"Not so lovely" quenelles I

"Not so lovely" quenelles I

It's family birthday time, and since 1985, "Chocolate Heaven" from the (now defunct) Chocolatier Magazine has brought good cheer to my birthday boys. It is light with a heavenly creamy experience of chocolate.

I think of this as easy to make - a treat that avoids the hassle of baking. You may then wonder "Why so many words for an easy recipe?" When I post a recipe I am imagining you making it! I wish for it to be foolproof and so I ponder mistakes I have made and share what you need to know to avoid my mistakes. If you feel confident melting chocolate, whipping cream, whipping egg whites and tempering when combining - then feel free to scroll down to the recipe. Otherwise, some words of advice here and in Notes.

"Not so lovely" quenelles II

"Not so lovely" quenelles II

This will sound silly, but I had not always realized that this recipe is essentially a chocolate mousse with bits of angel food cake added. There was a time when if someone asked me if I'd ever made chocolate mousse, I'd say no... but as it turns out I've been making it at least twice a year for over thirty years! While you may not find another online recipe for "Chocolate Heaven" you will find lots of info on "chocolate mousse" and some of it sounds scary - pitfalls, cautions etc. I will admit I have run into glitches - but always got myself out and ended up with a supremely edible treat. Bottom line, however, is that I have made several changes to the original recipe based on learning from mistakes.

No big surprise that there are variations on how to make chocolate mousse - but most classic recipes involve chocolate, egg yolks, egg whites and whipping cream - basically, like this recipe. [I've decided to put all the rest of my "mousse research" into Notes - below. Some of the Notes are required reading. Other bits are more for your reading pleasure.]

Most of the time I make this in a springform pan and serve it like cake - served in slices. In recent years, I often have to transport this and instead of risking the "cake method" I just chill it in a container and then serve it by scooping out lovely quenelle forms (or based on my photos - not so lovely quenelle forms). In theory, this only needs to be refrigerated for 2 hours, but I always make this the day before, and to speed along the prep, the angel food cake can be cut into pieces (and stored in a zip lock bag) the day before that. Clearly, you could also make this without the added angel food cake and serve it as a mousse - in a nice glass, chocolate cups etc. (One day I will add a photo of what this looks like in "cake" form.)

Three main secrets to success? 1.) Use the best chocolate you can afford. 2.) Take care melting the chocolate. 3.) Be sure the egg yolks are at the same temperature as the chocolate when mixing the two.

Getting Ready:

  • let 3 eggs come to room temperature - do this first and well ahead of time

  • prepare a 9-10" springform pan (assuming you are making it "cake" style). Line the bottom with a buttered parchment circle - or even better - a cardboard cake circle - you can get these at bulk food stores; then line the side with small strips of parchment or even wax paper - use a touch of butter to help the paper adhere to the side - makes pouring the mixture into the pan a bit easier, and ensures that the chocolate does not pick up a metallic flavour. (Check out the easy way to make a parchment circle. ) Now that “birthday boys” are out of town, I sometimes just plop this into a container and they can serve it by the spoonful.

  • buy / make angel food cake; cut up angel food cake into bite-sized pieces

  • separate the 3 eggs just before you begin

  • BE SURE all of the above is done before you begin

Steps (assuming all prep is done; steps below outline the "flow" of the work; this does not replace the detailed instructions below)

  1. Place the cut up angel-food cake into a large mixing bowl.

  2. Melt the chocolate - according to the directions below; if done carefully, this will take some time so you can go to Step 2, but keep checking the chocolate; if at the end of Step 2 the chocolate is still not totally melted go to Step 3 - keep checking the chocolate; chances are you'll need to take the chocolate off the heat before going to Step 4.

  3. Beat the egg whites in the large bowl of your stand mixer. 3.a) unless you have a third bowl for your stand mixer, transfer the beaten egg whites to another bowl. Wash the mixer bowl you just used, and cool it down in the fridge ready for Step 5.

