This dessert was inspired by one of my favorite espresso drinks, the coffee Borgia. A Borgia is like a mocha (espresso, chocolate syrup, steamed milk) but with orange zest mixed in. It’s a wonderful flavor combination that I recreated in this chocolate mousse with melted bittersweet chocolate, a bit of heavy cream, espresso powder and orange zest.
You can serve the mousse with a dollop of whipped cream to lighten it up a bit but I actually prefer to eat it by itself. The recipe is very easy to make, takes no more than about 15 minutes total and you can easily scale it up and make a fancy dessert for a large crowd.
Food Photography and Styling: I was going for rustic with a touch of elegance and my tried and trusted dark, moody and dramatic look in this food photo, so I used rough wood planks as a surface (the same ones that I used here) and a fancy cocktail glass to hold the mousse. The thin orange slice on the surface of the mousse wasn’t a strong enough clue that this dessert is quite heavily orange-flavored in my opinion so I added more orange in the back of the frame to reinforce the idea. The set still looked a bit naked so I placed a few chocolate squares here and there. I observed the rule of thirds very closely here and placed the glass along the right vertical dividing line and the orange slice on the mousse on an intersection point.
Camera Settings: Nikon D600, 105mm, f/4, 1/125 sec., ISO 100. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight, 35″ x 58″ Softbox.
Coffee Borgia Mousse Recipe
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, very finely chopped (I used a Ghirardelli 60 percent cacao bittersweet chocolate baking bar)*
6 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1 teaspoon very finely grated orange zest (about one small orange)
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 egg white
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
two thin orange slices as garnish
whipped cream (optional)
Add the chocolate, the cream and the espresso powder to a glass bowl, set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and let the chocolate melt. Don’t stir the ingredients until the chocolate is almost fully melted.
Once the chocolate is melted, take it off the water pot and stir in the orange zest. Set aside.
Whisk the egg yolk with the sugar in a bowl (by hand) until lighter in color and texture than when you started.
Quickly whisk the chocolate mix into the egg/sugar mix in two to three batches. Set aside.
With an electric mixer, whip the egg white with the cream of tartar to very stiff peaks.
Carefully fold the whipped egg white into the chocolate mix (take a half-turn around the bowl with the whisk and then shake the mousse through the tines of the whisk).
As soon as no streaks remain, fill the mousse into individual serving bowls.
Let me mousse chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
Garnish with the orange slices and serve by itself or with whipped cream.
*Don’t use chocolate morsels; morsels have stabilizers in them that actually prevent them from melting.
Say hello to an absolute smasher of a holiday dessert. If you’re looking to serve something that’s easy and next to impossible to mess up but at the same time stellar both in taste and looks then this is the ticket.
The vanilla cream is actually the same recipe I posted a while ago here; it’s made with eggs, cream, vanilla and sugar, stiffened with gelatin and takes literally just a few minutes to put together.*
The cranberries are quick and easy as well, you just simmer up a simple syrup flavored with cinnamon, briefly submerge frozen cranberries in it, then roll the berries in sugar. I sprinkled a few chopped pistachios over everything for extra visual appeal but you can skip them if you want to. The light and sweet vanilla cream contrasts perfectly with the tart berries that have just a hint of cinnamon flavor. It’s my new favorite dessert, and not just for the holidays!
*The vanilla cream recipe comes from The Centennial Collection of Favorite Recipes from Grace Episcopal Church in Paducah KY, Second Edition 1975
Food Photography and Styling: The plates you see in this photo are actually meant for large candles (I think I got them at World Market a few years ago) but I like to use them as props for food photos and I thought their elegant and modern look went well with this dessert.
I had taken the plates off my prop shelf and had just set them on a small black table next to a window when I saw a ray of morning sunlight run across them. The light looked absolutely beautiful on the plates and I would have photographed the dish in that natural light right then and there but I hadn’t actually made the dessert yet (and of course the light was gone within 15 minutes) so I tried to replicate that same morning light with my strobe. That is one of the aspects of food photography I still enjoy the most, taking full command over my equipment and creating and placing every shadow and every highlight exactly where I want it. It’s always a challenge and it took a bit of experimenting here but I settled on my through the doorframe technique and used a thin white curtain to diffuse the light for a high-contrast, dark and dramatic look.
