Sunday, May 1, 2011

Chocolate Mousse Cake for Maggie

I'm a firm believer that cakes are for special occasions. And truthfully, the kind of cakes I make really should be reserved for special occasions only, for the health of everyone involved. Last week, I had the opportunity to dust off my cake ring and offset spatula for my friend Maggie's last day at work.

Maggie and I shared an office together as interns. When we both decided to come back the same team after college, we (surprise!) ended up in the office again. Even though we are in different disciplines and look completely different, I can't tell you the number of times I've been called Maggie, even after almost three years!

Last days are work are a funny thing. When someone leaves the company to pursue their own interests, like starting their own company, people celebrate. Taken out of context though, it could seem pretty horrifying. When Maggie went to the cupcake shop on the morning of her last day, the conversation went something like this:

Sales girl: "So what are these cupcakes for?"
Maggie: "It's my last day at work."
Sales girl: "Oh my god I'm so sorry! What are you going to do next?"
Maggie: "I... don't really know yet."
Sales girl: "..."

I got the idea for the cake from the SmittenKitchen blog. I knew I needed a chocolate cake since Maggie's a certified chocolate fiend, but the problem is, I'm not a fan of chocolate cake; it's usually sickeningly sweet and tastes like cheap chocolate. Restaurants have further ruined this for me by always having some ridiculous "death by chocolate" concoction on the menu, where they slather all sorts of sugary frosting on a over-sized piece of chocolate cake and expect people to eat it up (literally and figuratively!). Really, why dilute the flavors of chocolate with cake when I can just have a (large) square of proper single-origin Valrhona?

This cake, however, had promise. I was intrigued by the contrast between the dense, almost-flourless cake base and the thick layer of airy mousse in the middle. The whole thing is topped by a layer of unsweetened whipped cream, which cuts the richness and intensity of the chocolate below. (Yes, my heart cringes whenever I have to use cream to "cut the fat" of the dessert. But I do it anyway.)

For the occasion, I brought out the Valrhona Manjari chocolate I've been hoarding. The Manjari has a nice acidity which usually pairs well with red fruit; I decided to use it in the mousse to brighten up the chocolate flavor. I also added half a teaspoon of espresso powder to the cake base to give it more intensity. I have to say, the recipe makes a killer cake. It's dense and fudgy and oh-so-delicious when paired with the mousse.

For the health of my coworkers, I sincerely hope that no one else leaves the team anytime soon.

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