About two weeks ago, I rather accidentally did my first crowd-sourced cooking experiment. I’d been given a bag of red hot chilies by our secretary at work, and I was at a loss as to what to do with them. I threw the ball up to the social web and was rewarded by quite a few ideas, one of which eventually turned into the Eggs Benedict Burger.
That first experiment left me with only about another 30 chilies and quite a bit of wondering to do. Being the loud and outspoken foodie that I am, I’ve recently been given a lot of little things to play with, and I figured it was about time to give a little something back to the community. I wanted, first and foremost, to do something for the lady who had been nice enough to hit her favorite chili-head with an abundance of fresh chilies. The trouble is, though, our secretary doesn’t much care for chilies herself, so how do you possibly successfully cook something for her involving red hot chilies?
Well, when I originally threw up the question about what to do with the chilies, my friend Mette suggested I did a spin on the age-old combination of chili and chocolate. And eventually, that’s just what I decided to do! After all, women love chocolate, I thought, so that may well be the way to get women to love chili!
Of course, one does not just mix chocolate and chili and call it a day. Especially not if one’s name is Johan. I wanted to do something a little more elaborate than just chili infused chocolate. Besides, I’m honestly an idiot when it comes to tempering chocolate, so I’d probably just mess it up. Consequently, when I do a chocolate dish, it’s usually pretty simple: chocolate covered something or chocolate mousse something.
Chocolate covered chilies, as interesting a concept as it may seem, is probably not the best way to win people over, so my decision fell on a new twist of my trusty old friend: chocolate mousse. Chocolate mousse (recipe here) is about the easiest dessert in the world to make. In theory, anyway. If you’re anything like me, you’ll end up over-complicating it and spending hours getting it jus right. But, really, the basics are simple as can be: whip some cream, melt some chocolate, beat a few egg yolks, mix everything well, and toss in a few extra flavors if you’re so inclined, then just chill and enjoy.
Now, last things first! In terms of extra flavors, I needed to find a way to get the chili flavor infused into the mousse. I could have done this simply by chopping them up and adding them, but that would’ve made for an uneven mix and a not very interesting experiment at all. Rather, I achieved perfect integration by cutting up a few of the hot little buggers and giving them a nice long four-day soak in a few ounces of Cointreau (a French orange liqueur). The alcohol acts like a solvent (scratch that, it actually IS a solvent), drawing the fruitiness and the heat out of the chilies. The result was a orangey, fruity, sweet and blazingly hot little cocktail which could be mixed into the mousse for a nice deep, fruity burn.
With the problem of chili integration out of the way, I turned to the issue of chocolate. I don’t eat a lot of chocolate, but whatever little I do eat, I want to be of decent quality. Having used orange flavors in the chili infusion, I saw no reason not to use orange as a flavor component in the chocolate as well: I needed about 200 grams of chocolate for my standard chocolate mousse recipe, so I went with a hundred grams of standard, dark chocolate (70% cocoa) and another hundred grams of orange zest infused dark chocolate (70% cocoa as well). This, along with the Cointreau, I reasoned would give a pronounced, but not overpowering orange flavor that would go well with the dark chocolate and the heat from the chilies.
All I needed then were egg yolks and heavy cream. For the yolks I went to my favorite source of farm fresh eggs, as for the cream, I grabbed whatever organic variety the local market had to offer on the Sunday morning I had dedicated to the project.
Chili Orange Chocolate Mousse: Overly Complicating Things
To get started with my mousse, I began rather innocently by whipping up 750 millilitres of cream, a beautiful little project in its own light. About a third of this, I set aside for decoration, carefully folding in a few drops of Cointreau as I did.
While I was whipping, or rather while the machine was whipping, I carefully melted 200 grams of chocolate over low heat, stirring somewhat constantly. You’re supposed to do this rather carefully in a double boiler, but of course you could just do what I did, say “to hell with it”, and get a cook top with a low heat melting setting.
When the chocolate was completely molten and velvety, I tasted it and decided it needed a bit of sweetness. Rather than just add sugar and while we were on the subject of booze and chili, I decided to hit it with a bit of my proprietary ghost chili and rum syrup – a mix of dark cane sugar and El Dorado Spiced Rum boiled to a syrupy consistency in the company of a single dried ghost chili. Good stuff!
To make ghost chili syrup, mix two parts sugar with one part water, dump in one dried ghost chili or other chili of choice and bring to a boil. Add a generous dash of quality spiced rum (such as El Dorado Spiced) and reduce to desired consistency.
Having sweetened and spiked up the chocolate, I moved quickly, straining and whisking in the Cointreau/chili mixture along with two fresh egg yolks. I beat vigorously till the mixture had cooled, then gently folded it into the whipped cream and turned it into an attractive serving bowl.. And that should have been it, really.
Of course, always finding more ways to complicate simple things, I wasn’t done. I grabbed the remaining Cointreau-infused whipped cream and carefully smoothed it out on top. I then roughly chopped up a few of the Habanero chili licorice bites that were given to me as part of my Lakrids by Johan Bülow care package and sprinkled them casually on top. I added a few random dabs of my ghost chili syrup and, as bit of a morbid centerpiece, a candied ghost chili that had spent a few months soaking in the syrup. And that’s all, I swear..
Chili orange chocolate mousse with Cointreau whipped cream, habanero chili licorices, ghost chili syrup and candied ghost chilies. A crowd-sourced recipe for Ingelise, the best secretary in the world and my mom away from mom! Who (did I mention this already?) by the way doesn’t care much for chilies!
Chili Orange Chocolate Mousse Taste Test: How was it?
Well, first of all, it was a bitch to bring to work. Having left it to chill in the fridge over night, I started out nearly forgetting it as I sprinted out the door in the morning. I then had to balance the attractive yet very cold serving dish in one hand as I chased after the bus with my laptop bag in the other. But other than that, it was just fine.
I unveiled the project at lunch time amidst surprised gasps, weird looks, head shaking and skeptical cries of “are those licorice bits?”, “who in their right mind puts chili in a dessert?” and “I’m telling you, this won’t work!” .. and with a reception like that, how could it not be a total success?
The combinations were a bit odd, I’ll give my colleagues that, but looking at them from an isolated standpoint, they just work. Chocolate and licorice are great friends, orange and licorice are great friends, orange and chocolate are great friends, chili and chocolate are great friends.. And everything is just better with the addition of heavy cream and booze!
But the question remained: Would chocolate, orange, licorice AND chili all be best friends if they met over a shot of Cointreau in a pool of cream? And the answer is YES! Chocolate mousse, in case you were wondering, is one hell of a heavy dish and it needs a little something to cut through the heaviness. Both the chili, the orange and the licorice proved awesome at that, all while complimenting each other quite well in a way that’s probably easier to experience on your own than it is to explain.
All components of the dish shone through brightly as I’d hoped, the chili maybe a little too brightly for some palates, but on mine it was perfect. If I had to do this over, which some people insist I do, I would maybe keep the chili a little less pronounced and I’d try to find a way of making the finished product more airy and less dense. Probably by not whipping the cream too enthusiastically and maybe adding a few egg whites for airiness as a lot of recipes suggest.
Other than that, I was well pleased with my Sunday crowd-sourced dessert experiments. I asked for help and you lot ended up throwing me both ideas and a few ingredients, that’s pretty awesome! Thank you! In the end, I even ended up with a very decent chocolate mousse, or whatever the hell it was. After all, as my boss told me after lunch: “it’s a pretty fine cake, Johan!”