Any good chef will have a chocolate mousse recipe in their repertoire. Typically, the recipe involves whipping egg yolks and sugar until they're light and fluffy (perhaps over a water bath for food-safety), and then combining that mixture with melted dark chocolate and folding in whipped cream. Some recipes may further lighten the mix with meringue, or stabilize it with gelatin, depending on the application.
It’s classic for a reason, with a rich custard flavor from the egg yolks, and I can’t say I have any complaints. So it was never my intent to develop an eggless chocolate mousse, but that’s exactly what I stumbled into while trying to develop a chocolate version of my sweetened condensed milk.
I'd only added a few spoonfuls of Dutch cocoa powder to the mixture, but instead of reducing into a light cocoa milk, the result was something far closer to pudding due to the natural starch in cocoa. The flavor was bold and complex, with notes of toffee from the cooked milk and the deep, earthy flavor that cocoa develops as it simmers.
On cooling, the chocolate condensed milk proved too thick and intense to eat as a pudding, so I folded in some whipped cream to lighten up the flavor and texture. And thus my eggless mousse was born!
What took me by surprise was how clean and bold the chocolate tasted without egg yolks to mask its flavor, and how easy the recipe would be as a make-ahead dessert—the base could be made and refrigerated a week or more in advance, then lightened with cream a few hours before serving.
It's all whisked together until smooth, then cooked over medium heat for about 45 minutes. In that time, it will transform from a pale and foamy "cocoa" that nearly fills a 5-quart Dutch oven to just over a pint of inky black "pudding" (check out the time lapse in the video above).
To speed cooling, I transfer the mixture to a wide baking dish before refrigeration, but if you're not in a hurry, any sort of bowl will do. Once the mixture is cold, thick, and no warmer than 45°F, I fold in a small portion of stiffly whipped cream.
This loosens the consistency of the "pudding" so it folds into the rest of the whipped cream without crushing out all the air. The folding process can happen straight in the baking dish if it's large enough (as per the video), or the lightened pudding can be transferred to the bowl of whipped cream. In either case, what matters is that you fold the mousse as gently as you can to avoid deflating the cream.
Freshly made, the mousse will be fluffy, light, and a little soft—perfect for spreading between layers of chocolate cake or piping into serving dishes.
While I highly recommend licking the bowl and spatula as soon as you can, the mousse itself should be chilled at least an hour before serving. That will give it time to set up and develop a bit more body. When soft and comparatively warm, the mousse has a foamy texture like whipped cream. Once cold, the mousse will still be creamy and soft, but with enough structure that you'll be able to feel the air cells pop. To me, that's what makes a mousse a mousse.
The mousse has a deep, rich chocolate flavor that doesn't require any embellishments, but I had some crunchy pearls on hand, so I couldn't resist.
In a recipe this simple, the mousse can only be as delicious as the cocoa powder involved. Since the acidity of natural cocoas will curdle the milk, alkalized Dutch cocoa is a must. My oft-mentioned favorite is Cacao Barry Extra Brute, but Droste is a common supermarket brand that I'm happy to use (though it's significantly cheaper to purchase online), or you can splurge on a high-end cocoa like Valrhona (which is indeed Dutched, despite the lack of labeling).
The crucial thing is to avoid cheap, lowfat cocoa powder, which will lack sufficient flavor to carry the mousse. If you're not sure whether a cocoa is lowfat, check the nutrition label and divide the grams of fat per serving by the total grams per serving; if the answer is less than 0.2, abandon ship.
With a rich, full-flavored Dutch cocoa as the starring ingredient, this unusual mousse is certain to make a memorable finale to any meal.