Introduction: Showstoppers

I've been working on this recipe for years now, and I've probably changed the name as many times as I've changed the recipe. I've tried plain old 'Chocolate Mousse', 'Mousse Shots', 'Death by Chocolate', and lots of others, but nothing ever felt quite right. Then one day I took some to a pot luck, and one of the ladies asked me for the recipe. I laughed and told her I get that a lot, and she said "I'm not surprised, they're real showstoppers". I knew right then she'd given them the perfect name.

Showstoppers are a small (1 oz) serving of chocolate mousse. Because they're served in a chocolate cup, they're a finger-food dessert, so they can be served anywhere. But the kicker is the surprise inside: a center of raspberry syrup. I always enjoy watching people eat them the first time....when they take their first bite, the raspberry syrup starts leaking all over their fingers and hands, leading to lots of licking and generally trying to avoid making a mess. In addition to being delicious, they're lots of fun!

Step 1: Equipment

Other than standard kitchen implements, the only thing you'll need to make Showstoppers is the right molding cups. I used to get cheap 1-oz plastic 'souffle cups' at Smart and Final, but unfortunately they (or at least the one near me) changed their supplier and now get higher-quality cups. This is bad because for this application, the cheap one work much better than good one. In the last step, we need to unmold the finished dessert from the plastic cup, which is much easier to do with cheap plastic cups that split easily.

The key to finding the right plastic is that it's translucent, rather than the clear look of the higher-quality plastic. I'm sure it's the same plastic as the cheap translucent beer cups, but I don't know what it's called. I finally had to order these online. These are a little thicker than the ones Smart and Final used to carry, and they don't work quite as well, but they work a lot better than the higher quality ones that are all I can find locally.

One of these days I'd like to find some silicone molds the right size and shape, but I haven't found any yet. They'd be reusable and I probably wouldn't lose any more desserts to cracking.

Step 2: Ingredients

Not including water, there are only four ingredients in Showstoppers: Chocolate, whipped cream, raspberries and sugar.

Get a 12-ounce bag of high quality bittersweet (or semi-sweet) chocolate. Good quality chocolate is essential, so don't try to go cheap here. Milk chocolate just doesn't taste right, and it doesn't really have enough strength to make a solid cup. I have used white chocolate for the mousse, in bittersweet cups, but I just find white chocolate mousse boring. One package of chocolate chips (or morsels) is enough for about 20 cups and the mousse to fill them.

For the whipped cream, however, pretty much any type will do. It doesn't contribute much to the flavor, it really just provides texture. I do find that the stuff made of real cream seems to mix with the chocolate better, but flavor-wise, I notice very little difference between the best and the cheesiest fake stuff. I use the canned stuff; this recipe takes about 1-1/2 of the large (14 oz) cans.

I usually get three small baskets of raspberries and cook it with one cup of sugar to make the syrup. This makes a lot more syrup than you'll need but I always make extra. If I'm going to go to the trouble of making homemade raspberry syrup, I'm going to make extra for other things.

Step 3: Cook the Raspberries

Three small baskets of raspberries go into a pot with one cup of sugar. Do not add water. Heat on high heat until the berries begin to break down, and continue cooking for several minutes. You need to break down the pulp of the berries as much as you can to make it easy to separate the tasty stuff from the tasteless stuff.

Step 4: De-pulping/seeding the Berries

Sorry I didn't get a picture of the separation process, but my hands were full at the time. Put a large bowl in the sink, with a strainer on top of it, and pour the cooked berries through the strainer. You will then need to rinse several times, and stir the pulp/seeds in the strainer, until everything red (the juice) is in the bowl, and everything beige (the pulp and seeds) is left in the strainer. The next step is boiling the diluted juice to reduce it down, so you're ahead of the game if you use as little rinse water as possible, and rinse with the hottest water possible.

Step 5: Reduce the Syrup

Reducing the syrup is simple: transfer it back to the cooking pot, and heat it on high until it reduces down to a syrupy consistency. This will take a while, but you'll need to watch it or it will boil over and make a terrible mess. Even on my glasstop stove, raspberry syrup is NO fun to clean up.

Step 6: Chocolate Cups

While you're waiting for (and watching!) the raspberry syrup to reduce, you can begin working with the chocolate.