Camera Settings: Nikon D600, 105mm, f/8, 1/125 sec., ISO 100. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight.
Vanilla Cream with Cinnamon Sugared Cranberries Recipe
For the cranberries:
3 tablespoons granulated sugar (more for rolling)
3 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup frozen cranberries
For the vanilla cream:
1 teaspoon powdered gelatin
one 2-inch piece of vanilla bean (you can substitute one teaspoon of vanilla extract)
2 eggs, separated
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
finely chopped pistachios for garnish (optional)
For the cranberries:
Heat sugar, water and cinnamon in a saucepan to a simmer.
Once the sugar is dissolved, add the cranberries. Stir them around to make sure they are completely coated with the syrup.
Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cranberries onto parchment paper.
Add granulated sugar to a shallow bowl then roll the cranberries around in it, one by one, until they are all fully coated.
For the vanilla cream:
Add gelatin along with 3 tablespoons of cold water to a saucepan. Let sit for 4 minutes.
Cut the vanilla bean open and scrape out the seeds.
Whisk the egg yolks with 1/3 cup sugar and vanilla seeds in a bowl until creamy.
Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks.
Whip the cream with 1 teaspoon sugar to stiff peaks.
Heat the bloomed gelatin just until dissolved.
Whisk the gelatin into the egg yolk mix.
Fold in the cream (I use the whisk for that, just take a half-turn around the bowl, then shake the cream through the tines of the whisk).
Fold in the egg whites (same as above).
Fill the mix into a large bowl and chill.
Scoop the cream onto individual plates and serve with the cranberries.
I had spicy edamame beans at a sushi restaurant for the first time a little while ago and I can tell you I have never been this surprised and impressed with a dish. Up until that dinner I had only ever had plain steamed and salted edamame and I always found those to be “meh” at best. Well, it turns out that spicy edamame are a completely different story! They are exciting and full of interesting flavors; a bit garlicky, a bit smoky, a bit salty and a bit spicy. You get all these flavors when you bite into the pod to squeeze out the actual beans. It’s a really addictive appetizer, we ate the entire plate barely taking a breath between bites.
Naturally I tried to replicate the recipe at home. Since it seems impossible to create the smokiness you get from a restaurant-quality wok and burner at home I resorted to liquid smoke and while that’s not exactly the same thing it does come close. In addition to that I added sambal, garlic, salt and dried red pepper flakes. The dish is easy to make, you just steam or boil the edamame beans, then heat the remaining ingredients in a bit of vegetable oil, toss the beans in the oil and voila, you’re done. If you’ve only ever had regular salted edamame I urge you to try this, it will change your view of the vegetable completely!
Food Photography and Styling: I saw these old wood planks sitting in an alley behind a store here in town a few weeks ago and thought they might work well as a surface and it turns out they do! The store owner said he would love for me to take them off his hands so that just goes to show that one person’s trash is another’s treasure. The burlap is a really cute small bag that I got at a distillery a few months ago (the bottle of gin I bought was in it) and it worked perfectly as a placemat type-of-thing here. To reinforce the idea that these edamame are spicy I set a small jar with crushed red pepper flakes into the composition (and since the recipe says that you can sprinkle on flakes to taste that wasn’t too far fetched). As usual I used my strobe to light the set.
Camera Settings: Nikon D600, 105mm, f/5, 1/125 sec., ISO 100. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight.
Spicy Edamame Recipe
serves 2 as a large appetizer and 4 as a small appetizer
1 pound frozen edamame beans in their shells
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sambal
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes (more if you like it spicier)
Steam or boil the edamame beans according to package instructions. Drain and let dry. (Do not skip the drying period, it’s important. You don’t want soggy edamame).
In a large pan, heat oil, garlic, liquid smoke, salt, sambal and red pepper flakes all together until fragrant.
Add the edamame beans, stir to coat and cook for another minute.
Eat the edamame by biting into the pods and squeezing out the beans. Discard the empty pods.