Vegan chocolate mousse recipe via Hervé, Blumenthal and James

Family and friends are coming over the holidays and after a hearty vegan winter roast I wanted a dessert which is intense and stimulating but dinky – just 6-8 mouthfuls is what I’m after.

James‘ surprising Great British Bakeoff chocolate mousse recipe, Blumenthal and ultimately the molecular gastronomer Hervé reveal how to make a 2-ingredient mousse by adding hot water to melted chocolate and then cooling rapidly while whisking.

Kit

  • small saucepan containing enough hot water for hot bain-marie.
  • a smallish mixing bowl for melting then cooling the chocolate-water (metal quickly conducts heat and cold, pyrex may be second-best).
  • larger bowl with ice and a little water for chilled bain-marie.
  • hand whisk for aerating and combining chocolate-water
  • spoon for getting mousse in pots
  • spatula for getting mousse off spoon
  • pots – tiny bowls or shot glasses (ramekins probably too big – they’d amount to eating half a large bar of chocolate)

Ingredients (serves 12 in small pots containing about 6 mouthfuls).

This is where it gets slightly pedantic. You see I have precision scales and the nice thing about this recipe is that if things don’t work out all you have to do is melt the chocolate-water again and add one or the other ingredient to it. So the following is indicative.

  • 350g chocolate (in this case the 85% Ghanaian because the Cooperative have decided to contaminate their other dark chocolates with butter oil – next week on my way home I’ll go to Spitalfields organic and get some Divine – some plain, some ginger and orange). He also sells this Organica white bar I’m partial to, or the Plamil white I’m only slightly less partial to – don’t see why either of these shouldn’t work).
  • 270ml boiling water according to Heston’s recipe, but for me the mixture rapidly developed a truffley rather than moussey consistency and I ended up having to re-melt it and add a total of 390ml liquid – comprising a further 80ml water and 40ml rum. I bet these amounts differ depending on the proportion of cocoa solids in the chocolate so next time I’ll start with less water and re-melt to add more as necessary.

Instructions

  1. Have the pots, spoon and spatula and cold bain-marie ready close by.
  2. Put the chocolate in the metal bowl melt over the saucepan of water on a low heat.
  3. Whisk in the hot water.
  4. Transfer the metal bowl onto the cold bain-marie.
  5. Whisk vigorously, paying attention to the mixture coating the sides of the bowl, since this will solidify unless mixed in.
  6. When the mixture stands in soft peaks, quickly transfer to the pots.
  7. Chill.

Trouble-shooting

  • If the thickening happens too quickly, remove the metal bowl from the cold bain-marie and continue to whisk.
  • Or if the mixture becomes too thick, return the metal bowl to the hot bain-marie, remelt the chocolate-water and carefully add a small and determinate amount of liquid, whisk this in, then return to the cold bain-marie. Repeat as necessary until the consistency is right.
  • Or if the mixture won’t thicken, return to the hot bain-marie and add a small and determinate amount of chocolate, melt, then return to the cold bain-marie. Repeat as necessary until the consistency is right.

Nigel Slater’s collective guilt

Let me begin rancorously, progress mildy, introduced a bitter note about competing agendas against the eating of animal, then end with optimism in the face of Jay Rayner. First the rancour.

I took in Nigel Slater accusing his readers of collective guilt in today’s Observer Food Monthly. Many cows eat better than many people do. I frequently wonder what urbane animal-eaters will say when the penny drops and they realise that their barely-disguised primal, mind-blowingly violent, table habit is to stop.

And I take myself by the scruff of my neck and order myself, be nice, encouraging, welcome the positives, ignore the lateness, the herd-following, the whiff of modishness, be tolerant of bad reasons. Whatever the reason, Nigel Slater’s proposal means the death, agony and environmental wreckage lessens, even only partially. Of course a celebrity meat, fish and dairy eater is not going to abandon these things overnight. Welcome the positives.

In just that ill-fitting but determined frame of mind I read Nigel Slater’s piece.

It commences with a panegyric to vegetables. In it he lays the groundwork for what is to come, an opposition between vegetables and meat. “Vegetables beckon and intrigue in a way no fish or piece of meat possibly could” is a statement that diverted me for quite some time, and which is followed by what might aptly be described as veg porn (though not of the sexist PETA variety) replete with references to “beauty and tactile qualities” and “even greater sensual pleasure”, a “deeper connection”. So far, so good – Nigel Slater doesn’t want to fuck bits of flesh. More interestingly, he wants us to know he is sidling away from eating them too. Let us tread carefully though – he is not renouncing meat – he’s just more interested in his own (though not animals’) “well-being”. And then comes the crunch:

“…those implications that go beyond me and those for whom I cook.

