The usual rule for chocolate desserts is ‘thou shalt never mix chocolate and water’ but this dessert depends upon the Hervé This method of doing exactly that to create a chocolate cream or mousse. I tried this technique for the first time a couple of years ago and I'm still deeply impressed by it. It's the intensity and purity of the flavour that I like so much. Let's face it, Mr This is a genius and should have several parks named after him.
I layered and arranged the chocolate elements with meringue shards, but you can forget the meringue and just place the two chocolate preparations in a suitable glass if you'd prefer a simpler life or if you have too much TV to watch. A few raspberries make a fine addition and luckily there were some in the garden.
Mixing water and chocolate might seem slightly odd but don't be put off, it's very easy and surprisingly forgiving. Although you really do need an electric mixer. Don't think about whisking by hand unless you're extremely fit or just showing off in an unnecessary manner. This should be enough chocolate pleasure for 4 people - it's fairly rich, after all.
The Meringue ShardsYou can use pretty much any French meringue recipe you like for the shards - this is just the combination that I used this time. It will probably produce more meringue than you need and you could halve the quantities. The truth is that I find it's a bit irritating trying to whisk less than 2 egg whites and, anyway, spare meringue is not a bad thing.
2 large egg whites
120 g icing sugar
Preheat the oven to 120ºC. Whisk the egg whites to the soft peak stage. Add the sugar a little at a time while continuing to whisk until the mixture is glossy and relatively firm, although still spreadable. Spread a thin layer of the meringue (no more than 5 mm thick, ideally) over a baking tray lined with non-stick baking parchment or, probably better still, a silicone baking sheet. (A palette knife is the best tool for this, if you have one, but any spatula will do.)
Place in the oven until dried and set. This will probably take around 50 - 60 minutes depending on thickness. Lift the meringue off the tray once cool - it will break into random shards no matter how careful you are. Store the shards in an airtight container until needed.
The Dark Chocolate “Mousse”150 g dark chocolate, around 70% cocoa solids, broken into pieces
135 ml water
Take two bowls - one a little larger than the other - and put some ice into the larger bowl. Place the smaller bowl inside the larger on top of the ice. Put the water and chocolate into a pan, place on a low heat and stir now and then until the chocolate has melted.
Pour the chocolate mixture into the smaller bowl (keeping it on the ice) and use an electric mixer to whisk the chocolate as it cools.The mixture will thicken to a smooth, mousse-like consistency. At that point, stop whisking and keep the mousse cool until needed. If you fancy, you could add some orange extract or even substitute filtered orange juice for some of the water.
The White Chocolate “Parfait”The above process is fine for dark chocolate but you're never going to make a successful emulsion in quite the same way with white chocolate. I've played around with a few ideas, though, and I'm happy to report that by adapting the technique you can make a very fine white chocolate parfait. (OK, it's not strictly speaking a parfait - that’s usually defined as an iced dessert using cream - but this does have a texture similar to a smooth parfait.) It's pretty much pure chocolate in a different form so the flavour is more intense than most mousses or ice creams. In other words, a small portion will give you plenty of flavour.
250 g white chocolate, broken into pieces
220 ml water
Prepare the bowls and melt the chocolate and water together as above. (Melting white chocolate can be a lengthy process but keep stirring and it will get there). Once melted, whisk as you did for the dark chocolate. The white chocolate will not behave in quite the same way. You need to whisk quite vigorously until the mixture is reasonably chilled, a little frothy and has thickened somewhat to resemble a pouring cream. If you whisk too much beyond this point, the mixture will start to separate and look horrible but if the dreaded separation happens then shrug your shoulders and put it back on the heat. With a bit of stirring it will come back together and you can simply try again.
As soon as you have your white chocolate cream, pour it into a suitable container and freeze until needed. The frozen white chocolate is creamy and smooth and doesn't need to go near an ice cream machine, but it's not going to behave like a classic ice cream or parfait. It will remain relatively unstable and will melt quickly. That's not necessarily a bad thing, just make sure that you take it out of the freezer immediately before serving.
Layer or arrange the chocolate and the meringue in whatever way you fancy and serve immediately before your guests realise that you just couldn't be bothered to do any shopping for them.