I bought Nigel Slater’s The Christmas Chronicles as early Christmas presents for my son and daughter. But then I decided I liked the book so much, I had to buy a copy for myself! The recipes aren’t just for Christmas, it’s as much a book for the winter, indeed the book’s subtitle is Notes, stories & 100 essential recipes for midwinter.
I’m a great fan of Nigel’s. He’s a cook not a chef and so his recipes are perfect to cook at home. I think part of what I like is that although his recipes aren’t Italian (unless the mood takes him!) he has that same simple approach to cooking as the Italians that appeals so much to me, using just a handful of top quality ingredients, usually easily come by, some possibly in your cupboard or fridge anyway, and putting together something really special. The emphasis is on quality and flavour; it’s not showy cooking but it’s fantastically appealing and good to eat. Nigel has written a column in the Observer for about 25 years and I have so much admiration for him coming up with new recipes every week for that long! He’s also successfully moved with the times foodwise for his recipes are modern and fresh, but he’s never abandoned his straightforward approach to cooking.
The Christmas Chronicles is a book to read as well as use; it’s a book to snuggle up on the sofa with on a cold wintry night in front of a cosy fire and enjoy Nigel’s wonderful writing and contemplate gorgeous warming dishes like ‘A Hot Apple Drink for a Cold Night’, ‘Cauliflower and Leek Soup with Toasted Cheese’, ‘Pot-roast Partridge with Parsnips and Smoked Garlic’ or ‘Creamed Butter Beans and Spinach’. But if you’re a chocaholic like me, what will instantly take your eye is ‘Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse’.
Part of what appealed was being reminded of the wonderful chocolate hazelnut spread I’ve brought back from Turin the two times I’ve visited the city over the last 14 months. No not Nutella! But the glorious rich spread from the famous historic cafe Baratti & Milano with its 45% hazelnut content.
Could Nigel’s chocolate mousse recipe be as wonderful? I could only make it and find out.
Chocolate Hazelnut Mousse – Serves 6
- 250g dark chocolate (at least 70%)
- 40g butter, cut into small pieces
- 3 tablespoons hot espresso
- 5 eggs, separated
- 50g hazelnuts, skinned
- 75g caster sugar
- 100g dark chocolate
Break the chocolate into pieces into a small bowl. Stand the bowl over a pan of simmering water so the bottom doesn’t touch the water. Leave the chocolate to melt, stirring only very occasionally. When it’s melted add the butter, stir lightly to mix in, then add the espresso. Mix in and remove from the heat.
Add the egg yolks and fold in quickly but lightly. Beat the whites until almost stiff and fold in lightly.
Spoon into 6 small serving dishes. Cover with clingfilm and put in the fridge to set. Nigel says at least 4 hours; I didn’t have that long! It was a bit too last minute but a couple of hours seemed to work fine.
While the mousse is setting, prepare the praline. My hazelnuts weren’t skinned so I roasted them in a dry pan and tried to remove the skins – not too successfully! Never mind … it all worked out in the end. I did take them out and try to get the skin off, then I put them back in a pan and browned lightly over a medium heat. Then sprinkle over the sugar in one layer. Let the sugar melt – don’t stir – until it becomes golden brown. Then pour the mixture onto a lightly greased baking sheet and leave to cool.
When it’s cool, break into pieces, put into a small processor and process to coarse crumbs, leaving a few large pieces of the nuts to add texture and because it will look nice at the end.
When the mousse has been setting for a couple of hours, melt the 100g of chocolate over simmering water as before. Stir only occasionally or it will thicken too much and spoil. When it’s melted spoon over the set mousses to form a skin of chocolate on top. Put back in the fridge to harden for a few minutes.
Then sprinkle over the praline crumbs. And they’re ready to eat! Or go back into the fridge for later.
I took them over to my son Jonathan’s; a contribution to a family meal. They made a wonderful dessert at the end.
I made a half portion bowl for grandson Freddie. At just two and three quarters I reckoned a whole one probably wasn’t a good idea. But Freddie loves chocolate as much as his nonna so there was no way he was going to miss out. We all loved it. It was deeply chocolatey and rich; absolutely wonderful. I rather foolishly suggested it might be too rich for Freddie and he wouldn’t like it … but no … he ate it all and then was quite upset when it was finished and looked around the table to see if anyone else was willing to give him more. He told us it was his favourite. I promised that nonna would make it again soon. And it’s definitely going to soothe our withdrawal from the Baratti & Milano chocolate hazelnut spread which I can’t source here. I was thinking I’d have to go back to Turin … but Nigel has helped me out.