Half Baked: Pumpkin Mousse

Mittens the Cat shall always be remembered, not for a chronic hernia which resulted in her internal organs casually popping out for air now and again or for having been first discovered as a kitten in a crumpled shopping bag in the back dumpster of Giant Supermarket, but for having ruined my ninth birthday.

Mom spent days on my luxurious chocolate mousse filled, chocolate sponge roulade covered cake. Days. One day for the roulade sponge. Once cooled, she covered the thin layer of cake in a soft ganache and gently rolled it into a tight log. She slivered the cake into half-inch slices and lined a cake pan with the beautiful pinwheel pieces creating a riotous exterior of chocolate-y whirligigs. The next day, she made dark chocolate mousse and poured it into the waiting roulade vessel and put the cake in the refrigerator to set for the day. And on my birthday, she turned the cake over onto a delicate serving platter, unmolding it from the cake pan, and walked away.

And Mittens the Cat, hypnotized by the psychedelic array of pastry swirls, leapt onto the counter and had her feline way with my gorgeous gåteau d’anniversaire. And when she was done gorging herself, batted it to the floor. The little shit.

Cats don’t frequent my shop kitchen, so I can’t blame them for my myriad disasters. I’m the resident nitwit and destroyer of all things layered. Ann’s brother’s coconut cream birthday cake? The one where I unmolded the three tall layers, turned for a millisecond to grab the buttercream, only to turn back and ask myself, “Wait, I thought I made a three layer cake.” Aha, the top two had slid to the floor. The carrot cake that pirhoutted off the spinning cake decorating wheel because I was getting all cocky about my mad icing skills and tried to get fancy. The pumpkin mousse that I released from it’s metal housing about an hour before it was completely set, so that when I transferred that beautiful mass of orange creaminess, the relatively liquidy insides started to break free of the more stable perimeter, not unlike the goings on around Mittens the Cat and her hernia. Those catastrophes are all me.

But I also get it right. This morning the pumpkin mousse came out splendidly, thank you very much.

So in honor of my lovely mother who did her best despite Mittens the Cat, in honor of me not screwing up today and in honor of Mittens the Cat just because; here’s a lovely pumpkin mousse recipe. Don’t screw it up.


For the Cake Layer

½ pound butter

½ pound good quality bittersweet chocolate

¾ cup sugar

½ cup cocoa

6 eggs

1 teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon ginger and nutmeg

¼ teaspoon ground cloves

pinch salt

Preheat oven to 325

Atop a saucepan with simmering water (bain marie), place the butter and chocolate in a metal bowl and melt. In the meantime, in the bowl of an electric mixer, add eggs and dry ingredients and whisk until combined. Slowly add melted chocolate with the mixer on slow. Transfer batter to an 8” cake pan so that it’s a little less than ½ inch thick. You’ll have batter left over. Make another cake. Make little flourless cakes. But don’t use it all for the base of THIS cake. Bake at 325 for 10 to 15 minutes. Check it often. It tends to bubble up in a shocking manner. Don’t let that worry you. Just make sure its cooked through and let it cool. It will look normal once it cools.

For the Mousse

1 ½ cups pumpkin puree

5 egg whites

1 cup sugar

2 1/2 cups heavy cream

½ cup mascarpone cheese

3 teaspoons gelatin sprinkled on top of 2 tablespoons of water in a microwavable bowl

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ginger

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cloves

In a metal bowl of an electric mixer, add egg whites and sugar. Whisk this mixture on top of a simmering bain marie until the sugar is melted (dip your finger in the mixture and rub to see if particles remain) and until the temperature has reached 160 degrees to destroy all harmful bacteria. But you better whisk this constantly because you’ll get scrambled eggs otherwise. Once you’ve reached temperature, transfer the bowl to the electric mixer and mix until the meringue has doubled to tripled and is a thick white cloud of stiff goodness. Transfer the meringue to a metal bowl  and set aside.  In a mixing bowl, combine the mascarpone and the whipped cream and beat until stiff peaks form. Fold the whipped cream into the egg whites and set aside in the fridge.

In the meantime, once your gelatin looks nice and soggy, place in a microwave and nuke for about 9 to 11 seconds at a time. Take it out between each blast and swirl it around. You want to make sure it is completely melted but you don’t want to kill the gelatin. So just do this in short increments.

Stir the spices into the pumpkin purée. Add a small amount of the pumpkin to the melted gelatin to temper it. Combine the remaining purée with the gelatin mixture quickly and then gently fold the chilled egg white/whipped cream mixture into completely combined. Transfer the mousse to the prepared cake lined cake pan. Smooth out the top with an offset spatula and let this set OVERNIGHT DAMMIT! Or put it in the freezer to go more quickly but make for damn sure it’s set in the middle. But also make sure not to serve completely frozen. And keep this away from cats.

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