Monday, May 08, 2006

Chocolate Pots

Though it is really chucking it down today spring is beginning to elbow its way through the gloom. The days are longer, my clematis is dripping with buds on the brink of unfurling their creamy faces all over the fence and English asparagus has arrived at Borough Market. We had to have some.

With friends coming to dinner Saturday night I decided to have asparagus as a starter. Simple, elegant and irresistible. Not having an asparagus steamer has never felt like a disadvantage - my pan cupboard is already full. Especially in the first few weeks of the season I tend to steam it lightly and not much else. Snap the base of the stalks off - wherever they break is the dividing point between tender and hoary. If you're feeling particularly virtuous use the tough ends in a vegetable stock or as the base of asparagus soup - though soup this early in the season would really be a decadent treat!

Lay the tips of asparagus flat in a large heavy based pan, add a couple of tablespoons of cold water, a generous knob of butter, salt and a grinding of black pepper. Put the lid on the pan and steam for 10 - 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the stalks. Serve on flat plates with the buttery pan juices dribbled over. I fried duck eggs to go with the stalks - the big bright runny yolks spilled onto the plates like a golden sauce. With crusty bread we devoured the lot.

But about my chocolate pots. Everyone loves chocolate mousse - and the lovely boyfriend loves them more than most. They are very easy to make, have to be done a few hours before they can be served guaranteeing no last minute panic and variations can be served with the addition of grand marnier or kahlua for a little extra kick. Best of all they are bliss to eat - a kind of concentrate of luxurious richness consumed in velvety mouthfuls.

Chocolate Pots
120g/4 1/2oz dark chocolate, 70% cocoa solids
40g/1 1/2oz caster sugar
5 egg whites
2 egg yolks

Break the chocolate into pieces into a bowl and melt gently over simmering water, stirring occasionally. Take care not to have the water boil against the bowl or the chocolate will become irretrievably grainy - a disappointment best avoided. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, add the sugar, then beat again till the peaks stiffen. Cool the melted chocolate slightly then stir in the egg yolks. Incorporate about a third of the egg whites into the chocolate then add to the rest of the whites and stir together gently. Pour into four ramekins and refrigerate for at least 3 hours.

I added little chocolate eggs as decoration that I bought from L'Artisan du Chocolat. But make sure you add them after you set them in the fridge. I tried to put one on top straight after I had poured the moulds only to have it sink gently into the mousse.

Much to his delight I tucked a leftover pot into my sweetheart's lunchbox as a suprise for Monday. He was thrilled.

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