What do you do when you have a small dinner party planned, and, suddenly, it takes on a life of its own and doubles in size? When your vision of an intimate evening of food and wine shared with a few friends, becomes an exponential math exercise as your gathering grows – and grows? In our home, where the motto “the more the merrier” is put into action more often than not, it helps to have a few tricks up your sleeve.
First and foremost, do not panic. Second, if you had inspired ambitions of executing an intricate, multi-coursed, hands-on menu with expensive ingredients, you might want to file it for a later date. The key is to keep things simple, get organized and create a menu that enables significant advance preparation. Typically, I am cooking as much, if not more, the day before a party. Many dishes can sit 24 hours, and some actually improve with sitting. Meats can (and often should) marinate overnight. Dips, sauces, dressings, and some cold salads can be prepared a day in advance. (Fresh greens and herbs can be added at the last minute, as these can morph into less vibrant versions of themselves after a day in the refrigerator.) Set the table the night before. And, by all means, choose a dessert that can be made at least one day in advance.
I have several fall-back party desserts that I rely on to feed a crowd which can be easily made in advance. A favorite is chocolate mousse. It’s elegant, simple, versatile and a crowd-pleaser. I like to prepare the mousse with 70% dark chocolate, which makes for a denser, more intense mousse. Its richness begs for smaller portions which makes it easy to spread out among extra guests. It can be simple and plain for a casual event, or dressed up with a liqueur, such as Cointreau or Framboise, for a fancier event. In the summertime, I add raspberries and cream to showcase the berry season, while in the winter some candied orange peel adds a festive touch. Choose a creative way to present the mousse; I use small glass votives that showcase the mousse and its garnishes. 24 glasses can fill a tray which makes a wonderful presentation when passed around.
Chocolate Mousse with Raspberries and Cream
This recipe may easily be doubled – Makes 12 small servings.
For the chocolate mousse:
2 cups heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 ounces (150 grams) 70% dark chocolate
For the raspberry coulis:
8 ounces fresh or frozen raspberries
1/4 cup sugar
For the whipped cream:
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sifted powder sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Fresh raspberries, for garnish
Grated dark chocolate, for garnish
Make the chocolate mousse:
1. Melt the chocolate in a double boiler over simmering water, stirring frequently until smooth. While the chocolate is melting, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a nonreactive bowl.
2. Heat 3/4 cup cream in a heavy saucepan until hot; do not bring to a boil. Add the hot cream to the egg yolks in a steady stream, whisking to combine. Pour the mixture back into saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until the mixture thickly coats the back of a wooden spoon. Strain the mixture through a fine-meshed sieve and stir in the vanilla. Whisk custard into the chocolate until smooth, and then cool to room temperature.
3. Beat the remaining 1 1/4 cups heavy cream in a bowl with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Stir 1/4 of the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture, and then gently fold in the remaining whipped cream until thoroughly combined.
4. Spoon mousse into serving glasses or bowls. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for at least 6 hours or overnight.
Make the raspberry coulis:
Combine the raspberries and sugar in a heavy saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring and mashing the raspberries with a fork, until the sugar dissolves. Transfer to a bowl and cool completely. (Raspberry coulis can be made one day in advance and refrigerated until use.)
Make the whipped cream:
Beat the cream in a bowl with an electric mixer until thickened and traces of the mixer are visible. Add the sugar and vanilla and continue to beat until soft peaks form. ( The cream can be made 3 hours in advance; cover and refrigerate until needed.)
Spoon a small layer of raspberry coulis over the mousse and spread evenly to cover. Top with a dollop of whipped cream and garnish with a fresh raspberry and grated chocolate.