If you are still thinking about what to make for a spectacular end to a speical meal, think French.
The French have a way with sweets (along with everything else culinary), and a good French cookbook can guarantee a recipe for a treat that is not only delicious but has a certain, shall we say, "je ne sais quoi" about it.
Legions of classics immediately come to mind. There's creme brulee, tarte Tatin, eclairs, Napoleons, floating islands and crepes Suzette. And then there's Michel Rostang's Double-Chocolate Mousse Cake.
Rostang is Michelin-starred chef in Paris, and this recipe is considered a classic at his restaurants. He gave it to Dorie Greenspan, an American food writer and part-time Parisian, who printed it in her new book, "Around My French Table," (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010).
The technique for making the dessert is, as Greenspan says, "ingenious." You make a chocolate mousse and then bake some of it. Then you pile the rest of the mousse on top, and either chill it or bake it again. Two layers, two textures. But the beauty for the home cook is that you make only one batter.
MICHEL ROSTANG'S DOUBLE-CHOCOLATE MOUSSE CAKE
1⁄4 pound bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1⁄3 cup hot brewed espresso or strong brewed coffee
7 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
2⁄3 cup sugar
2 pinches of salt
4 large eggs, separated
cocoa powder, for dusting
whipped cream or vanilla ice cream for serving (optional)
Center a rack in the oven, and preheat the oven to 400 F. Generously butter the sides of an 8-inch springform pan. (You won't be using the base.) Line a baking sheet with baking parchment, and put the springform ring on it.
Melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally, in a large heatproof bowl set over (not in) a pan of simmering water. When it's smooth, whisk in the espresso or coffee. Remove from the heat, and whisk in the butter, tablespoon by tablespoon. Gently whisk in the sugar and one pinch of salt, then add the egg yolks, one at a time. You'll have a lovely, velvety mixture.
Using an electric mixer and a clean, dry bowl, whip the egg whites and the remaining pinch of salt until they are firm but still glossy. Very gingerly whisk about 1⁄4 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Switch to a rubber spatula, and gently fold in the remainder of the whites.
Scrape a generous third of the mixture into the buttered ring on the baking sheet. Cover and refrigerate the remaining mousse.
Bake the mousse in the ring for 15 minutes, at which point it will be puffed. Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack, and let the cake cool to room temperature. There will be a dip in the center of it. Place the cake, still on the baking sheet, in the refrigerator.
Now you have a choice:
TO SERVE BAKED AND CHILLED (recommended): Chill the base of the cake for at least an hour. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Scrape the chilled mousse onto the chilled base (still on the baking sheet). Bake for 30 minutes or until top is puffed and dry. It will crack, and a knife inserted inside a crack will come out almost dry.
Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack, and cool to room temperature. Chill for at least four hours or overnight. Remove the sides of the springform pan. (Run a blunt knife around the edges or warm the pan with a hairdryer.) Carefully transfer the cake to a serving plate, and dust with cocoa. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream if desired.
TO SERVE BAKED AND WARM: Bake as for "baked and chilled" (above). After you have transferred the baking sheet, with the cake on it, to a cooling rack, wait five minutes, then run a blunt knife around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the pan. The cake will sink so just let it settle for another five minutes. Transfer to a serving platter, and dust with cocoa. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream if desired.
TO SERVE CHILLED: Let the base of the cake chill thoroughly. Scrape the remaining mousse over the base. Cover and refrigerate at least six hours, or overnight.
Transfer the springform pan to a serving plate and remove the ring. (Run a blunt knife around the edges or warm the pan with a hairdryer.) Dust with cocoa. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream if desired.
Yield: 6 servings
Recipe from "Around My French Table" by Dorie Greenspan (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010)
• Marialisa Calta is the author of "Barbarians at the Plate: Taming and Feeding the American Family" (Perigee, 2005). For more information, go to www.marialisacalta.com.