Steps and methods for making chocolate mousse
2 1/2 teaspoons (1/4 ounce; 1 packet) unflavored powdered gelatin
2 tablespoons plus 1 1/2 cups milk (13 ounces total)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2/3 cup (5 ounces) packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) Dutch-process cocoa powder (see headnote)
1/4 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (see headnote)
1 cup (8 ounces) heavy cream
Chocolate shavings or curls, for garnish (optional)
Use a fork to stir together the gelatin, 2 tablespoons of the milk and all the vanilla extract in a small bowl, until well incorporated. Let the mixture sit for a few minutes, so the gelatin can set up.
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Combine the brown sugar, cocoa powder and salt in a small stainless-steel (or other nonreactive) saucepan, using a flexible spatula to stir together the ingredients and break up any lumps. Add the remaining 1 1/2 cups of milk; cook over medium heat, stirring gently until steaming hot — for no more than 5 minutes and no higher than 200 degrees, otherwise the milk will curdle. Remove from the heat.
Add the gelatin-milk mixture, stirring until it has fully dissolved. Transfer to a 4-cup container and cool for 5 minutes, then cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours until firm, and up to 1 week. This is the chocolate pudding part of your almost-mousse.
Scrape the chilled chocolate pudding into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat on low speed for a few seconds, then slowly increase to medium-high. At first, the pudding will clump like curds of cottage cheese, but continue beating and it will smooth out in a minute. Return to its original container, then pour the cream into the now-empty mixer bowl (without cleaning the bowl).
Switch the attachment on your mixer to a balloon-whisk; beat on medium speed for about 4 minutes, until the cream is whipped just enough that it begins to ball up inside the balloon-whisk attachment.
Use a flexible spatula to gently fold in the chocolate pudding by hand in several additions, until no streaks of white remain. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes, and up to 5 days.