Chocolate Mousse
(Serves Eight)

Ross's note: Few desserts enjoy the rave reviews of mousse au chocolat, the traditional French classic. But the original French recipe is tricky, requiring you to whip up a cloud of egg whites, not too stiff, not too flabby. What's more, the whites stay raw, and that bothers some people worried about salmonella. Nevertheless, I found no alternative that really was as good as the classic--until this one came along. It basically substitutes whipped cream for the egg whites, and while perhaps that adds calories, well, it's dessert, you know. Leftovers seem to last pretty well in the fridge for a couple days anyway.

Active time: 45 min. Start to finish: 7 hr (includes chilling)

Many of the fine-quality bittersweet chocolates sold at supermarkets typically contain 50 to 60 percent cocoa solids. If you choose chocolate with a higher percentage, your mousse may be slightly denser.

2 cups chilled heavy cream
4 large egg yolks
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
7 oz. fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), chopped.

Garnish: Lightly sweetened whipped cream

Special equipment: instant-read thermometer.

Heat 3/4 cup cream in a 1-quart heavy saucepan until hot. Whisk together yolks, sugar, and a pinch of salt in a metal bowl until combined well, then add hot cream in a slow stream, whisking until combined. Transfer mixture to saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until it registers 160 degrees F on thermometer. Pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and stir in vanilla.

Ross's note: I've forgotten to strain a couple times. It doesn't seem to make much difference. But beware: if you cook too long it will turn into a kind of chocolate scrambled egg, epic fail!

Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a metal bowl set over a pan of simmering water (or in a glass bowl in a microwave at 50 percent power 3 to 5 minutes), stirring frequently. Whisk custard into chocolate until smooth, then cool.

Ross's note: I don't know why anyone with a microwave would bother with the old-fashioned double boiler. Keep in mind that in the microwave the chocolate may stay whole while actually melted. One touch and its liquid. So don't overdo the nuke!

Beat remaining 1 1/4 cups cream in a bowl with an electric mixer until it just holds stiff peaks. Whisk one-fourth of cream into chocolate custard to lighten, then fold in remaining cream gently but thoroughly.

Spoon mousse into 8 (6-oz) stemmed glasses or ramekins and chill, covered, at least 6 hours. Let stand at room temperature about 20 minutes before serving.

Ross's note: Or don't bother with this fuss, and just have everyone scoop out of one big bowl.

Cooks' notes:
Mousse can be chilled up to 1 day.
To vary the flavor, you can replace the 1 teaspoon vanilla with 2 teaspoons instant-espresso powder (dissolve it in the hot cream) or 3 tablespoons Grand Marnier or 2 tablespoons cognac (either one whisked into strained custard). Or try a little port, sherry or Scotch to express your personal flair!

(Source: adapted from Gourmet magazine, December 2002)