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:
1/2 pound fresh raspberries
1/4 cup sugar
For the whipped cream:
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sifted powder sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Make the chocolate mousse:
Melt chocolate in a double boiler, stirring frequently until smooth. While the chocolate is melting, whisk the egg yolks and sugar together in a nonreactive bowl. 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 mixture thickly coats the back of a wooden spoon. Strain mixture through a fine-meshed sieve; stir in vanilla. Whisk custard into the chocolate until smooth; cool.
Beat 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. Gently fold in remaining whipped cream until thoroughly combined. Spoon mousse into serving glasses or bowls. Chill, covered, at least 6 hours or overnight.
Make the raspberry coulis:
Combine raspberries and sugar in a heavy saucepan. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring and mashing raspberries with a fork, until sugar dissolves. Transfer to a bowl; cool. (Raspberry coulis may be made one day in advance.)
Make the whipped cream:
Beat whipped cream in a bowl with an electric mixer until thickened and traces from mixer can be seen. Add sugar and vanilla. Continue to beat until soft peaks form. (Can be made 3 hours in advance; cover and refrigerate until needed.)
Spoon a small layer of raspberry coulis over mousse. Spread evenly to cover mousse. Top with a dollop of whipped cream. Garnish with a fresh raspberry and grated chocolate.