STEVE CUMPER’S IRRESISTIBLE DESSERT WAS INSPIRED BY AN ILLICIT AFTER-DINNER TREAT.
Steve Cumper shares the illicit treat that inspired his chocolate mousse with peppermint praline.
FOR SOME PEOPLE, simply hearing the word ‘chocolate’ or reading it on a restaurant menu can stimulate an urgent desire. Confession time: I am one of those people. (However, my love of chocolate does not extend to ordering dessert before going through the charade of ordering an entree and a main course just to get to it.) Personal preferences aside, I don’t know many people who would forgo a bit of choccy — in fact, I can’t think of a single one — and if there’s a stand-by dessert that’s as universally appealing as chocolate mousse, then I’m yet to hear of it. A good chocolate mousse will tempt most people, whatever their cultural or generational differences, because as desserts go, it ticks all the right boxes. Chocolate, tick. Creamy texture, tick. Sweet, tick. And, sometimes, the hint of something else beyond that sublime combination. Perhaps a faint but tantalising promise of another facet of pleasure? Peppermint and orange are, in my opinion, two flavours that complement chocolate perfectly. I first enjoyed the peppermint and chocolate partnership as a child, hanging around the table at dinner parties as the claret-soaked adults supped percolated coffee and unwrapped Red Tulip After Dinner Mints. The scent of their discarded wrappers was intoxicating and, as I licked them, they released a faintly medicinal waft of mint mixed with a cloying aroma reminiscent of caramel. While my parents focused on their guests, my stealthy hands would liberate the chocolate squares from their envelopes and I would devour them as I sat among the legs under the table. Orange and chocolate is another classic combination. I often make a viscous orange treacle to serve with chocolate mousse — it’s my homage to one of Dawn French’s favourite sweeties, the Terry’s Chocolate Orange, and involves adding fresh orange juice to dark caramel, then reducing it until syrupy. In my earlier years, I favoured chocolate mousse made from milk chocolate. However, my immature self also thought a crown of canned whipped cream and a glacé cherry garnish was a suitable embellishment for this dessert. Time and maturity have taught me that a good chocolate mousse needs only the most harmonious additions, and that frothy whipped cream is not one of them. I have also learnt that glacé cherries are to desserts what timber lattice is to garden fences; they both eventually end up at the tip. These days I prefer mousse made from dark chocolate, but not the stuff with an incredibly high percentage of cacao that seems like it was invented to punish us philistines for our penchant for the sweet comfort of choccy. Once again, I blame those pesky hipsters. Not content with over-complicating coffee, beer and bread, they’re now having a crack at chocolate!