Blame it on the baby.

Most of the time, what I choose to cook is based on factors like the time of year, what’s in season, what I haven’t eaten in a while and perhaps an idea for something new that I’d like to try.  My wife (N), is usually happy to be the guinea pig and give me some constructive criticism.  We tend to agree on meals for the coming week and then shop for the ingredients we need if we’re super organised.  Other weeks seem to be a blur of what I can throw together with the impulse buys from a previous trip to the supermarket.  It’s not very often that N will make a specific request, but when she does, boy, do I get excited!  I get a real kick out of preparing stuff to order, as it were.  There’s just enough pressure to make me aim for perfection and I find that making food for others feels very different to making it for myself alone.

A couple of nights ago, N happened to say, “Ooh, d’ya know what I could just eat right now?  A nice chocolate mousse!  Not that I want you to make one now.  I’m just thinking aloud.”  It was all I could do to remain in my seat and passively comment, “Hmmm..I’d eat one too.”  The next day, I rushed out to get enough eggs so that I could prepare the mousse while N was out with friends.  Chocolate mousse is very easy to make, but I managed to mess up just about every stage of it and can only blame it on my baby boy, who was curiously watching me drop eggs on the floor, spill yolk into the bowl of egg whites and generally make a silly mess.  I’m happy to say that no adults were present to stifle sniggers as I went from one disaster to the next, though I could have done with someone sensible to assist guide me.

The lavender in my garden has exploded this year and I haven’t used it much in the kitchen yet.  The chocolate mousse was a perfect chance to add some background flavour.  I cut about five or six buds and steeped them for 20 minutes in boiling water in a mortar.  I then used the pestle to grind the buds for a minute before passing the liquid through a fine sieve.  Next, I passed the liquid through a couple of paper kitchen towels and then once more through a single piece of kitchen paper into a white ramekin so that I could make sure the liquid was completely clear.  It sounds like a chore, but I ended up with a good amount of lavender water that I could use to add flavour to food.  The taste is not a dominant one, so if you decide to do the same, don’t expect the flavour to be obvious.

The recipe for dark chocolate and lavender mousse below is a good one, in my humble opinion.  One element falls short of being completely successful though.  The dark chocolate overpowers the lavender and I regret not using milk chocolate instead.  Here, it was my own taste rather than my common sense that determined what should be in the mousse.  Dark chocolate works much better with equally powerful colleagues such as chilli, cinnamon, cardamom, orange or ginger.  Milk chocolate is light enough to take on the flavour of lavender.  The method for making the chocolate mousse is still useful and I hope you get as much pleasure out of the result as N did.  You may wish to substitute the dark chocolate for milk chocolate if you want to really taste the lavender.  Alternatively, you could just leave out the lavender and enjoy a bit of dark indulgence on its own!

Dark chocolate and lavender mousse

175g dark chocolate

4 eggs (separated)

50g caster sugar

5 tblspoons lavender water (optional)

Break up the chocolate and melt it gently in a glass bowl over some hot water.  Melting it too quickly will give you a grainy texture, so patience is the name if the game.  You could melt it while separating the eggs.  Beat the yolks with lavender water and in a separate bowl, whisk the whites until they form soft peaks.  Add the caster sugar to the whites and whisk again for a couple of minutes until incorporated.

Take the chocolate off the heat and stir until there are no lumps left.  Allow it to cool slightly before pouring in the yolks and stirring well.  Add the chocolate mixture to the whites and fold in with a spatula.  After whisking lots of air into the whites, you don’t want to undo your work by stirring.  As the proteins in the egg whites unravel, they link to one another forming tiny structures that we see as air bubbles.  Stirring destroys these bubbles which is what can make your mousse dense and gloopy.  Take your time and you will see the colour of the mixture change gradually as the whites take on the brown chocolate.  Once it is completely brown, pour the mousse into glasses or ramekins and refrigerate for two or three hours.  With this recipe, I was able to fill four small white ramekins to the top.  It works out roughly as one egg per person, but you will need to increase the amount of chocolate too if you plan on making larger quantities.

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