First, melt the chocolate, either using a double boiler or in the microwave. I prefer the microwave since it's faster; just be very careful not to burn the chocolate. Burn even a corner of it and the whole batch will be ruined and your house will stink for days. I nuke it on high for 45 seconds, stir, then go 10 seconds at a time until it melts completely.

One bag of chocolate is enough for about 20 cups and the mousse to fill them. I've tried everything to make the cups, but the only thing that seems to work for me is using a dinner spoon to scoop some chocolate into the cup, and my finger to spread it out. Make sure there are no thin spots that will be prone to breakage later. You can hold the cup up to the light; anything you can see through is probably too thin.

I usually make about five at a time, then stash them in the freezer. This sets the chocolate so they'll be hard when we fill them.

Step 7: Mousse

Okay, here's the bad news: melted chocolate seizes up when moisture is added, and our next step is to add moisture to the chocolate that's left. I don't know of any way around it but just to work through it, so I just add a cup or two of the whipped cream and beat the heck out of it until it un-seizes. Sometimes it helps to heat it a few more seconds in the microwave. This is the point where you really need to get it smooth, since we'll only be folding after this. Keep beating until it's very smooth. Any hard grains of chocolate will be very noticeable and unpleasant in the finished mousse.

Once you've incorporated some of the whipped cream into the chocolate, gotten it through the seizing point and beaten it until it's very smooth, DO NOT mix it any more. From this point on, just fold whipped cream in until the mousse is nice and fluffy. Very gentle folding actions will keep the air from escaping; vigorous mixing will deflate the whipped cream and you'll wind up with ganache instead of mousse. Do not overfold either; small patches of white are fine at this point. Piping the mousse into the cups will finish those off.

When you're done, your mousse should look and feel pretty much like chocolate pudding, but it doesn't taste anything like pudding! Put it in the fridge to set up a bit before assembling the mousse cups.

Step 8: Finishing the Syrup

While the cups are setting up in the freezer, and the mousse in the fridge, you can finish up the syrup (you have been keeping an eye on it, haven't you??).

I suppose it would be possible to use a candy thermometer to figure out exactly when the syrup is reduced perfectly, but I've never done it. It's done when it pours like hot maple syrup. Don't over-reduce it or you'll make jelly, not syrup. If it doesn't leak all over people's fingers it's no fun at all.

Over-reducing is better than under-reducing though, because after you've chilled it down you can always stir in a few teaspoons of water to thin it out a bit. If it's too thin you'll have to heat it back up and continue reducing.

Step 9: Assembly

For the assembly station, put your chocolate cups on a cookie sheet (for easier cleanup). Get a zip-top bag and a clean bowl, along with your chilled mousse and syrup. The bowl is to set the bag down in; if you don't have someplace to rest it, you're guaranteed to wind up with chocolate mousse all over your counter.

Spoon some of the mousse into the bag, seal the top, then snip off one of the bottom corners. Pipe a bit of mousse in the bottom of each cup. (This puts the syrup in the middle of the cup and helps seal the bottom of the cup if there are any small cracks.) Then put just a bit of the syrup -- no more than 1/2 teaspoon -- in each cup, then finish filling them with mousse. When piping the top of the cups, i recommend going around the rim first, to seal up the edge, then finish filling in the center. This hides and contains the syrup and puts a cute little tip in the center of the top of the cup.

Step 10: Unmolding

Put the finished cups back in the freezer to harden up. Hardening them up will help prevent cracking in the unmolding process, and they keep very well when frozen. They rarely stick around very long, but I suspect they'd be fine for at least a week or so if kept frozen.

Somehow I deleted my pics of the unmolding process, so I'll just describe it.

Use a sharp pair of fingernail scissors to cut through the rim of the plastic cup in two places, on opposite sides of the cup. Try to do as little damage as possible to the chocolate. Gently grab the edge of the snip and pull OUT, trying not to push IN on the chocolate, which will probably cause it to split. If you've got the right kind of cheap plastic cup, it should easily split right down the side. Do the same on the other side of the cup and you should be able to open the plastic cup up and pop the Showstopper out in one piece. If you get a crack, it's going to leak raspberry syrup and make a mess, in addition to giving the secret away.

You can serve them out of the fridge, but I think the texture and flavor is better at room temperature. Take them out of the freezer an hour or so before serving and they should be defrosted just in time. You could, of course, garnish them, but I prefer to leave them as plain-looking as possible. I think the intense flavor has even more impact if people aren't expecting it.

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