but nonetheless, the flavor base is what gives the mousse or Bavarian cream its basic flavor. In the case of mousse, the flavor base is generally the name of the mousse. Chocolate mousse, chocolate is the flavor base; salmon mousse, salmon is the flavor base; trout mousse, trout is the flavor base and so on. With Bavarian cream, the flavor base is basic crème Anglaise (milk, egg yolks, sugar).

Enrichment. Mousse and Bavarian cream may be enriched with additional flavor ingredients. A mousse may be enriched with egg yolks, vanilla, spices, liquor and so on. Bavarian cream may be enriched with vanilla or spices as well.

Lightener. A lightener is anything that captures air. In the case of a sweet mousse, this could be the addition of egg whites and sugar whipped to form meringue. Or it could be the use of an immersion blender to whip air into a savory mousse. For mousse, a lightener isn’t necessarily always an ingredient. Bavarian cream, however, is always lightened with cream that has been whipped to a very soft peak, also known as creme Bavarois, which is confusing because creme Bavarois is French for “Bavarian cream.” So, essentially, Bavarian cream is lightened with Bavarian cream? What? I know. Welcome to the wacky world of pastry. Let’s just go with my original statement that it is lightened with cream that’s been beaten to a very soft peak, and then we can avoid any confusion

Stabilizer. The quality or ingredient that makes and or keeps the mousse or Bavarian cream stable, meaning not melted or runny or otherwise inedible as intended. In the case of mousse, the mousse stabilizes itself (the whipped cream, meringue, air) with the help of refrigeration, chilling. Bavarian cream is stabilized with gelatin.

There you have it. Flavor base, enrichment, lightener and stabilizer – the four characteristics that make mousse and Bavarian cream technically similar. With this newly acquired knowledge in hand, and after demonstrating making mousse, Bavarian cream and lady finger biscuits (pronounced bis qwee, more on this later) Chef set us loose for a lightening round of baking. With only a bit over an hour still available in class, Chef had each team make traditional chocolate mousse, basic Bavarian cream and lady finger biscuits. If you are trying to envision what this lightening round might have looked like, watch one of those Food Network kitchen competitions some time. The class dashing about grabbing pans, whisks, getting our mis en place set up, consulting our notes, making the recipe, trying to take pictures, chatting, dashing back for some tool we forgot and so on. Three times (mousse, Bavarian cream, lady fingers). Controlled chaos, really.

Here’s a brief glimpse of the lightening round.

We started with making traditional chocolate mousse. Traditional chocolate mouse is made with melted chocolate (flavor base), egg yolks and rum (enrichment), egg whites and sugar, i.e. meringue (lightener), and heavy cream whipped (another lightener). (Remember, the finished mousse product stabilizes itself with the help of chilling.)



Once the mis en place is ready (the four items above), the mousse is quick to assemble. Mix together the melted chocolate and egg yolks mixture. Add about one-third of the meringue, gently fold most of it in with the chocolate. Add another third of the meringue and gently fold most of it in. Add all of the whipped cream and gently fold it in, then add the remaining meringue and fold it all together. The key when folding the white stuff in is to make sure some of the white stuff is still visible before you add more white stuff. In other words, it should be mostly folded in, not completely folded in, before adding more.

Once everything is folded in, that’s it. Chocolate mousse, my friend.

Take a small taste – just to make sure it’s okay, of course – and then refrigerate it until it is well-chilled. If serving it individually, put the mousse in the individual serving dishes before chilling it. Or, it could be served family style out of one serving dish. Who cares? It’s chocolate mousse, it will be eaten however it is served.

After making the traditional chocolate mousse, we moved on to Bavarian cream. Bavarian cream is made with crème Anglaise (flavor base), vanilla (enrichment), cream whipped to a soft peak (lightener) and gelatin (stabilizer). I think this is where the chaos really began setting in as I captured only two relevant pictures: the gelatin ready to use and the cream whipped to a soft peak.

(Editor’s note: That is Jackie, one of the assistants, helping me with the gelatin photo shoot.)

Unlike preparing mousse, the mis en place for Bavarian cream is progressive (versus being set in place all at once before starting as is normally the case with mis en place). While making the crème Anglaise, the gelatin sheets soak in an ice bath until they have “bloomed,” or, are ready. Drain the gelatin sheets and stir them into the crème Anglaise (off the heat), then add in the vanilla. Strain the mixture into a clean bowl that’s been placed over an ice bath. Stir occasionally until the mixture reaches room temperature.

While the crème Anglaise mixture cools to room temperature, prepare the whipped cream. This may be done in a stand mixer with a whisk attachment or with an electric mixer, but we did it the old school way – by hand. (And we made the whipped cream for the mousse by hand, by the way). Whipping the cream by hand allows for more control over the finished product. Cream can go very quickly from cream to whipped cream to way-too-whipped-to-use cream in a matter of moments when using a mixer (trust me on this). And whipping it by hand takes only a couple of minutes.

Fold together all of the whipped cream with the crème Anglaise mixture and that’s it, the Bavarian cream is assembled. As I mentioned, Bavarian cream is always molded. We used Dixie paper cups, but you could use ramekins, a loaf pan, whatever. Since Bavarian cream is traditionally served unmolded, how you want it to look when you serve it should dictate which mold is used. Put the Bavarian cream in the mold, chill or freeze it until ready to serve. It should be served either frozen or semi-soft.

On to lady finger biscuits…quickly…which is also how Ally and I were moving in class at this point to get these done in time. Lady finger biscuits (pronounced bis qwee) look like little cookies, but really are little sponge cakes. But you have to wait until my next post to find out more about this. Sorry. What I will tell you, though, is that we made these because Chef said Bavarian cream is always served with a sauce and a “cookie” of some sort. And we do what Chef tells us to do. Lady finger biscuits are made with egg yolks, water and sugar whisked for at least five minutes or more, egg whites and sugar whisked to make a meringue, and flour. Put the batter in a pastry bag and pipe out the lady finger biscuits. Dust twice with 10x sugar (this is what creates the “sugar pearls” which are important to the finished biscuit), bake.



The result of the lightening round?

(Starting in the upper left corner: Cremeaux made by Chef – which is basically very dense chocolate mousse; a slice of Bavarian cream (Chef molded his in a loaf pan); traditional chocolate mousse; and a lady finger biscuit – all made by Chef.)

And, there was one other result of the lightening round. Take home loot of about 16 ounces of chocolate mousse, seven small Dixie cups of Bavarian cream and about a dozen and a half lady finger biscuits…for each person. Maybe not a Food Network kitchen competition prize, but I happily took it.