Every little helps

We have damaged this planet. We have plundered its natural resources, emptied its seas, scorched its earth, turned its beating heart into a toxic rubbish tip. There have been decades, if not centuries, of take rather than give. I do not wish to relinquish entirely the deep sense of fulfilment I get from eating meat and fish, but I now place less importance on them in my diet than I did. It is the meat and the crackling rather than the vegetables that are now on the side. When you lift the lid of my casseroles, peer into my pots or read my plate, it is the veggies that play the starring role.

And yes, it is worth “reading” our plate before we tuck in. Where did that food come from? Does it sit comfortably with our conscience and what we believe good food to be? What, other than our immediate appetite, does it benefit, and crucially, what damage is that plate of food doing?”

Food as sensual pleasure; food as “damage”. (But not damage in the form of an animal life violently ended – who are the brutes, again?)

Possibly the strangest part is this:

“If digging up our gardens, getting an allotment, shopping at farmers’ markets, growing organically and eating sustainably is seen as a sign of our collective guilt for what we have done to the planet, then so be it.”

I don’t understand this defiance. Was he browbeaten and nobbled by the environmentalists, rather than reaching this conclusion off his own bat? If so, good for them.

Anyway, Nigel Slater is right. Not wholly right – growing our own is not the pinnacle of ethical eating, and ethical eating is not the pinnacle of ethical living. He’s right, with some more right stuff omitted. But basically right. Eat more greens. I am going to grow more, as part of my commitment to 10:10 (which is only a brandname for an earlier commitment to reducing waste / emissions). But it’s going to take a lot of my time. Definitely not for everybody. Economies of scale shouldn’t be sniffed at.

And on a final optimistic note, a quick sketch of vegan London today. This afternoon I met a woman from overseas, an acquaintance of a friend who thought we should meet (isn’t it lovely when people do this for each other?). We lunched at Tidbits in Heddon St off Regents Street, a vegetarian, largely vegan buffet where you pay by weight I’d not heard of but highly recommend, before chatting our way through a few errands. In Soho there was a street market and Manna had a stall. Vegan cupcakes? But Manna’s a vegetarian restaurant, not a vegan restaurant. Well, now it’s vegan, give or take some butter and cheese in the kitchen in case of diner requests. You don’t know how odd and welcome it was to hear that – dairy eaters accommodated rather than assumed. Manna doesn’t make too big a deal of it though because, like the fantastically creative ShoHo restaurant Saf, they probably realise it currently doesn’t pay to big up being vegan. There’s a lot of prejudice out there inspired, among others, by Jay Rayner, The Observer’s meat champion. But times are changing. And then to Lush for new shampoo. Not only is the shampoo I buy from Lush solid and unpackaged, it is also vegan and made in this country – even, one sales assistant told me, down to the shelling and processing of the coconuts. Then I went and got some of that filthy Cheatin’ pepperoni by Redwood. Man, it is good. My new acquaintance said the afternoon was turning into the secret life of a vegan. We parted and I made a rogue purchase of some sunflower margarine from the last M&S before Chancery Lane tube. For some reason my phone’s barcode scanner couldn’t make sense of the QR code, but I couldn’t see any problem ingredients. It is lovely.

I think London is moving veganwards.

I said final, but one last thing – I wonder what Jay Rayner will say when he gives up meat? I think he’ll say he did it at the very earliest opportunity without doing violence to his palate, his wallet or his health, and I predict he’ll attribute his foot-dragging to the tardiness of restaurateurs, farmers, buyers and wholesalers to get their shit together. He’ll stand firm on behalf of ordinary people without as much time for thinking or money in their pocket as I have. And just as he has grudging respect for vegans while despising our food, I have more respect for him and his talk of flavour, cost and nutrition than I have for Slater’s collective guilt and leisured DIY.

Jay Rayner’s position looks like it will lead to a settled commitment. Nigel Slater’s is particular, modish, and superficial.

Veena’s makes Barkingside even tastier

This post is for My Favourite Shop. (Yes, me again – Barkingside’s most famous shopper and consumer of high street services.)

