There seems to be some confusion these days in identifying a true mousse from a pudding. I know because it was mystery to me until I decided to make a real French mousse. Frankly I always looked at culinary terms with a bit of amusement and yes, even some snobbery because I was never a proper gourmet. To me if it tasted good, I didn’t need to know what it was technically called. I just wanted to know how to make it. But this time I really wanted to understand the entire process including the terminology. I did my reading and visited some French eateries where I was politely educated as to the distinct and subtle differences between the two. In effect, mousse and pudding are two entirely different desserts.
The traditional mousse, by definition, is a French chilled dessert made with a combination of whipped ingredients (i.e. egg whites, cream) and thickeners (i.e. gelatin, coconut butter from the chocolate, egg yolks), all of which produce an airy (almost spongy) melt-in-your-mouth silky texture. Without that, you would have a dense dessert similar to a rich thick creamy pudding. In other words, the air pockets are mainly what distinguish a mousse from a pudding.
While this may seem like a small detail, it’s this overall effect that makes the dessert so unique and unto a world of its own. When producing these air pockets, you need to treat them with care to ensure they are permanently “sealed” into the dessert. Each bite should have this buoyant airy texture that never waivers even when stored. Because of the delicate process of producing and retaining the air pockets, mousse has always been considered a difficult and tricky dessert to make. Too much whipping or stirring and your air pockets are lost; too little whipping or stirring and you end up with a soggy mess. Quite a quandary, especially for a novice like me.
Most contemporary mousse recipes use pre-made chocolate bars, chocolate chips, etc. which already contain a built-in thickener, cocoa butter. Using those, you can get by with reducing the ingredient list to just two items; chocolate and whipped egg whites or chocolate and whipped cream, although using whipped cream instead of eggs doesn’t produce quite the same results. I didn’t want to use chocolate so neither of these would work for me. And I didn’t want to use eggs or dairy cream. Almost every recipe I saw called for either one of those or both. I wanted to make a berry mousse sans milk and eggs. Funny to think that in all my research and recollection over the years I never came across one recipe for a true berry mousse. So it looked as though I would have to invent one myself. As the saying goes “necessity is the mother of invention”. Okay maybe not a necessity but definitely a worthwhile pursuit since I had a very special purpose in mind.
I have a friend who was giving herself a 40th birthday party. She is crazy about boysenberries and lavender, and wanted me to create a special dessert with those two main ingredients in mind. I did some thinking and thought how lovely a berry mousse with lavender essence would be. Little did I know what a project that would turn out to be.
I had assumed multitudes of berry mousse recipes existed out there in culinary land and I would just have to take my pick. Surprisingly I couldn’t find one. The additional requirement was that my friend is also allergic to eggs and milk and a vegetarian which made it necessary to exclude animal products, unheard of in the true mousse world. It seemed like an impossible task but I’m always up for a challenge. I really thought the whole process out and went through what must have been a good 6 or 7 test runs. By then Hubby was up to his ears in berry mousse and I was getting discouraged. Then success came my way. I was making what I thought would be my final attempt with one small tweak and hit the proverbial mousse on it’s head. And believe me, by that time I really wanted to.
What made this recipe so difficult to perfect was balancing the fruit with the fats. Too much fruit and it was gel-like; too little fruit and it was too creamy. To get the right texture I started with whipped soaked cashews and blended with coconut butter and coconut water. This subbed for the milk and egg base (and produced lots of air bubbles). Then I blended in the fruit and at the end added the coconut oil. I also added a bit of fruit powder in to give the mousse a hit of sponginess. No compromises here.
All during the blending process, I made sure the bubbles were intact. I thought they would disappear at some point but they never did. Whew. By the time I was finished the mixture resembled a thick airy smoothie. I could literally hear the active bubbles as I poured the mixture into ramekins. The ramekins were then covered and stored in the frig to set. After about an hour I checked one of the ramekins and the mousse had begun to firm up. I could still see the air pockets on top. So far so good. After another two hours I finally got up the nerve to take a taste. My mousse not only survived it had thrived. It was in every way worthy of its moniker; silky, delicious, and smooth with that indescribable texture that defies dessert logic. Can’t even begin to tell you how ecstatic I was. Silly me.
