Sometimes, cooking is just manipulating ingredients. And sometimes it’s thisclose to alchemy.
For example. Say, for Valentine’s Day, you decided to make chocolate mousse. You could melt chocolate, separate eggs, whip cream, beat egg whites, fold airy ingredients into melted ones, and chill for hours before serving. Or you could whip up a lush, impossibly light mousse in about five minutes, with just two ingredients: chocolate and water.
I’m astounded that this works. But it does.
This culinary magic trick is the brainchild of the French chemist Hervé This, the man who coined the term “molecular gastronomy.” He calls it chocolate Chantilly–a play on the French crème Chantilly. In essence, it’s a chemistry experiment: taking the basic structure of heavy cream and swapping out the milk solids for cocoa solids. It’s as if some mad scientist had captured a bowl of whipped cream and replaced its entire DNA sequence with chocolate.
The concept is mind-blowingly simple: by melting together chocolate and water in a precise ratio, you can create a liquid that whips like cream but sets like mousse. There’s no fancy lab equipment needed: just a chilled mixing bowl, a wire whisk and a few minutes’ worth of elbow grease. I would have taken photos of the process, but it happened so fast I didn’t have a chance.
Normally, I’m not a huge fan of mousse–it feels like a waste of chocolate and calories. But chocolate Chantilly is a different beast entirely. I was a little thrown off when I first tasted it; it’s so light that it dissolves completely in your mouth, with none of the fatty slickness you expect from a mousse. Because there are no mitigating ingredients–no cream, no eggs, no butter–the flavor is pure, unmistakable chocolate. It’s intense stuff.
Now, you probably know where I’m going next. Because the only components here are chocolate and water, you have to use the best-quality chocolate you can get your hands on. The better the chocolate, the better the Chantilly. The ratios listed below will only work for chocolate that is around 70 percent cocoa solids; if that’s too intensely dark for you, you can add up to 1/4 cup of sugar to the chocolate and water before melting it all together.
If you’re expecting to stay awake and active after dessert on Valentine’s Day (wink wink nudge nudge), this is your dessert. It’s chocolate, it has a sexy French name, and it’s so lightweight you’ll feel like you’ve eaten nothing at all–except for the lingering whisper of bittersweet cocoa on your tongue.
Chocolate Chantilly (serves 4
From Hervé This and Heston Blumenthal, via Cafe Fernando
NOTE: You can watch Heston Blumenthal make chocolate Chantilly here. If you prefer a more traditional cream-based mousse, but still want to try the two-ingredient thing, Eat the Roses has a great recipe here.
9.35 oz (two and a half bars, 3.5 oz each) high-quality bittersweet chocolate, 70 percent cocoa solids
1 cup (8 oz) water
Fill a large bowl or pot about a quarter of the way up with ice and cold water. Place another slightly smaller, nonreactive mixing bowl inside the first bowl, so that the bottom is touching the ice water. Set aside.
Chop the chocolate. In a saucepan, combine chocolate and water. Turn on medium-low heat and whisk until the chocolate is melted and a smooth, glossy liquid forms. Pour the liquid into the chilled mixing bowl and whisk furiously until the mixture thickens and becomes mousse-like. If you accidentally overwhip the mixture and it becomes grainy, transfer it back into the saucepan and reheat over medium-low heat until about half of it is melted, then pour it back into the mixing bowl and try again.
Spoon or pipe the mousse into four serving cups or ramekins. Serve immediately, or press a piece of plastic wrap onto the surface of the mousse and let it set in the fridge for an hour or two. The plastic-wrapped mousse will keep, refrigerated, for about 3 days.
Variations: When you’re melting the chocolate and water together, you can add a quarter-teaspoon of espresso powder or any ground herb or spice you like–cinnamon, cardamom, lavender–or a pinch of cayenne. You can also add a teaspoon of extract or a tablespoon of booze, as long as you compensate by subtracting an equal amount of water. Or you can use the water to make Earl Grey tea, then melt the chocolate into the tea and proceed as usual.