A Spoonful of Sunshine: Maple Star Anise Mousse
Mousse is a dessert full of fascinating contradictions for me: both rich yet airy, creamy yet fluffy, dense yet light. It is wonderfully easy for even the most novice of bakers to make, yet never fails to elicit oohs of appreciation at the dinner table. And, while its chocolate-imbued incarnation is comfort food at its most beloved, mousse can also provide a reassuringly familiar springboard into flavors new and unexpected.
Case in point: Kate Zuckerman's elegant Maple-Star Anise Mousse, from her book The Sweet Life, featuring a combination of flavors I had never imagined. The two components are whirled into a delicate, sunshine-colored dessert that proves irresistible. (Does everyone else also quiver in mixed excitement and indecision, poised at the first spoonful, knowing you're about to break the perfect pristine surface, that you can't smooth it over like pudding or jam, but also anticipating the soft gliding scoop, the gentle frisson that feels not quite like spooning through soup or custard or mashed potatoes but exactly like swooping through clouds?)
It makes sense, after seeing other mousse recipes where you start by whipping hot sugar syrup with eggs, that Zuckerman would be inspired to use maple syrup the same way- combined with eggs and folded with whipped cream, the maple flavor is stripped from its treacly confines and rendered intoxicatingly light - almost like Ferran Adria's foams. The addition of star anise tempers the sweetness of the maple and gives it a more complex edge: if you're wondering how the dessert would taste like maple and licorice at the same time, it's more like a flavor that is reminiscent of both but is, as Zuckerman puts it, "more than the sum of its parts." My rendition leaned more towards the maple than the licorice side; it's possible to add in a few more star anise when infusing the maple syrup if you want the taste to tip the other way.
There are other equally creative combinations in Zuckerman's book, such as Clove Caramel Mousse and Sesame Milk Chocolate Mousse. After tasting maple and star anise together, I'm convinced that they would all be just as delicious. But then, that's the wonderful thing about mousses: as buttery smooth and meltingly luscious as they are, how could you not indulge down the last licked-clean spoonful?
Maple-Star Anise Mousse
from Kate Zuckerman's The Sweet Life
makes about 6 servings
6 egg yolks
a pinch of salt
1 tablespoon unflavored gelatin
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons maple syrup
4 whole star anise
2 cups heavy cream
Whisk together the egg yolks and salt in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment on medium speed.
Fill a small cup with 1/4 cup of cold water, and sprinkle the gelatin over it. Put the cup aside.
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the maple syrup and star anise. Bring the syrup to a boil over medium-high heat and let cook until it reaches 240 degrees F. The syrup should get very active and bubbly.
Take the syrup off the stove and remove the star anise carefully.
With the egg yolks still whipping, slowly pour the hot syrup down the side of the mixer bowl and let it combine with the yolks.
The gelatin should be a solid mass in the cup. Scrape it out with a rubber spatula and into the saucepan you used to cook the syrup. The heat of the pan should melt the gelatin into liquid.
Pour the gelatin into the mixer bowl as well and let whisk together until the mixture has cooled down to tempeature and looks like it has tripled in volume - it should have a thicker, more puddinglike consistency and no longer seem as liquid.
Pour out the mousse base into a large bowl. Either clean the mixer bowl thoroughly, or if you have another mixer bowl, whip the heavy cream until it has soft peaks (do not overwhip).
Scrape the whipped cream out onto the mousse base. Using a spatula or bowl scraper, carefully fold the whipped cream into the mousse base, trying not to deflate the whipped cream too much.
At this point, you can cover and place the mousse in the refrigerator for about 2 hours to let set, and then scoop out portions onto dishes to serve. Or, you could divide the mousse into individual dishes and smooth off the tops before you chill them so they have a nicer presentation. A third alternative is to place the mousse in a piping base and pipe out into dishes before chilling them. In any case, you should let the mousse chill for about 2 hours before serving.
The mousse will keep in the refrigerator for about 3 days, covered.