The motto this time of year seems to be, “Out with the old, in with the new.” Fair enough, but there are some “old things” worth holding on to, if you ask me. I mean, I think we’re all pretty pleased that the leisure suit died in the 1970s, never to return. But other innovations are timeless, no matter when they first appeared.
I feel that way about recipes. Sure, there are some recipes so trendy, so gimmicky, and so overdone that after a year or two, the public smacks a huge “Out” stamp on it and christens a new dish as being “In” (helloooo molten chocolate cake…). It’s not that those dishes aren’t good; it’s just that they somehow seem to identify so strongly with the zeitgeist of a certain era that people see them as “passé.”
But there are other recipes that, no matter when they first appeared, are just good. Tarte Tatin dates back to 1889, but I would still stab someone with my fork for that last, caramelized bite. And I don’t even know who made the first chocolate layer cake and when, but I do know that the best old-fashioned chocolate cake recipe I’ve ever made appeared in Gourmet in 1999.
In my family, we have lots of those recipes, from various decades and sources. This chocolate mousse charlotte is one of them. My mother first made it in 1981, when it appeared in the October issue of Bon Appetit. That’s right. October — 1981. And since then, she and I, our aunts, friends and neighbors have all made it countless times. Why? Because it’s good. Really good.
Admittedly, in an earlier era, I had a much easier time finding soft ladyfingers, which made this an easy go-to dessert. Were French ladyfingers a trend of the past? Maybe. These days, I’ve found that I need to make the ladyfingers myself, making this less “no-fuss,” but no less delicious.
So as we move into 2008, I will gladly watch the world dispose of certain things (can we please, please be finished with Paris Hilton?). But I’ll always hold this recipe dear, no matter what year it is.
Adapted from Bon Appetit, October 1981
Note: This make a TON of mousse. Historically, we’ve always made a 9-inch charlotte and frozen the rest in a 6-inch springform pan or a bowl. The mousse freezes beautifully. However, I have also cut the recipe in half and used an 8-inch pan, and have found that 2/3 of a recipe is the perfect amount for a 9-inch alone. Make sure you have separated the eggs before you begin, as you want to move quickly.
2 lbs semisweet chocolate, chopped
6 oz unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), softened
6 eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 cup sifted confectioners sugar
1/4 cup dark rum
1/4 cup creme de cacao
2 tsp instant coffee granules
4 cups heavy cream
2 3 oz packages soft ladyfingers, or about 40 homemade sponge or genoise ladyfingers
1 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
Melt the chocolate and butter together in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. I recommend using a double boiler like this rather than the microwave, since you want to be sure the chocolate mixture is absolutely silky smooth. However, you can use the microwave in a pinch. Once the chocolate is completely melted and smooth, remove from heat and set aside.
Whisk the eggs yolks with the sugar, rum, creme de cacao and coffee in a very large mixing bowl. Blend in the chocolate, tempering the eggs with a little of the chocolate first and then adding all the rest.
Whip 4 cups of the heavy cream in a very large bowl until stiff. Gently but thoroughly fold the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture, adding a small amount first to lighten the mixture, then adding the rest.
Beat the eggs whites in a medium bowl until soft peaks form. Fold the egg whites into the chocolate cream.
Line the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan with ladyfingers. Scoop the mousse into the pan, filling almost to the top of the ladyfingers. Scoop any remaining mousse into another bowl or pan to freeze (a perfect dessert for last-minute guests).
Cover the top of the charlotte with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.
Before serving, whip 1 cup heavy cream until it starts to thicken. Add the sugar and vanilla and whip to stiff peaks. Top the chocolate mousse charlotte with the cream, using a decorative pattern if desired. Lightly dust top with cocoa powder, and serve right away, or keep refrigerated for a few hours until serving.
Yield: 14-16 servings