For my friend’s dessert, I wanted to up the presentation a bit so I reserved about a third of the newly blended mousse in a separate container. I then poured the rest into ramekins to set. Just before serving, I whisked the leftover mousse in the separate bowl until all the air bubbles were gone, basically turning it back into a thick creamy pudding. This part was disturbingly easy. Shows just how fragile those air pockets really are. I then poured this pudding mixture over the mousse, creating a nice swirled double effect of mousse on the bottom and pudding on top. The finished photos are from that batch which is why you don’t see a lot air bubbles on top. I then garnished with frozen berries and finely shredded coconut. It looked absolutely gorgeous and the aroma……. pure lavender berry bliss. I think berries make the most beautiful desserts. End of discussion.
My friend and her guests were beyond thrilled with their lavish mousse. Every bite was accounted for and disappointment set in once it was gone. I think every bowl was licked clean. When I reflected on this project, I realized how challenging and fulfilling it really was. It was a gift that came from a very good place; a labor of love for creating healthy food and for making my friend very happy. Most important, it made me realize what my friends mean to me. I think the entire experience made me a better person.
This mousse is luscious and silky smooth; very similar to the traditional cooked version of a mousse, only much easier to make. Just soak the nuts, blend away, chill and voi·là! you have a beautiful and mouthwatering berry mousse, replete with air pockets. It’s become one of my go-to desserts for entertaining, and it’s never failed me. Now you don’t have to go to France. Oh, but you want to see the Louvre. In that case, you may just have to take that trip. Have a gorgeous and fruitful time. And while you’re there, sample the mousse, and let me know how mine measures up. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this light and lovely dessert. À la procaine (until next time).
This recipe is raw, dairy and gluten-free, and serves 4 – 5 persons.
Elegant Whipped Lavender Berry Mousse
- The ingredients should be room temperature for best results.
- I added berry-flavored stevia for extra sweetness and flavor, and to keep the amount of honey on the lower side. You can use another flavor or plain if you want. Adjust sweetness to taste keeping in mind the amount of liquids used.
- Coconut water adds natural sweetness. You may need to add extra stevia if you are using plain water.
- The coconut butter should be thick, creamy and spreadable. If there is oil on top I would poor that out (use as coconut oil) and use the thick mixture on the bottom of the jar. Some coconut butters are a mixture of cream and oil and you want to use these separately.
- If using frozen fruit, measure it before thawing. Once thawed, frozen fruit can shrink up to half the amount. Too much fruit will thin out your mousse and it won’t set properly.
- You can use any combination of mixed berries. The recipe reflects my particular combination. A combination of both red and dark blue/black berries produces that pretty pink color and complex berry flavor.
- The fruit powder adds flavor and ‘dries’ out the texture making it more spongy, like a true mousse. Without the powder, the mousse is more silky and ‘gelled’ – still very delicious. Make sure your fruit powder is very fine and powdery. The color may change depending on which fruit powder you use. I use cherry powder but any berry powder can work.
- 1 cup cashews, soaked in water for 2-8 hours then drained and rinsed
- 1/3 cup coconut butter/coconut cream
- 1 1/4 cups coconut water or water
- 1/3 cup virgin coconut oil, preferably melted to room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups halved strawberries or pitted cherries, fresh or thawed frozen
- 1 cup boysenberries or blackberries, fresh or thawed frozen
- 3/4 cup raspberries, fresh or thawed frozen
- 2 – 3 drops lavender essential oil
- 1/2 – 1 tsp berry-flavored stevia or stevia to taste
- 1 Tbsp very fine berry fruit powder of choice (optional)
- 3 – 4 Tbsp light honey or other light sweetener of choice to taste
- Add the cashews, coconut butter, and coconut water or water to a blender.
- Blend until very smooth and very creamy. This may take a minute or two. You should see air bubbles throughout the blending process.
- Add the boysenberries, strawberries, raspberries, lavender oil, stevia and honey, and blend again until very smooth.
- Add the coconut oil and blend just until incorporated.
- Pour into ramekins and cover with plastic wrap or fitted ramekin covers.
- For best results chill for at least 4 hours.
- Garnish as you wish and serve.
- Yields about 5 cups.
- Can be stored covered refrigerated up to 5 days.