(The April 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Evelyne of the blog Cheap Ethnic Eatz. Evelyne chose to challenge everyone to make a maple mousse in an edible container. Prizes are being awarded to the most creative edible container and filling, so vote on your favorite from April 27th to May 27th at http://thedaringkitchen.com!)

I love mousse.  If I see chocolate mousse on a dessert menu, it’s almost always what I choose.  And I like maple syrup, so I fully expected to like maple mousse.

The mousse was only half of the challenge, though.  The other half was edible bowls.  There were a few choices, but I didn’t really want to make bacon cups, so I made mine from nuts.  They’re very simple – just finely diced walnuts, an egg, and a bit of sugar, pressed into tiny bowls lined with aluminum foil.  In retrospect, greasing the inside of the foil would have been a good idea, but I didn’t think about it at the time.

Bake the bowls at 350F for 15 minutes or so until the nuts are toasty. 

Maple Mousse

I looked at them when they came out of the oven, and I wasn’t sure they were going to hold together.  I was afraid to try to unmold one, so I coated the inside of the bowls with a layer of dark chocolate, hoping it would add more stability.

It turned out they were quite solid – you could easily pick them up, even full of mousse, so I shouldn’t have worried.  But the chocolate was good anyway.

Maple Mousse

On to the mousse!  This was more complicated.  It started with blooming unflavored gelatin in heavy cream.  Then, I brought a cup of maple syrup to a boil, and very carefully and slowly dribbled it into 4 beaten egg yolks.

Then the recipe said, "Whisk occasionally for approximately an hour or until the mixture has the consistency of an unbeaten raw egg white."  I wasn’t sure the gelatin would set up on the counter to thicken it, and I wasn’t sure how occasionally to whisk – once every 5 minutes?  A few times over the hour?  So I left it on the counter while I made dinner, whisking it when I thought about it.

And in about 45 minutes, sure enough, it was exactly the consistency of a good, fresh, unbeaten egg white.  I was genuinely surprised, and I’m still not sure I understand how it worked.  But it did. 

After that, it was just a matter of whipping some cream, and carefully folding in the maple mixture.  I put it in the fridge to chill for an hour. While it was chilling, I gingerly unmolded the cups.  They were a bit stuck to the foil, but not bad, and I shouldn’t have worried about the strength – they were solid.

When the mousse was chilled, I piped it into the cups and sprinkled a few more nuts on top.

Maple Mousse

They came out gorgeous.  They would have made a great dinner party dessert – except that I didn’t like the mousse.  The maple flavor was way too strong, and I thought it was almost cloying.  On the other hand, I loved the process, and I may do them again, with a different recipe – say, a good peanut butter mousse, with a peanut cup with the chocolate layer? 

As always, a fun challenge!

( see the recipe )

Chocolate Pavlovas

Sometimes, I bake because I want a snack.  Sometimes, I bake because I see something that looks interesting to try.  And sometimes I bake because I feel like spending a whole day baking.

This is one of those all-day-baking recipes.  It’s originally from the Daring Bakers June Challenge, but I wasn’t a Daring Baker, so I didn’t see it until the end of June, and didn’t made it until the end of July. 

It really was an all-day recipe.  I got up early to get the meringue bases in the oven before it got too humid.  I’ve made meringues before, but usually around Christmas, and never flavored.  Getting the cocoa powder folded into the eggs was a pain, but I got there eventually.  I piped them into rounds, and they went in the oven for 3 hours. 

Even without the rest of the recipe, the meringues were good to munch on their own.  I kept thinking they’d make a great base for ice cream sandwiches.

While they were baking, I made the creme anglaise.  It wasn’t particularly difficult – it’s just basically a custard.  After it cooled, it got thinned with a bit more mascarpone cheese and some heavy cream, to make it suitable for drizzling.

I waited until the meringues were out of the oven and cooling before I started on the mousse.  I didn’t know you could whip mascarpone cheese to soft peaks, but it does work!  Once it was done, it was easy to just pipe the mousse onto the meringues, and dribble it with the cream.

I’d make this again, although maybe not all together unless I was looking for an impressive “having people over for dinner” dessert.  I didn’t think the drizzled cream added much besides looks.  The mousse was wonderful, though, and will become my default chocolate mousse recipe.  And the meringues will make an amazing base for all sorts of things.  In fact, I think I have some leftover vanilla ice cream in my freezer right now…

( See the recipe )