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Mastering Boreal Mousse

April 19, 2015

Made a mousse today. Mousse isn’t something I’ve ever made, but I was looking forward to the challenge. I’d been assigned dessert for our more-or-less-quarterly food group–the divine Dining Divas. The menu was largely pre-selected by the host–this time Madeline–because boreal menus and recipes are not that easy to come by.

She drew mainly from The Boreal Feast: A Culinary Journey through the North by Michele Genest

Madeline chose a boreal feast as her theme, inspired by her recent trip to Alaska and Yukon territories. I’m still not quite sure what all a boreal feast entails, but found this description online: “wild ingredients found in the boreal forests from Yukon to Alaska to Scandinavia.”

So a White Chocolate Mousse Blueberry Parfait it was!

Besides white chocolate, cream, brown sugar, and lemon (all in abundance and easy to find here in the 38th parallel) my recipe called for wild blueberries (which I got at the coop), birch syrup (which I couldn’t find, so substituted maple syrup), and Haskap liqueur, (edible berries of the blue honeysuckle plant, native in the cooler temperatures of the Northern Hemisphere). Couldn’t find that, either, so substituted Cassis (another berry liqueur).

Safe to say, the ingredients list was causing me some trepidation. But I was more intimidated after reading the preparation. It had so many techniques that have traditionally been dicey for me. For example, anytime I have to whip cream (or egg whites) to a certain consistency I get uneasy; it’s never clear to me what, exactly, constitutes soft versus stiff peaks, for example. Folding in whipped stuff is also a delicate proposition, especially when there are warnings about not over mixing and maintaining “as much air as possible.” I totally understand mousses are supposed to be light and smooth. Uh oh.

Reducing things to half their original volume is another inexact science. I get it, I have my methods, but that’s always a little subjective and gives me a wee bit of consternation.

The scariest for me though, was the part of the mousse preparation where you’re melting the chocolate. They said that because white “chocolate” has a lower melting point than other chocolates, and because it scorches and seizes more easily, you’re supposed to use a double boiler and watch it carefully (I always fake a double boiler, but not without a little self-doubt). You’re also supposed to be extremely careful to make sure NO condensation from the sides of the pan get into the chocolate or it will get super clumpy (I’ve had this happen when making rocky road; it’s weird and unappealing… definitely not the desired smooth). So you’re supposed to keep wiping the sides down and drying the outer edges of the pan. Now I had condensation consternation.

Finally, they were very specific about the fat content in the cream you used. I couldn’t find anything in the store close to what they stipulated (35% cream) so my mousse has a much higher fat content. (At least I think it does.) Winging this requires some knowledge of gram/calorie computations, but I was uncertain as to whether it was just the saturated fat content that one uses to calculate fat or all of the fat.

Mousses. I swear. And mousses that use hard to find native ingredients from the northern-most latitudes.. well.. I was very dubious about my abilities to carry this off.

In the end, it came out okay! My biggest disappointment was not the dessert, per se–I thought the flavors and textures were good. It was the vessel. It’d have been far more attractive and easier to both assemble and eat had the dish been smaller and shallower. You’ll see below.

Here’re some pictures, starting from the beginning:

I decided to make the mousse part first, in case that failed, in which case I wouldn’t have bothered with the rest, and might have substituted some boreal ice cream (sure the coop has some)!

I was to finely chop some white chocolate (instead I smashed some chips into small bits with a meat tenderizer):

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Added 2T of “35% cream” to keep it smooth (which, again…..):

I used this:

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Which has this much fat:

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Which, by my best used-to-be-a-math-major calculation is 60% fat:  4 grams of saturated fat X 9 calories per gram = 36 calories = 36/60 = 60% fat (based on a serving having 60 calories). If I calculate all the fat (6g), I get 90% fat… which sounds possible for heavy cream… but where in the world does one find cream with 35% fat? Even calculating Half & Half gives me a range of 51-77% fat.. so I’m probably doing something wrong, but I’m not sure what. So that bummed me out.

I followed their instructions, however: melted the chocolate with the cream, managed to keep the chocolate from seizing and ended up with this thick stuff, which oozed fat. It’s sort of like Silly Putty in texture, hardish, but malleable.

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I whipped the cream…

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…hopefully sufficiently stiff. Then first vigorously mixed a small amount into the melted, Silly Putty-ish chocolate, then gently, airily, folded in the rest. It seemed light, smooth and tasted pretty good. Wow!

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Then put it in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.

While that cooled, I gathered the ingredients for the blueberry compote:

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… heated the berries with syrup and lemon:

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…stirred frequently for about ten minutes until most of the liquid was gone. It looks a little primordial, doesn’t it? Very thick, densely flavored and nicely reduced.

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Then pulled it off the stove, added whatever sugar seemed necessary (barely a T of brown) and a bit of the Cassis:

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The compote joined the mousse in the refrigerator to cool and set. I took them to the dinner and assembled the individual parfaits there, and made a simple topping of blueberries and drizzled Cassis:

Here’s a blurry shot of my goofy presentation… too much vessel for too little parfait…

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Oh well. It did taste good and is worth trying again.

And as long as I’m showing pictures of food, here are a few more of the courses that preceded dessert…

Susan made these great smoked salmon toasts with dill-spiked cream cheese and cucumbers as an appetizer:

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Carol made the best Borsht I’ve ever had and it was absolutely gorgeously presented. It was very fresh with pieces of cucumber for added crunch. The sour cream both in the broth and as a condiment made it rich and creamy:

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Susan also contributed a noodle and cabbage dish that was excellent:

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Madeline made braised short ribs (fantastic) with a delicious crust (forgot what all went into that; I don’t yet have the recipes) and served them with morels and carrots (wow). The gravy was insane. Tracy made baked, mashed Yukon Gold potatoes with saffron which had an amazingly light and crusty texture and went perfectly with the ribs and gravy.

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Rissa was the wine gal and brought a Riesling and a Zin that were both great.

New this time was a palate cleanser course… daikon radishes, endive, kohlrabi sticks, cranberries, toasted walnuts, served with a highbush cranberry vinaigrette. It was wonderful.

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As background, Madeline ran a slide show of her recent Alaska trip, so it was like being in the Northern territories. Clever way to carry through the theme! And informative.

We even got to take home some of the highbush cranberry vinegar used in the above vinaigrette. SCORE!

All in all, great, fun, very tasty and educational evening.

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