Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Chocolate Mousse (Moose!) Torte

A few years ago, I decided to make this recipe for a potluck lunch at work. I wrote “Chocolate Mousse Torte” on the signup sheet. About a week before the lunch, an e-mail went around listing what everyone was bringing. My contribution appeared as “Chocolate Mouse Torte”. At first I considered going to the secretary and throwing a fit, and then I thought, “hey, maybe I can do something with this…..” So I looked high and low for a chocolate mouse. The best I could find was a chocolate computer mouse, and I would have had to order it online and pay for overnight shipping in order to get it on time, and I decided I didn’t want it that badly. So I started to look around for a moose, to emphasize that it’s supposed to be a MOOSE, er, MOUSSE, cake. By this time it was only a couple of days until the lunch, and I’d given up hope of finding a chocolate moose; I was willing to use about anything that would fit on a cake. Finally at a craft store I found a small plastic moose that was part of one of these miniature Christmas villages, so I used that.

A couple of months ago I was in a Hallmark store and decided to check out the new Christmas ornaments, which had just come out. Among them was – of all things – one called “Chocolate Moose”. It’s actually plastic, of course, but the body looks like a layered chocolate torte, the head is shaped like a piece of chocolate candy, the antlers are forks, and around its neck is a wreath with bonbons attached. So I decided to bake the chocolate mousse (moose) torte for the upcoming holiday potluck of the Rutgers Gardens volunteers, and decorate it with this moose. (Disclaimer: I am not a Hallmark employee and have no connection with them except that I buy their stuff.)

The recipe is fairly simple, but gives impressive results. It’s also nice for working people in that it can be spread out over (at least) two days: bake the bottom layer and melt the chocolate in the cream on the first day, let everything cool overnight, then whip the cream and apply on the second day. It’s helpful to be familiar with whipping technique, because the bottom layer is a sponge cake – where the volume comes from the air that you beat into the egg whites – and the top layer is basically whipped cream. I like Julia Child’s description of a sponge cake in her French Chef Cookbook: “You will note that there is no baking powder; the lightness of the cake depends entirely on beautifully beaten egg whites which are folded into the batter with such speed and delicacy that they retain their volume and the maximum of their puffing abilities.”

You will also note that there is no flour in this recipe. Instead, the original recipe, which is from Germany, calls for ground hazelnuts, which are probably the most commonly used nut there. I use ground almonds instead. Both of these can be purchased already ground in Germany, so they have it easy. I haven’t been able to find them here, and I have a couple of favorite recipes that call for ground almonds, so I got a friend to send me some. If you don’t have such connections, you could probably use a blender or food processor. You want them ground fairly fine, finer than a nut topping but not as fine as flour.

The original recipe also calls for the bottom layer to be moistened with rum flavoring before adding the marmalade. I’m not a big fan of rum flavoring, so I skip this step. The marmalade gives a nice little tang and also seals in crumbs, but you can leave it out too if you want.

The cream is whipped with a stabilizer sold in the US as “Whipit”. It comes in small paper packets, like the way they used to sell Kool-Aid without sugar. I’ve been able to find it in the bakery aisle of several supermarket chains. The recipe called for three packets, but the first time I made this cake the whipped cream had a metallic off-flavor, so I cut back to two packets. Then this last time I refrigerated the cream and chocolate mixture for about 24 hours, and it became surprisingly thick, like pudding. Whether that was due to the long refrigeration, or the brand of chocolate, I don’t know. I used only one packet of Whipit, and the result was a frosting that spread beautifully.

The original recipe uses metric units, so I have converted them as well as I could, and give both in case anyone has metric utensils.

But, back to the Rutgers Gardens party: OldRoses and I snuck off during dinner, found a suitably picturesque spot to set up the cake and moose, and had a blast doing the photo shoot. Too late I discovered that all the pictures were dark. I've done the best I can, but the moose doesn't come out as well as I'd hoped...

Verdict: Yum! this one's a keeper!

Chocolate Mousse Torte
(source: Schwartau Recipe Service, Germany)

Bottom layer:

6 eggs
125 grams (about 3/8 cup) sugar
100 grams (1 cup) ground hazelnuts or almonds
10 grams (2 tbsp) cocoa powder

Separate the eggs. Beat the egg whites until stiff. Beat the yolks with the sugar until creamy and pale yellow. Stir in the cocoa and ground nuts. Fold in the beaten egg whites. Pour into a 10” springform pan. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 50 minutes. Let cool.

Top layer:

600 milliliters (about 2 ½ cups) whipping cream
5 oz. bittersweet chocolate (or 5/6 cup bittersweet chocolate chips)
1-2 packets Whipit
orange marmalade

Heat the cream, add the chocolate, and stir until the chocolate is completely melted and well mixed with the cream. Cool the mixture thoroughly in the refrigerator. Beat until creamy, add the Whipit, and then beat until very stiff.

Spread a thin layer of marmalade over the bottom layer of the cake. Spread the whipped cream over the top and sides, putting most of it on the top. Decorate with grated chocolate. Chill at least 2 hours before serving. Store any remaining torte in the refrigerator.

Compost: eggshells

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