Like many Americans, I am obsessed with the Great British Baking Show. It is a balm for the soul. I love how it is a reality competition, but the winner only gets bragging rights, and a cake stand. The contestants are all kind and supportive of each other. I hope the newer versions, both British and American, can keep the spirit of the show. I enjoy it so much more than all the intense, cut-throat cooking competitions that are everywhere these days.
One of the things I like best about the show is seeing the different things the contestants bake. Baking traditions are definitely different in the UK and America, so even the challenges that are more familiar to the contestants are often new to me. And the contestants always have interesting design ideas or baking techniques that I want to try.
In the most recent season to be aired in America (filmed and aired in Great Britain back in 2012) I watched contestant James Morton make a chocolate mousse in an amazing way – with just chocolate and water. No egg. No cream. I couldn’t believe that it worked. Then, I saw Gesine Prado, host of the Food Network show Baked in Vermont, do a very similar technique. I was intrigued, and wanted to try it for myself.
One of the cardinal rules of baking is to never, ever, mix chocolate and water. Just a drop of water in chocolate causes the chocolate to seize and then, game over. But there is apparently an exception to even that rule. If done right, chocolate and water is all you need for a great mousse. I love that this makes a mousse without raw eggs or dairy, so that it can be enjoyed by many more people (vegans, pregnant women, children, etc).
Ready to enjoy some chocolate mousse? Here are some tips to keep in mind.
- The Ice Bath is Key. An ice bath is a very specific thing. Do not just throw a few cubes of ice in a bowl. A properly created ice bath has both ice cubes AND cold water. The water actually makes the mixture colder than if it were just ice. Make sure when you nest the two bowls together, the water/ice mixture is fully touching the bottom of the smaller bowl.
- Use Great Chocolate. I hate to say “use best quality chocolate” like Martha Stewart or Ina Garten. Who among us is ever intentionally going out and buying crappy quality food? I think we all are trying to use the best quality we can find and afford. But what I mean is, use chocolate you would love to eat as a snack. You won’t have many other ingredients adding flavor, so you should love the taste of the chocolate all on its own. Check out the bars in the candy aisle (but stick to plain, no nuts or chunks obviously). Also, do not try to get away with chocolate chips. They have stabilizers, which are there to keep them from melting completely. You want the chocolate to melt easily.
- Consider A Hand-Held Mixer. You can definitely whisk this by hand, but it will take at least 5 minutes. That may not seem like a lot, but it is quite the upper arm workout. I decided to use my immersion blender with the whisk attachment, and that was much faster. However, you don’t want to over whisk it either, so stop to check the texture often.
I flavored this with orange extract, but you can experiment with whatever flavors you like here. Espresso powder can be added to the hot water if you wish, which will enhance the chocolate flavor. You could even replace some of the hot water with liquor. Despite the lack of eggs and dairy, the mousse is still quite rich. Small servings are best in my experience. Enjoy!
Simplest Chocolate Mousse
- 8 oz (1/2 lb) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon extract (vanilla, orange, etc), optional
- 1 cup steaming hot water, recently boiled
- Generous pinch salt
- Whipped cream for topping, optional
Get two large heat-proof bowls that can nest into each other. Fill the larger bowl with ice and water to form an ice bath (see note above). Set the smaller bowl aside.
Combine the chocolate and hot water in the smaller bowl and whisk to melt. Add extract and salt. Nest the bowl with the chocolate mixture over the ice bath and continue whisking for several minutes (by hand or with an electric mixer) until the mixture lightens and is thick and smooth. It should have a mousse like texture when done.
If it seems grainy, you have over-whisked. You can remelt the mixture by placing the bowl over a pot of boiling water and try again.
Divide the mixture among serving dishes and refrigerate at least 2 hours. This keeps well in the fridge for a few days.