  4. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar in the small bowl of your stand mixer., using the same beaters you used for the egg whites.

  5. Beat the whipping cream. Wash / dry the beaters and place them in your fridge or freezer for a few moments; used the chilled beaters and large chilled bowl to whip the whipping cream.

  6. Then it's "combo" time - add the egg yolk mixture to chocolate (see detailed instructions); fold / mix in the whipped cream; fold the egg whites into that mixture - that's the final addition before transferring it all to the large mixing bowl and gently combining it with the angel food cake.

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips


In a double-boiler or a bowl over a saucepan filled with 1-2" of simmering water, melt the chocolate. Do not rush this. (See Important Notes below). Once the chocolate is melted, remove the bowl from the heat.

3 egg whites
pinch of salt

In the large stand mixer bowl, beat the egg whites at medium-low speed for about one minute, until just foamy. Add the pinch of salt, increase speed to high and whip until soft peak form - about another minute or so.

2 TB sugar
3 egg yolks

While still keeping an eye on the melting chocolate, in the small bowl of your stand mixer, beat together the egg yolks and sugar. Beat until the mixture becomes pale yellow and thickens (a few minutes). Technically the mixture is emulsifying and the sugar is dissolving into the egg yolks. Undissolved sugar might make the end product a bit grainy.

2 cups whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla extract

In all probability, you will need some of the whipped cream in the next step, so get it ready now.

In the small stand mixer bowl, whip the cream and vanilla for about 30 seconds until it begins to thicken. Then increase the speed to high and whip briefly to soft peaks.

Continue with your mixer, or do this by hand. Combine the chocolate and egg mixture, but take care. Why? The chocolate and egg yolks need to be at the same temperature. If the chocolate is too warm, there is a risk the egg yolks will "cook" - not what we want. I do some tempering first to make sure the warm chocolate does not "cook" the egg yolks. I dip a small whisk into the chocolate and whisk the egg yolk mixture with whatever amount of chocolate got picked up on the whisk. Do this a couple of times and the eggs will be (not hard cooked) and closer to the temperature of the chocolate. By then you should be able to combine the two in the large stand mixer bowl, whisking constantly. 

As mentioned in Chocolate Disasters in Notes below,  there is some chance (actually it happens to me more often than not) that adding the egg yolk mixture makes the chocolate seize up a bit - don't panic. As the Notes say - fat fixes chocolate - and that’s where the whipped cream comes in.

If the chocolate has seized a bit, begin adding the whipped cream in small quantities. Especially at the beginning, use a spatula to mix each addition thoroughly, otherwise some of the seized chocolate on the sides and bottom of the bowl will be left out. After several tablespoons of added whipped cream the seized chocolate will be lovely and soft and you can continue folding in the remainder of the whipped cream.

Next, fold the whipped egg whites into the chocolate / egg / whipped cream mixture. Use a whisk to add about 1/4 of the beaten egg whites to the chocolate mixture. Continue to use the whisk or a spatula to fold in the remaining egg whites.

9 inch store-bought or homemade angel food cake

1/2 cup whipped cream for garnish (optional)
grated chocolate for garnish (optional)

You should have prepped by cutting the angel food cake into bite-size pieces and placing them in a large bowl. In this last step, gently mix together the cake pieces and the chocolate mixture. Pour the chocolate mixture into a prepared (see above) 9-10 inch spring form pan and refrigerate for at least two hours or overnight. Remove the cake from the pan. Garnish with whipped cream and grated chocolate if desired.

Notes and Tips...

  • Chocolate Quality - once again am stressing that this should be the best you can afford. I now only buy Ghiradelli - sounds snobby and is not the cheapest, but I got fed up with failed projects where the blame lay squarely with the chocolate quality. The best chocolate I have ever had access to is from my local Belgian chocolatier. He's doesn't advertise it, but he's willing to sell small bags of the wafers he uses. Some pastry chefs even recommend Lindt 70% chocolate bars over grocery chain chocolate chips.

