Coffee Borgia Mousse

coffee borgia mousse dark food photography
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.

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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.

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little heart

Coffee Borgia Mousse Recipe

 
serves 2

INGREDIENTS:

  • 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)

 

DIRECTIONS:

  1. 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.
  2. Once the chocolate is melted, take it off the water pot and stir in the orange zest. Set aside.
  3. Whisk the egg yolk with the sugar in a bowl (by hand) until lighter in color and texture than when you started.
  4. Quickly whisk the chocolate mix into the egg/sugar mix in two to three batches. Set aside.
  5. With an electric mixer, whip the egg white with the cream of tartar to very stiff peaks.
  6. 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).
  7. As soon as no streaks remain, fill the mousse into individual serving bowls.
  8. Let me mousse chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
  9. Garnish with the orange slices and serve by itself or with whipped cream.

 

RECIPE NOTES:

*Don’t use chocolate morsels; morsels have stabilizers in them that actually prevent them from melting.

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If you’re in the mood for a white chocolate mousse instead, I recommend the Chai–Spiced White Chocolate Mousse below:

chai spiced white chocolate mousse dark food photography

Vanilla Cream with Cinnamon Sugared Cranberries

vanilla cream cinnamon sugared cranberries dark dramatic food photography

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

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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.

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little heart

Vanilla Cream with Cinnamon Sugared Cranberries Recipe

 
serves 6

INGREDIENTS:

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)

 

DIRECTIONS:

For the cranberries:

  1. Heat sugar, water and cinnamon in a saucepan to a simmer.
  2. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the cranberries. Stir them around to make sure they are completely coated with the syrup.
  3. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cranberries onto parchment paper.
  4. 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:

  1. Add gelatin along with 3 tablespoons of cold water to a saucepan. Let sit for 4 minutes.
  2. Cut the vanilla bean open and scrape out the seeds.
  3. Whisk the egg yolks with 1/3 cup sugar and vanilla seeds in a bowl until creamy.
  4. Whip the egg whites to stiff peaks.
  5. Whip the cream with 1 teaspoon sugar to stiff peaks.
  6. Heat the bloomed gelatin just until dissolved.
  7. Whisk the gelatin into the egg yolk mix.
  8. 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).
  9. Fold in the egg whites (same as above).
  10. Fill the mix into a large bowl and chill.
  11. Scoop the cream onto individual plates and serve with the cranberries.
  12. Sprinkle pistachios on for garnish.

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If you’re looking for a festive drink to serve with this dessert, I recommend the Ginger Bramble New Year’s Cocktail below:
 
ginger bramble cocktail dark food photography

S’mores Mousse Tart with Crystallized Ginger Meringue

smores mousse tart crystallized ginger meringue dark food photography
You can think of this as a fancy s’mores tart. What I love about it is that it has all the great features that s’mores have and none of the annoying ones.

Instead of gooey, uber–sweet marshmallow fluff it’s got a torched meringue whose flavor is enhanced by little pieces of crystallized ginger. The chocolate part is a creamy, bittersweet mousse instead of straight melted squares that get all over your fingers.

The crust is a graham cracker crust, but not just any old graham cracker crust. Rather than crushing up the bland, store-bought crackers I used this delicious homemade graham cracker recipe and morphed it into a tart crust recipe. And it was surprisingly easy to do, too. I basically just left out the leavening agent (baking soda) and that was all that was needed.

Just like any graham cracker crust dough this one is too brittle to roll out and transfer into the tart pan, instead you need to press it in with your fingers. I flavored both the tart crust and the chocolate mousse with my favorite spice blend, pumpkin spice, but if you’re not into that (really?) you can use cinnamon in the crust instead and leave the spice out of the mousse entirely.

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Food Photography and Styling: What I really liked about this tart was the alternating layers of brown and white and to extend that color pattern to the rest of the photo I put the tart on a white cake stand and set it into a brown set. The slice I cut out of the tart was a mess so I couldn’t put that into the composition and instead I just put the dirty knife into the frame to complete the story. As usual I used my strobe and large softbox and lit the set from the left with a few flags to keep the background (which is my trusty wood tray) dark and create a moody atmosphere.

Camera Settings: Nikon D600, 105mm, f/4.5, 1/125 sec., ISO 100. One Hensel Integra Pro Plus 500 Monolight, 35″ x 58″ Softbox.

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S’mores Mousse Tart with Crystallized Ginger Meringue Recipe

 
Tart crust recipe adapted from Martha Stewart.

INGREDIENTS:

For the graham cracker crust:

  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin spice
  • 8 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup light-brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon honey

For the chocolate filling:

  • 5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped*
  • 1/2 teaspoon pumpkin spice
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar

For the meringue topping:

  • 4 egg whites
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger (make sure you have the individual pieces more or less separated and not in one large clump to make it easier to fold them into the meringue)

 

DIRECTIONS:

For the graham cracker crust:

  1. Whisk the flours, wheat germ, salt and pumpkin spice together in a bowl.
  2. Beat butter, sugar and honey for a few minutes until fluffy.
  3. Beat in the flour mix.
  4. Bring the dough together with your hands and flatten into a disc.
  5. Press the dough into a 9-inch greased tart pan, then place the pan in the fridge for 20 minutes.
  6. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  7. Bake the tart crust until golden-brown (8–12 minutes).
  8. Let cool completely.

For the chocolate filling:

  1. Add chocolate and pumpkin spice to a bowl.
  2. Bring 3/4 cup heavy cream to a boil, then pour over the chocolate/spice mix and let sit for a minute.
  3. Stir to combine cream and chocolate into a smooth mix. (If you end up with chocolate clumps, gently heat the mix over a pot of simmering water). Let cool.
  4. Whip 1 cup heavy cream with the sugar to stiff peaks.
  5. Fold the cream into the chocolate mix.
  6. Pour the mousse into the cold crust, spread out evenly with an offset spatula, then chill in the fridge for 1.5 hours.

For the meringue topping:

  1. Beat the egg whites until they start to foam, then, with the mixer running, gradually add the granulated sugar until you get glossy peaks.
  2. Again with the mixer running, gradually add the powdered sugar.
  3. Fold in the crystallized ginger.
  4. Spread the topping onto the chocolate mousse tart and briefly burn with a torch.

 

RECIPE NOTES:

*Don’t use chocolate morsels; morsels have stabilizers in them that actually prevent them from melting.

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