Food shops tend to change my life more than I expect. When I moved to Barkingside with no particular enthusiasm in 2004, the kosher food I found on sale here allowed me to finally commit to a vegan diet. Strictly observant Jews isolate dairy from meat, so Jewish food manufacturers put a lot of creativity into the so-called ‘parev’ foods which are neither, and therefore can be eaten with either. The kosher shops and supermarket sections of Barkingside brought about this positive change for me.

So it has been with Veena’s. Some time ago I attracted the attention of Barkingside 21 by complaining that the entire High Street would soon be edible. Veena’s is exempt from this complaint; it is simply excellent and I’m delighted it’s here.

Veena’s opened on July 2nd 2009 in our former Woolworths. Its large glossy sign is  burgundy with a yellow ‘Veena’s’ in a stylish font. When I first saw it, I thought to myself “Barkingside is getting an enormous Sri Lankan supermarket. Now I can eat”.

But although owner Brahmma Raj is Sri Lankan, it wouldn’t be accurate to call Veena’s just a Sri Lankan supermarket, or even just a South Asian supermarket. Turkish, British, Italian, Thai, Chinese, African and other regions are represented on the shelves – there’s even a dinky Jewish section. As one of the assistants on checkout (perhaps Brahmma Raj himself – he had a certain proprietorial air) told me, they aim to have everything under one roof. This is pretty much the actuality – at least with the things I want to buy – and Veenas has taken a big share of my food money from Sainsbury’s and Somerfield. The simple fact is, I tend to shop on foot at the end of my working day, and Veena’s sells food and ingredients I want but haven’t been able to get elsewhere in Barkingside.

As soon as I saw Veena’s I decided to get out my New Internationalist ‘Vegetarian Main Dishes From Around the World‘ cookbook which had been lying dormant on the shelf because I couldn’t get the ingredients. Now Veena’s is here I can finally use it, so I’m going through taking every tenth recipe in turn. The first meal was maharagwe, an East African dish requiring rosecoco beans. I found them at Veena’s along with every other bean I have ever heard of, tinned and dried.

There was a choice of 5 or 6 coconut milks (although none were low fat – coconut fat is saturated so you have to watch out). Today I decided to skip aprapansa, the Ghanaian palm nut stew, in favour of yemesirkik, an Ethiopian lentil stew, but I feel confident I could have found palm butter. Veena’s didn’t have berbere paste for the yemesirkik, but there was a choice of 4 other chilli pastes. We ate it tonight with chapatis I made out of Veena’s own-brand chapati flour and it was good.

I have a few days before labra (spicy mixed vegetables from Bangladesh) on page 40 but I had it in mind when I last shopped there. Yes, they had panch phoron (5 mixed spices – fennel, fenugreek, onion seed, cumin and bayleaf) and all of its individual ingredients, separately.

On page 70, we have tamarind dal. Well, you can get dry tamarind, wet tamarind, sweet tamarind, salt tamarind, black tamarind. Cadju (cashew) curry, a dish from Sri Lanka, is on page 90. Veena’s sells lemon grass in jars and cashew nuts in volumes from the packet to the sack.

On special, resisted with difficulty, a platter of small sweet pastries made with vegetable ghee.

From a well-being point of view and from an excitement point of view, I feel extremely fortunate to live close to Veena’s. There’s so much there. For example, I put black sesame seeds and white poppy seeds in my bread these days. I’d prefer to see a better mix of shops here than we currently have, but what with the marvellous Ushan’s (Sri Lankan fruit and vegetable shop), Yossi’s (kosher baker), La Boucherie (kosher butchers and grocers), Rossi’s (the ice cream, coffee and chocolate institution), not one but two beautifully-kept Polish delicatessens, the eel and pie shop, the couple of unpretentious, high quality coffee, cake and brunch places, BK’s which is distinctively Turkish, Onur’s kebabs, the excellent North London Chinese take-away chain Oriental Chef, and the (“More than a”) farm shop selling local horseradish and Havering honey, we should now think of Barkingside as a cosmopolitan food-lover’s mecca.

Yes, there is meat, fish, dairy and other animal products here, and these things should never be eaten. Whenever I give money to vendors who trade in these things, I compromise something. And certainly, Sainsbury’s is far superior to anywhere else here for good booze, vegan dairy alternatives (although still poor), fair trade produce, organic produce, and environmentally-conscious produce – this is why they’ll continue to get my custom. But Barkingside has become a modern cosmopolitan food-lover’s mecca and Veena’s is central to this happy development.

(And not for the first time I ask myself, who wouldn’t live here?)