Oftentimes I'm shocked at the caliber of drama in my friends' lives. Not the usual human drama of love and life and work and such -- I'm talking about events which seem scripted by Hollywood screenwriters, and don't normally befall mere mortals. To whit: a friend who works in resource conservation recently spent the day sorting through waste to assess a transfer station, only to be joined by some guy whose wife threw out his secret garbage bag containing $10,000 in cash. This actually happened. In real life. I know other (unnamed) friends who have staged false conflicts to get on daytime court shows (evidently you get put up at nice hotels and receive a program-paid settlement), and yet another whose vibrator was discovered during an elegant dinner party. I can't even imagine material this good. In comparison, my life is pretty yawn-worthy.
But every now and then, I try to engineer a moment worthy of the big screen (or, at the very least, the small screen). This elaborate dessert is my best attempt for a touch of glamor, crafted out of only a rudimentary baking knowledge and a good amount of eggs and dairy. Twice in the past few years I composed this ridiculous confection, broke into the houses of recently-engaged dear friends, and left it in their refrigerator (I should note that, in one of these cases, I did actually have a key). This dessert is undeniably involved, and best reserved for such situations. But when they do arise, it's great to have in your arsenal.
This recipe starts with a stellar chocolate mousse, which in and of itself is a glorious thing. But the mousse is hidden inside a cloak of soft meringue, and then the whole affair is plated on a puddle of creme anglaise, a delicious vanilla custard sauce. And, if you're feeling so inclined (and really, if you've come this far, you might as well), the sauce is studded with adorable hearts drawn out of a berry puree (or, say, the runny part of some poorly-set blueberry jam). It's undeniably involved, and takes a good chunk of time. But some situations call for high drama. Given my general impatience and poor aesthetics, the end result might be more of a quirky indie heartwarmer than a polished Hollywood oscar-winner. But I won't complain -- it's delicious, dramatic, and perfect for any Valentine.
Chocolate Mousse-Filled Meringues in Creme Anglaise
mousse adapted from Judy Rosenberg's Rosie's All-Butter, Fresh Cream, Sugar-Packed No-Holds-Barred Baking Book, creme anglaise adapted from Bon Appetit, and meringue tweaked, heavily from the Pavlova recipe from the amazing Eggbeater
yields 8 cups, plus some extra chocolate mousse for what-have-you
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp cornstarch
3 egg whites (reserve the yolks for the creme anglaise)
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp white vinegar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup cream
1 chunk of vanilla bean, split (or a dash of vanilla extract instead)
3 egg yolks (left over from meringue)
3 Tbsp sugar
4 1/2 oz semi-sweet chocolate
1 1/2 oz unsweetened chocolate
2 eggs, separated
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 Tbsp coffee
a bit of runny jam, or berries blitzed with sugar and lemon
Start with the meringues: preheat the oven to 250, and grease 8 muffin cups or similarly-sized ramekins. Whisk together the sugar and cornstarch, and set aside.
Place the egg whites and salt in the bowl of a mixer, and begin to beat, starting on low and gradually increasing the speed to high over the course of a few minutes, and beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar-cornstarch mixture, and then the vanilla and vinegar. Continue to beat until the meringue is glossy and forms stiff peaks, an additional 4-5 minutes.
Apportion the meringue into the muffin cups/ramekins, filling them to the top (they'll puff up a bit as they bake, but then shrink back down). Place them into a casserole dish and fill the casserole dish with water until it comes halfway up the muffin cups. Bake for an hour, until the meringues are just beginning to color. Turn the oven off, and allow the cups to cool in the oven for another hour.
While the meringue is cooking/cooling, make the creme anglaise: Place the milk and cream in a saucepan, and scrape the vanilla beans out of the pod (and then toss the bean in as well). Bring to a simmer, and then remove from heat. While the dairy is heating, whisk together the yolks and sugar in a large bowl. Pour the hot milk and cream into the yolks, whisking all the while. Pour back into the saucepan, and heat over a low flame until the custard thickens enough that you can draw tracks in the back of a wooden spoon (~5 minutes). Remove from heat, and pour through a strainer into another bowl. Cool in the refrigerator (you can make this ahead if you like).
Make the chocolate mousse: Place chocolates over a double boiler, and let sit over simmering water, stirring occasionally, until melted. Set aside to cool very slightly.
While the chocolate is melting, place the egg whites in the bowl of a mixer, and beat until frothy. Sprinkle in the sugar, and continue beating until soft peaks form. Transfer to another bowl, and set aside.
Pour the cream into the mixing bowl, and beat on high speed until soft peaks form. Set aside.
Take the remaining egg yolks, and place them in a large mixing bowl along with the whole egg and the coffee. Pour in the melted chocolate, beating vigorously so that the eggs don't curdle. Take about half the beaten egg whites, and whisk together to combine well and loosen the mixture. Then fold in the remaining whites, trying not to deflate. Fold in the cream.
To assemble the whole shebang: Take the meringue cups, and scoop out the innards using a spoon, mini ice cream scoop, or melon baller. Try to clear out ample space to fill with mousse without breaking through the meringue. Pack each meringue cup with mousse, then set them to chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour or so.
After the mousse-filled meringue cups have chilled, slide a thin knife around the edge of each one to loosen, and turn them out onto a plate. Pour the chilled creme anglaise in a puddle around it. Place drops of your berry puree/runny jam on the plate, and draw a knife through to pull them out into heart shapes. Served to your loved ones.