  • Melting Chocolate - do not be in a hurry!! Few of us have double-boilers anymore - we simply place a bowl over a saucepan with a few inches of simmering water. The bowl can be glass, but a metal bowl conducts heat better so can work well - again, assuming the water is not too hot! Mary Berry, well-known from the BBC's "The Great British Bake Off", is fond of reminding us that chocolate melts in children's hands, so there's no need to go overboard with heat. You can find online tips for melting chocolate in a microwave. Of course that works, but is more risky. What's the risk? See the next point. I find this video cute - a French chef making mousse - not exactly the way my recipe specifies - but you'll see that he gives the chocolate up to 25 minutes to melt over water that is hot, but not too hot for his hand.

  • Chocolate Disasters - The risk referred to above is that you will overheat the chocolate - it becomes grainy, won't mix with other ingredients - basically garbage. The other "disaster" which I have experienced is that the chocolate seizes when the egg yolks are added. Careful tempering can avoid this - though I never seem to manage avoiding this. When it does happen, your heart sinks but there is a fix. Adding, stirring, mixing in bits of the whipped cream loosen up the chocolate. Why does this work? Seized chocolate needs fat to be fixed. This site even suggests using butter or oil.

  • About Separating Eggs - it's true that it is easier to separate eggs when they are cold - fine for the egg whites, but the egg yolks can form a skin in the time it takes for everything to warm to room temperature. So I do the separating just before starting.

  • Beating Egg Whites - you may already know, but the beater and bowl need to be spotlessly clean, free from even a hint of fat. Some bakers advise that you use a bit of vinegar on a paper towel to wipe any film from the bowl. The egg whites, bowl and beaters need to be room temperature. There must be not even a speck of egg yolk in the egg whites. The easiest way to remove a speck of egg yolk is to scoop it out with a bit of egg shell. You'll notice we add a pinch of salt to the egg whites - like Cream of Tartar it helps to stabilize the whipped egg whites and keep them from collapsing,

  • Angel Food Cake - fortunately, I can still find these ready-made at my grocer's, but for sure they have become smaller over the decades. I have been living with that, but technically you can make your own cake - or use a cake mix.

  • "Mousse Research". I'm almost embarrassed to say that the recipe I have followed for 30+ years fits into a 7" x 2" column in a magazine. The extra words here are offered mainly for those with little experience with chocolate and so on. In my efforts to warn you of "mousse pitfalls" I did some online research. (Here's a interesting article from NYT 1982.) Variations I noticed include using butter instead of cream, or heating the whipping cream instead of whipping it. Some "cake style" versions used gelatin - I've never found that to be necessary.

    By sheer coincidence, I found a lengthy piece on Mousse in Cook's Illustrated "Make Ahead Desserts: 2017" (BTW - this is not a sponsored post). They explained some of the glitches I encountered (hallelujah!) and offered reliable tips - though I have not incorporated all. Hunt down that publication for their mousse recipe - it may even taste better than this. Highlights:

    • They reviewed many recipes, some using butter - and they explain why they eliminated the butter.

    • While some recipes warm the whipping cream and add it to the melted chocolate, they opt for the same technique I use - whipping the cream first - this adds to the volume of the mixture and we want that in this recipe.

    • They add sugar to both the egg yolks and egg whites, and the salt is added to the yolks; they are kitchen geeks, so they must have a reason - not sure why...

    • I was tickled to read that in their testing the chocolate sometimes seized when they added the egg yolks. They go into a long explanation of how that is related to the liquid-to-solid ratio. In any case, I mention the fix above.

    • For optimal chocolate flavour they start with chopped chocolate, and cocoa powder and water! Who has not heard of "like water for chocolate" - meaning they do NOT mix well at all! Here's some trivia - this recipe did call for one tablespoon of water and it always made the chocolate seize - I knew how to fix that, but in the end I just stopped adding the water - did not notice any difference in the result. Bottom line - I am not taking the advice to use a chocolate, cocoa, water combo.

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