Melt 8 oz. of chopped bittersweet chocolate, no more than 60% cacao, and six tablespoons of butter in a large metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water stirring occasionally until melted and smooth. Remove from heat. I walk to Paris Grocery in search of chocolate, then to Delaurenti’s. No luck. I stop at Sur La Table on the way home and find Valhrona chocolate, sixty-eight percent cacao—ten ounces for $13.95. I only need eight ounces so I weigh the chopped chocolate on my kitchen scale and eat the excess, shard by shard. The chocolate melts at body temperature in my mouth—soft, silky, sublime. I think of my late son Alan and how we loved to cook together. Had he been with me, I would have given him the extra chocolate.
Separate three extra-large eggs. Beat the yolks in a small bowl with an electric mixer until thick enough to form a ribbon that takes a few minutes to dissolve after the beaters are lifted, 2 to 4 minutes. Whisk into chocolate mixture along with 1 tablespoon cognac. Let mixture cool to warm. I pull out my Kitchen Aid mixer. It was a Christmas gift from my mother thirty years ago. I always think of her when I use the mixer and how she supported my move from her home-style cooking to gourmet.
Beat one cup of whipping cream until soft peaks form. I like this recipe for the low sugar content. But the fat! I excuse this by telling myself that I only make this dessert once a year and while the French restaurant, Le Pichet, half a block from my condo in downtown Seattle, makes a scrumptious chocolate mousse, I like my recipe better. I try not to remember that I check Le Pichet’s dessert board every time I walk by the restaurant.
In a clean bowl, with clean beaters, whip the three egg whites with a pinch of salt until they are stiff but not dry. I know what stiff whipped egg whites are but I wonder what dry ones look like. I’m going by the seat of my pants on this one.
Add the whipped cream and stiffened egg whites to the chocolate mixture and carefully fold until fully incorporated. I made this recipe with Madison, my fourteen-year-old granddaughter when she visited Seattle last summer. She did the folding and as I tried to instruct her on proper technique, she shrugged me off and continued to briskly stir. For a smart girl, she doesn’t listen well.
Pour the mousse into a serving bowl, press plastic wrap onto the surface and refrigerate. Before serving, let it sit out for 30 minutes. When son James and I recently collaborated on this dessert, we realized the mousse tastes best before refrigeration. I held up two spoons and gave James a look. He smiled and pulled up a stool to the kitchen counter. We sat across from one another and ate directly from the bowl.
Susan Knox is the author of Financial Basics: A Money Management Guide for Students (Ohio State University Press 2004). Her essays and short stories have appeared in Blue Lyra Review, CALYX, Forge, The MacGuffin, and Zone 3, among others. She lives in Seattle.