For those of us who like to entertain with food at home, there is a surge of envy when a restaurant waiter rattles off the menu choices available on a given evening. Just making two or three one-item courses for company is a challenge for a cook working alone. And I admit there isn't much I can suggest to expand the home menu short of preparing several recipes days or weeks ahead or employing a caterer.
I do have a trick in my repertoire, however, that allows the host or hostess without help to offer guests a choice of desserts. I learned this years ago at the Cordon Bleu cooking school in Paris. Now, along with the comeback of comfort foods there is nostalgic appreciation for rich French dessert classics such as mousses and dessert souffles. So, as the main course concludes, surprise and charm your guests by casually asking each one to choose either chocolate mousse or warm chocolate souffle for dessert.
Moments later, you have three orders for mousse and three for souffle. Don't panic, unless you forgot to turn on the oven to 475 degrees before the main course was served. Instead, simply slip into the kitchen and remove six pre-prepared ramekins of mousse from the refrigerator. Place three in the oven, three on the counter.
Diners' expectations will rise along with the souffles, but you can calmly spend the next few minutes decorating the dishes and, if you wish, arranging cookies on a plate. It's that easy.
The Cordon Bleu's Chocolate Twins
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 eggs, separated
1. Place chocolate and butter in a saucepan and melt them over low heat. Remove pan from heat and stir in egg yolks until chocolate thickens slightly. Pour into a large mixing bowl.
2. Beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Stir half the whites into the chocolate mixture. Add remaining whites and fold in.
3. Butter the insides of six 5-ounce ramekins and coat the surface lightly with granulated sugar. Pour in the mousse mixture. (Recipe should be done ahead to this point. Refrigerate molds until ready to bake or serve.)
4. Heat oven to 475 degrees. Place as many of the chilled molds as desired in the oven and bake for 5 minutes. Reduce heat to 425 degrees and continue baking 5 additional minutes or until risen and top is crusty. Remove from oven, sift confectioner's sugar over the top of each souffle and serve at once. While souffles are baking, decorate mousses with whipped cream, if desired, and serve with the souffles.
Note: You may use pasteurized eggs, if desired. If you want to prepare this recipe as a souffle only, pour all the batter into a buttered and sugared, low-sided, 1-quart souffle mold.
Refrigerate until needed, then cook in the 475-degree oven for 5 minutes. Reduce heat and bake an additional 5 to 7 minutes. Pour a non-vintage port such as Graham's Six Grapes.