If you’re going to turn your hand to cooking for others, even occasionally, you need to have a foolproof pudding recipe up your sleeve, a pudding that is both easy and delicious, and won’t leave you sweating over a hot stove at 10pm at night.
The most important thing I’ve learnt since I began cooking for others is that having a dish that you can whip out of the fridge with nary an embellishment is the key to a smooth-running dinner party. It doesn’t matter how well-intentioned you are – or how sober you promise yourself you will be come pudding time – the prospect of wielding a blow torch within 10 metres of a tired creme brûlée as your guests begin to surreptitiously check their taxi apps is a grim one. A watched pudding never cooks, an ice cream never softens, and a soufflé never rises.
I cannot count the number of times I’ve realised, far too late in the day, that the ambitious plan I’d put in place for pudding becomes a reality that ties me to a room that doesn’t hold my friends (or my glass of wine). I am learning, slowly, that a make-ahead pudding is not only what’s needed to make me appear nonchalant and competent, but also the thing which allows me to actually enjoy the company of those I’m with, rather than worrying about what is or isn’t happening in my oven.
This dish is based on Delia’s original 1960s recipe, one she admits has been ‘eclipsed’ by trendier options. But it is a good one, a fail-safe – one that my mother taught me 15 years ago, and I still turn to today.
It’s a fantastic pudding: deeply rich and dark with a hum of rum in the background, but light enough that 10 minutes after polishing off one helping you find yourself thinking ‘yes, I could probably manage another of those’. The key to its success is patience when you fold the chocolate into the egg white: you need to move confidently but gently to keep as much of the whisked air into the mousse as possible.
I’ve added booze because I can, as well as just the tiniest bit of salt and coffee, to bring out the sweetness and richness of the dark chocolate. Use whichever alcohol you like best – or feel free to leave it out entirely if it’s not your bag. I often use rum, and it’s lovely with brandy, but I like it with a nutty liqueur: amaretto is great, but if you can get hold of Frangelico – a hazelnut liqueur in a bottle the shape of a monk’s habit – that’s my absolute favourite.
It goes like this…
The perfect chocolate mousse
Makes: 4 individual portions
Takes: 10 minutes, plus chilling
Bakes: No time at all
140g dark chocolate
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon espresso powder
25ml rum, amaretto, brandy or Frangelico
2 large eggs
25g caster sugar
1. First, melt the chocolate in a bain marie. Place a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water: the base of the bowl should not touch the water. Break the chocolate up and place it in the bowl, along with the salt and espresso powder, leaving it to melt. Remove it from the heat and give it a good stir, leaving it to sit for a few minutes just to cool slightly.
2. Separate the eggs into whites and yolks, being careful not to get any yolk in the whites.
3. Stir the alcohol if using into the melted chocolate, and then the egg yolks.
4. Whisk the egg whites until they are voluminous and holding stiff peaks. Add the sugar and whisk the egg whites again until they have returned to stiff peaks and are glossy and smooth.
5. Add a large spoonful of the egg whites to the chocolate and mix thoroughly.
6. Pour the chocolate mixture gently into the rest of the egg whites. Using a large metal spoon, fold the chocolate through the egg whites: do this slowly and methodically, so as not to loose the air you’ve whisked into the eggs.
7. Divide between ramekins, and refrigerate for at least two hours until set.
This recipe contains raw eggs and is not suitable for children, pregnant women, the elderly, or those already suffering from an illness.