You know times have changed when you get to the grocery store (and I'm not talking Balducci's or Whole Foods here) and realize, as you stand in the baking aisle, that they don't carry milk chocolate anymore. They've got semisweet and bittersweet, even the abomination that is white chocolate. But milk chocolate? O plebian masses, no.
I was mostly bemused by this discovery (after all, I haven't wanted a bar of milk chocolate since high school), but then also a little bit annoyed. Because it meant I'd have to do another one of those frantic runs around my neighborhood bodegas, looking for just one kindly soul who'd have a stack of Symphony bars or, God willing, even some Lindt (some of those Korean deli owners really know their way around chocolate, people).
Having battled a skull-splitting migraine just an hour before I found myself pounding down 8th Avenue meant I couldn't afford to get worked up over the milk chocolate shortage. But I had friends coming for dinner and barely the requisite six hours that the dessert needed to cool and firm. Luckily for both my brain membrane and myself, I found milk chocolate across the street and fell upon the bars like a starving street urchin.
The recipe comes from Trish Deseine's book on caramel that Fanny at Foodbeam wrote about this summer, after which Christine Muhlke, at the New York Times Magazine, wrote a piece on caramel and reprinted Trish's recipe via Fanny. And now I give it on to you. From blogs to the mainstream media back to blogs again. Am I the only one tickled by this?
At home, I chopped those bars up roughly while sugar and water melted into a burnished brown liquid. Wearing oven mitts, I poured heavy cream, a wedge of good butter and a judicious pinch of salt into the caramel. But the instant I added the cream and butter, the caramel seized up, and a large lump of hardened caramel formed itself around my whisk and would not melt back into the caramel. I whisked the chocolate into the creamy caramel (and added even a bit more salt). The lump of hard caramel persisted on the whisk. I pried it off and set it in a saucer in the microwave to melt, but when I attempted to add that molten puddle back into the chocolate mixture, it only seized up again.
My words of advice to you? Who knows. Proceed with caution. I'm no caramel expert. Just keep breathing, deep cleansing breaths, if possible. They help. I promise. I whisked some egg yolks into the caramel, and then folded in a mountain of stiffly whipped egg whites. This lightened, ambrosially-smelling mixture got spooned into ramekins and set in the fridge to chill.
Hours later, after dinner, I set those little ramekins in front of my guests. Using enormous soup spoons (because while I now live with cutlery in my life, I don't necessarily always have the appropriate sizes), we spooned into the mousse. Well, the mousse wasn't so much of a mousse as it was a gooey, aerated mixture. I don't know if that's because I overbeat the egg whites into the caramel or if it's supposed to be that way, but it didn't really matter. Because the flavor was lovely, like a chocolate-dipped salted caramel that melted itself into your spoon.
This is a juvenile dessert, one that real sweet-teeth will flock to. I think I prefer the complexity of darker chocolate, and I wonder if this dessert would work with 70% chocolate rather than milk. But the warm, sugary tones of the milk chocolate in the mousse are part of the appeal here, so I'm not sure it should be fiddled with. Haven't we all wondered from time to time why Rolo's don't come in spoonable form?
Salted Caramel and Milk Chocolate Mousse
½ cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup plus 1 ½ tablespoons heavy whipping cream
2 ½ tablespoons good-quality salted butter (I used unsalted butter, and a quite healthy pinch of salt)
7 ounces milk chocolate, roughly chopped
3 eggs, separated
1. Combine the sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a medium saucepan. Do not stir. Cook over medium-high heat to a dark caramel, swirling as it begins to brown to distribute the sugar. Take off the heat and deglaze with the cream and butter. Add the chocolate, wait for a minute or two for it to melt and mix until smooth. Mix in the egg yolks.
2. Whisk the egg whites until they form firm peaks and then fold into the chocolate mixture. Divide between 6 4-ounce ramekins and chill for at least 6 hours.