The Holidays are a time for cakes and cookies. Giuliano does not enjoy baking, he likes to say that the world is divided into the bakers and the cooks, with some lucky individuals who straddle both sides. Giuliano definitely prefers cooking to baking. However, except for his pasta books, he couldn’t get away without including desserts in his cookbooks, so you’ll find that all his dessert recipes are simple and easy… and VERY thoroughly tested. Many of the desserts don’t even require baking.
Family meals in Italy often end with fruit, either fresh or marinated, and home desserts are rarely baked. Part of the service local bakeries used to offer, was to bake things for their customers, so people would bring in their lasagna and desserts to be baked.
Happily for Giuliano, one of our favorite holiday desserts does not need to be baked. It is one that we make with our students at our cooking school in Italy. It is easy to make, and lots of fun to decorate. Called diplomatico, it is a rich and creamy chocolate mouse cake that is foolproof, hence the name. It is frosted with whipped cream, providing a perfect canvas for decorating, which is, of course, the children’s job. We like to give them berries because they are a perfect accompaniment to the chocolate mousse filling. This is Giuliano’s version of a recipe that has been handed down for at least two generations.
Rum and Coffee Flavored Chocolate Mousse Cake
(From How to Cook Italian by Giuliano Hazan)
1/2 cup Italian coffee
3 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons rum
8 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 (12 ounce) store-bought sponge cake
6 large eggs
About 1 cup assorted berries such as strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, and raspberries.
1. Make the coffee and mix in 1 tablespoon of the sugar, the water, and rum. Set aside to cool.
2. Place a saucepan half filled with water over medium heat. Cut the chocolate into small pieces and put it in a small metal bowl. Put the bowl over the saucepan. Once the chocolate has melted remove the pot from the heat but leave the bowl with the chocolate over it.
3. Cut the sponge cake in 1/4 inch thick slices and line the bottom and sides of a 6 quart loaf pan. Use a pastry brush to generously dab the sponge cake with the rum and coffee mixture. The cake should be soaked through but not so drenched that it falls apart.
4. Separate the eggs. Put the yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer and the whites in a separate bowl. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar to the yolks and whisk until smooth and pale yellow and the mixture forms ribbons. Add the melted chocolate and mix well. Whip the egg whites on high speed until they form stiff peaks, then carefully fold them into the chocolate mixture. To make folding easier mix in a spoonful of egg whites first to soften the mixture.
5. Pour the mixture into the lined loaf pan. Cover with a layer of the remaining sliced sponge cake and dab with the rum and coffee mixture. Cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight or up to 2 days.
6. When ready to serve, whip the cream until it forms firm peaks. Unmold the cake onto a flat plate, tapping it gently to loosen it. Frost it with the whipped cream and decorate with the berries. Serve chilled.