James Beard Award-winning Cookbook Author

The Egg Conundrum and Chocolate Mousse Torte

Perfect Egg

What is going on with chicken eggs? What you see here is a perfectly fresh egg with a nice high yolk and well-defined egg white. But not all eggs are created equal. I’m talking about chicken eggs and specifically about the amount of yolk and white. Depending on how the hens are fed, the size and color of the yolk can range all over the place. In a standard Grade AA large egg, the yolk is supposed to weigh 18 grams, a bit more that 0.6 ounce. Keep in mind that the yolk is designed to nourish the embryo from fertilization to hatching, about 21 days. The egg white weighs about 30 grams, a tad more than one ounce.

But what I’ve been finding lately is kinda nutso. The yolks are much smaller than they should be and the amount of white is ridiculously large. What I’m  talking about are supermarket eggs. Over the past few months I’ve been buying eggs, including those labeled organic,  from different brand name marketers, and I’ve found the same thing: undersized yolks and larger whites.

Just recently, I decided to make Maida Heatter’s Chocolate Mousse Torte, a classic she created decades ago. Her recipe calls for 8 large eggs, separated into yolks and whites, and beaten separately. So for the heck of it, I compared yolk and white sizes from Costco organic eggs with a dozen I had bought at a local farmers market. When I began cracking the supermarket eggs I noticed something strange: the yolks were visibly smaller than the farmers market eggs.  Hmmm, I thought, I’d better weigh these.

As I said earlier, a normal large egg yolk should weigh about 18 grams. The Costco yolks averaged 14 to 15 grams. Yikes!  And here is one that weighs 14.5 grams with a bit of thick white, the chalaza, still attached.

Costco Yolk weighing 14.5 grams.

Now compare this 14.5 gram yolk with the farmers market yolk below.

Greg Patent the baking wizard farmers market yolk

Not only is the yolk larger, weighing in at 17.0 grams, it’s more orange in color.

I wound up having to use 10 supermarket yolks in the chocolate mousse torte recipe instead of 8. That’s an increase of 25%. And what about the whites? As I separated the yolks from whites, I plopped the whites into a 1-cup glass Pyrex measuring cup and was utterly dumbfounded when just 6 Costco whites reached the 1-cup level. One large egg white weighs about 30 grams and measures about 2 tablespoons. That means eight large egg whites and not six should measure 1 cup! It turns out that the Costco egg whites each weighed close to 40 grams, more than twice the weight of the yolk and a full 1/3 more than a standard white. So for the recipe I was making, I only needed 6 whites, not 8. Had I just used 8 of the Costco organic eggs, the recipe would have been lopsided, it would not have worked, and I would have wasted a lot of money and time.

The main lesson from all of this is that you should always weigh your ingredients. You can find the weight of just about anything you’re coking or baking online. So arm yourself with a scale and you’ll always be safe.

I know it looks as though I’m dissing Costco organic eggs. Not so. Those eggs are perfectly fine to cook for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, where the sizes of a white or yolk are not critical for success. It’s only in baking that you have to be on guard, and any brand you buy may fall short. But a kitchen scale will always allow you to make things just right!

Here’s a slice of light, airy, ethereal, chocolate mousse torte.

Greg Patent thebakingwizard chocolate mousse torte

As for making Maida Heatter’s Chocolate Mousse Torte if you don’t have a scale, please read on.

Chocolate Mousse Torte

Back in 1972 (my goodness, that seems like a century ago!), The New York times published Maida Heatter’s now classic dessert, Chocolate Mousse Torte. One definition of a torte is a sweet cake or tart. Maida’s dessert is neither. Yes, it starts out as a chocolate mousse. But she bakes half the mousse in a pie plate to form a tender cakey layer that rises in the oven then sinks as it cools to form a shell for the remaining mousse. Brilliant! To serve the mousse she piles on lightly sweetened whipped cream and sprinkles shaved or grated chocolate on top.

What you can expect? An ethereal three-layered chocolate and cream cloud.

About the chocolate. When Maida first published her recipe the variety of quality chocolate with super high cocoa content didn’t exist. She used semisweet chocolate, which has at least 35% pure chocolate with added cocoa butter and sugar. The terrific dark chocolates we have today sport 70% or more pure chocolate. These make great eating, but they’re not the best choice for chocolate mousse torte because the baked mousse hardly sinks at all. I’ve used chocolate labeled between 50% and 55% with excellent results.

Now about the eggs. No scale, no problem. Eight large egg whites should measure 1 liquid cup, or 8 ounces, and eight egg yolks half that, or 1/2 cup. That’s it! If you prefer weights, we can speak metric. One large egg white is 30 grams and one yolk 18 grams. For any recipe, just multiply and weigh what you need.

Chocolate Mousse Torte is a great choice for dessert on Valentine’s Day (oops! missed it by a day) or any day. Really. And any leftovers will extend the romance for an extra day or two.  So how great is that?

Use an oven thermometer to make sure the temperature is at 350 degrees. You can make this dessert a day ahead. Just top with the whipped cream and grated chocolate an hour or two before serving. Serve straight from the refrigerator.

8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, 50% to 55%

1 tablespoon instant coffee (optional)

1/4 cup boiling water

1/2 cup egg yolks

1/3 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 cup egg whites

1/8 teaspoon table salt

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar

1/2 to 1 ounce grated or shaved semisweet chocolate

  1. Butter a 9-inch pie plate, preferably oven-proof glass, and coat lightly with unsweetened cocoa powder or fine dry unseasoned bread crumbs. Knock out excess cocoa or crumbs. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center position.
  2. Chop the chocolate coarsely and add them to a medium saucepan. Dissolve the instant coffee, if using, in the boiling water in a small heatproof cup and pour the liquid over the chocolate. Don’t stir. Just leave chocolate and coffee alone for now.
  3. Put about 1 inch of water into a medium skillet (10-inch) and set the pan over medium heat. When the water is hot, set the pan of chocolate into the water. After a minute or so, begin stirring gently with a small wire whisk. When the chocolate is completely melted and smooth, turn the pan off heat and remove the chocolate from the water.
  4. In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks with a hand-held electric mixer on high speed until thick and pale yellow, about 5 minutes. While beating on low, gradually sprinkle in 1/3 cup of the granulated sugar. Increase speed to high and beat until the yolks are very thick and pale, about 5 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. Fold in the cooled chocolate in two or three additions. Wash the beaters thoroughly in hot soapy water. Rinse and dry.
  5. In a large clean bowl, whip the egg whites and salt with the clean beaters until the whites are slightly thickened and hold a very soft shape when the beaters are raised. While beating on medium speed, gradually add the remaining 1/3 cup granulated sugar and continue beating until the whites are stiff and form firm peaks that curl just a bit at their tips. Don’t overbeat. In three additions, fold the egg whites into the chocolate. Be gentle to maintain as much of the air as possible.
  6. Use a rubber spatula to transfer about half the mousse to the pie plate. The mousse should be level with the edge of the pie plate. Cover and refrigerate the remaining mousse. Put the pie plate into the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Turn off the oven but leave the pie plate in the oven for 5 minutes. Set the baked mousse on a cooling rack. Cool completely. As the mousse cools, it will sink and form a cake-like shell.
  7. Carefully spread the remaining moose in the cooled shell, mounding it slightly in the center. Refrigerate 3 hours.
  8. Beat the heavy cream and confectioners’ sugar until stiff. Spread over the chilled mousse and sprinkle with the shaved or grated chocolate. Refrigerate and serve cold. Hot coffee is delicious with this dessert.

Makes 8 servings.


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