Back in 1972 (my goodness, that seems like a century ago!), the New York times published Maida Heatter’s now classic dessert, chocolate mousse torte. One definition of a torte is a sweet cake or tart. Heatter's dessert is neither. Yes, it starts out as a chocolate mousse. But she bakes half the mousse in a pie plate to form a tender cakey layer that rises in the oven then sinks as it cools to form a shell for the remaining mousse. Brilliant! To serve the mousse she piles on lightly sweetened whipped cream and sprinkles shaved or grated chocolate on top.

What you can expect? An ethereal three-layered chocolate and cream cloud.

I first met chocolate mousse torte in 1976, in “Maida Heatter’s Book of Great Desserts,” her first cookbook (Knopf, 1974), and immediately it became a favorite that I’ve been making ever since. What you need to know about this dessert is its two most important ingredients: eggs and chocolate.

The recipe calls for 8 large eggs, whites and yolks separated. What I’m finding now is that not all eggs are created equally. Many have a large amount of white with yolks that are alarmingly undersized. This is troubling because a recipe that has worked for you in the past may not work now. And it’s not your fault!

So here’s the remedy to success. Eight egg whites should measure 1 liquid cup, or 8 ounces, and eight egg yolks half that, or 1/2 cup. If you prefer weights, we can speak metric. One large egg white is 30 grams and one yolk 18 grams. For any recipe, just multiply and weigh what you need.

The last time I made this recipe, 6 large egg whites measured 1 cup and 10 yolks gave me the 1/2 cup I needed! Yikes!

About the chocolate. When Heatter first published her recipe we didn’t have the variety of quality chocolate with super high cocoa content. She used semisweet chocolate, which has at least 35 percent pure chocolate with added cocoa butter and sugar. The terrific dark chocolates we have today sport 70 percent or more pure chocolate. These make great eating, but they’re not the best choice for chocolate mousse torte because the baked mousse hardly sinks at all. I’ve used chocolate labeled between 50 percent and 55 percent with excellent results.

Chocolate mousse torte is a great choice for dessert on Valentine’s Day. And any leftovers will extend the romance for an extra day or two. How great is that?

Chocolate mousse torte

Use an oven thermometer to make sure the temperature is at 350 degrees. You can make this dessert a day ahead. Just top with the whipped cream and grated chocolate an hour or two before serving. Serve straight from the refrigerator.

Makes 8 servings

Ingredients:

8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, 50 percent to 55 percent

1 tablespoon instant coffee (optional)

1/4 cup boiling water

1/2 cup egg yolks

2/3 cup granulated sugar, divided

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 cup egg whites

1/8 teaspoon table salt

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

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1/2 to 1 ounce grated or shaved semisweet chocolate

Directions:

Butter a 9-inch pie plate, preferably oven-proof glass, and coat lightly with unsweetened cocoa powder or fine dry unseasoned bread crumbs. Knock out excess cocoa or crumbs. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position.

Chop the chocolate coarsely and add them to a medium saucepan. Dissolve the instant coffee, if using, in the boiling water in a small heatproof cup and pour the liquid over the chocolate. Don’t stir. Just leave chocolate and coffee alone for now.

Put about 1 inch of water into a medium skillet (10-inch) and set the pan over medium heat. When the water is hot, set the pan of chocolate into the water. After a minute or so, begin stirring gently with a small wire whisk. When the chocolate is completely melted and smooth, turn the pan off heat and remove the chocolate from the water.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks with a hand-held electric mixer on high speed until thick and pale yellow, about 5 minutes. While beating on low, gradually sprinkle in 1/3 cup of the granulated sugar. Increase speed to high and beat until the yolks are very thick and pale, about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. Fold in the cooled chocolate in two or three additions. Wash the beaters thoroughly in hot soapy water. Rinse and dry.

In a large clean bowl, whip the egg whites and salt with the clean beaters until the whites are slightly thickened and hold a very soft shape when the beaters are raised. While beating on medium speed, gradually add the remaining 1/3 cup granulated sugar and continue beating until the whites are stiff and form firm peaks that curl just a bit at their tips. Don’t overbeat. In three additions, fold the egg whites into the chocolate. Be gentle to maintain as much of the air as possible.

Use a rubber spatula to transfer about half the mousse to the pie plate. The mousse should be level with the edge of the pie plate. Cover and refrigerate the remaining mousse. Put the pie plate into the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Turn off the oven but leave the pie plate in the oven for 5 minutes. Set the baked mousse on a cooling rack. Cool completely. As the mousse cools, it will sink and form a cake-like shell.

Carefully spread the remaining mousse in the cooled shell, mounding it slightly in the center. Refrigerate 3 hours.

Beat the heavy cream and confectioners’ sugar until stiff. Spread over the chilled mousse and sprinkle with the shaved or grated chocolate. Refrigerate and serve cold. Hot coffee is delicious with this dessert.

Greg Patent is an award-winning cookbook author, food journalist and radio co-host of “The Food Guys” on Montana Public Radio. He is a regular columnist for Lee Montana Newspapers.

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