This may lack sophistication as a strategy, but experience has shown that there are two surefire ways to success when giving a lunch or dinner party. The first goes without saying: decent wine in generous quantities. The second is a chocolate pudding. You can overcook the pheasant, undercook the veg and curdle the sauce, but all will be forgiven and forgotten by the time the chocolate has been administered.
If anyone doubts this approach, I should point out that the health-police are now saying that chocolate is good for us (although possibly not in the industrial quantities I get through). It has to be real chocolate – high in cocoa solids (and therefore polyphenols), rather than vaguely chocolate-flavoured gunk from a sweet shop - but that shouldn’t be difficult to arrange. Good brands such as Valrhona, Green & Black’s and Lindt Excellence are now widely available. There are also lots of online options (www.cocoarunners is one of my favourites) and it’s worth noting that the top-of-the-range cooking chocolates in many supermarkets have improved out of all recognition. I use dark bittersweet chocolate with 70% cocoa solids as my standard. A lower percentage will give a less intensely chocolatey result.
Dark chocolate orange mousse
This was devised as a way of using up egg whites after ice cream and mayonnaise-making sessions but has become the family’s favoured chocolate mousse recipe. It has the advantage of being deeply chocolatey but less rich than the more classic petits pots de chocolat recipe using the same number of yolks as whites. Serve it from a large glass bowl. I once decorated it with orange Smarties – I can’t think what got into me.
250g dark chocolate, 70% cocoa solids
140ml whipping cream
2 large yolks
Zest of 1 orange
1 tbsp Grand Marnier (optional)
6 large egg whites
40g caster sugar
Break up the chocolate and put it in a large basin over a saucepan of simmering shallow water (the water must not touch the basin). While it’s melting, heat the cream to just below boiling point.
Remove the semi-melted chocolate from the heat and add the hot cream, stirring well to finish melting the chocolate (the aim is not to let the mixture go grainy, but if it does don’t worry: It should be smooth again by the time all the eggs has been added.)
Allow to cool a little, then stir in the egg yolk, zest and, if using, the liqueur. Beat the whites until they form fairly firm peaks. Sprinkle over the sugar and beat again.
Using a metal spoon, carefully fold the egg whites in to the chocolate mix, a third at a time, until no white remains. Chill for 2 or more hours.
Photograph by Joanna Simon