Confession: I grew up thinking that I absolutely hated caramel. Caramel was just those little chewy candies that get stuck in your teeth. I was not a fan in any shape form or fashion. I wasn’t even the biggest fan of it in candy bars, even when it was paired with chocolate. It was acceptable then, but given the choice between a piece of candy containing caramel and a piece of candy that did not…well, have I not made my choice obvious already?
Fast forward to sometime last year, actually tax day last year because I’m pretty sure it was our end of tax season celebration lunch, and we ordered a trio of creme brulees for the four of us to share. Chocolate, vanilla, and caramel. I went for the chocolate and vanilla first, because, well obviously. And then I decided to try an itty bitty bite of the caramel.
I think you can guess where this is going. I absolutely loved the caramel. It was rich and sweet with a bit of saltiness and tang. When everyone else was done I finished off the little dish. And to tie a nice little bow on this story, I now find caramel acceptable in desserts generally.
I’m reading a book about picky eating right now called Suffering Succotash and it is really fascinating. I’m only a couple of chapters in, but it is explaining the science behind possible causes of picky eating so well and telling stories of the social woes of picky eating that I can completely relate to. I was reading about your sense of smell last night, and how that impacts how you taste food, and it segued in to a discussion of so called “exposure therapy” and how if you taste a food you don’t like prepared in a way that you end up liking, you can reset the way your brain interprets the taste and smell of that food.
And I think that’s probably similar to what happened to caramel with me. Having it in a dessert that had nothing in common with the texture of caramel candies, I was able to appreciate the flavor of caramel itself, which I’m sure reset the way I think about caramel in general. (And before you ask, no, I’m not sure sure this can be done with me and english peas.)
I made this mousse for our Valentine’s Day dinner at home. And y’all. It was so easy. Make some caramel, which is so easy if you have a candy thermometer…you just have to combine some sugar and water and watch it come to temperature. Melt some chocolate. Stir it together and fold it into some whipped cream. It sounds so much fancier than it actually is. And those are the best kinds of desserts.
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Chocolate caramel mousse may sound fancy, but it is really so easy once you get past being intimidated by the idea of making caramel (which is not as hard as you think it is). This mousse is seriously sweet, so I think using the bittersweet chocolate is important here as well as the dollop of whipped cream, which gives it a bit of additional coolness and the opportunity for a less sweet bite.
- 1 cup + 1 tablespoon granulated sugar (divided)
- 3 tablespoons water
- 2 cups heavy cream (divided)
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- Pinch of ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
- In a medium sized saucepan, combine 1 cup sugar and the water. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring until the mixture begins to boil. Use a candy thermometer to watch the temperature, and continue to cook, not stirring (except maybe a little bit if there is a hot spot on the bottom of your pan as there sometimes are on mine), until the temperature reaches 360 degrees F (dark caramel stage). Remove from heat and immediately whisk in 3/4 cup heavy cream, the butter, salt, and a small pinch of pepper. Pour the caramel into a large bowl and let it cool for about 10 minutes, until it is room temperature.
- Put the chocolate in a small heat proof bowl. Heat over a pot of simmering water until melted and smooth. (Or heat it in the microwave in 30 second intervals, stirring after each interval.)
- Stir the chocolate into the caramel.
- In a medium sized bowl, use an electric mixer to whip 3/4 cup cream into medium-stiff peaks. Fold the whipped cream in 3 or 4 batches into the chocolate caramel mixture. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
- Before serving, whip the remaining 1/2 cup cream and 1 tablespoon of sugar to medium-stiff peaks. Top each serving of mousse with spoonful of whipped cream.
adapted from Hot and Hot Fish Club Cookbook