There is a time for choosing the easy road.

There is a time for taking the shortcut and doing things the fast way.

But there is also a time for setting aside several hours to tackle something that will make you look back at all the dirtied mixing bowls in your sink, and chocolate shavings and splattered cream on your counter, and say,

That was totally worth it.”

I can’t remember the last time something this rich and decadent came out of my kitchen. That one cheesecake (oh heavens) comes close, but I really think this puppy wins the prize. That bottom layer of flourless chocolate cake ought to tell you enough. And when you add layers of dark chocolate and white chocolate mousse . . . well . . .

As much as I would love to tell you to drop everything and make this right now, this isn’t a dessert to make on a whim. This is a serious act, and has to be completely premeditated. In return for the preparation, time, and attention you give it, this cake will treat you right.

This isn’t difficult to make, but (as the recipe book points out) the hardest part is making sure the ingredients are at the right temperature. So pay attention when it says “room temperature.” You’ll want to separate the eggs while they’re still cold, but after they’re separated, let them sit for a while. And don’t try to rush the chocolate cooling by putting it in the fridge. Just keep stirring, and be patient. It’s worth the wait, I promise.

Chocolate Mousse Cake

adapted from KAF Baker’s Companion, and a little from Annie’s Eats

for the cake:

10 ounces (1-2/3 cup chopped) high-quality semisweet chocolate

4 large eggs, separated, room temperature

1/3 cup sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, room temperature

middle layer:

10 ounces high-quality semisweet chocolate

1-1/2 cups heavy cream, divided

1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin, softened in

2 tablespoons cool water

top layer:

7 oz. (a little over 1 cup chopped) high-quality white chocolate

1-1/2 cups heavy cream, divided

1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin, softened in

1 tablespoon cool water

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9- or 10-inch springform pan by lightly greasing the bottom and lining it with a parchment round. If you have Bake-Even strips, wet them and wrap them around the pan. If not, the cake should be baked in a water bath (a pan with about 1-1/2 inches of hot water) so the edges don’t dry out. If you’re using a water bath, wrap the springform pan in two layers of aluminum foil so no water will seep in while the cake bakes.

For the cake:

Chop the chocolate into small chunks. Melt it slowly on low heat in the microwave, 1 minute at a time, until about 75% melted. Stir slowly until the rest of the chocolate melts.

While the chocolate finishes melting, place the room-temperature egg whites in a large, grease-free mixing bowl with about a third of the sugar. Using an electric mixer, start beating on slow speed, gradually increasing the speed. Beat until the whites begin to look fluffy. Add the remaining sugar, salt, and vanilla, and continue to beat until the sugar has dissolved and the meringue is shiny, nearly soft-peak stage.

Next, using a whisk, stir the soft butter into the melted chocolate until completely incorporated. Then whisk in the egg yolks. Using a wire whisk, fold half of the meringue into the chocolate mixture. Fold in the remaining meringue with a rubber spatula, being sure to mix in the heavier batter at the bottom of the bowl. Gently fold until no streaks remain.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Place the cake in the oven. Bake for 26-28 minutes. The top will be shiny, and a cake tester inserted into the center will come out clean.

Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool to room temperature. As it cools, it will sink and lose some of it’s volume; that’s okay. Refrigerate the cake for 1 hour, then run a knife around the edge of the pan and invert the cake onto a serving plate. Remove the bottom of the pan and the parchment circle, and replace the ring from the springform around the cake; it will be the mold for the two mousses.

For the middle layer:

Chop the chocolate and place it in a medium-sized heat-proof bowl. Bring 1/2 cup of the cream to a boil and pour it over the chopped chocolate. Stir the chocolate and cream mixture gently, until smooth; if the chocolate doesn’t melt completely, heat it briefly on low in the microwave, and continue to stir until melted.

While the chocolate is melting, soften the gelatin in a small dish with the cool water. Once it has softened, heat it on low heat in the microwave, stirring to dissolve. When the gelatin mixture is completely free of lumps, stir it into the melted chocolate. In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whip the remaining 1 cup of heavy cream, being very careful not to overwhip it. It should just hold a soft peak.

Check the chocolate mixture. It must be free of lumps and the temperature should be about 80 degrees F – warm enough to keep the chocolate from setting up, but not so hot the whipped cream melts when it’s whisked in. Add about half of the whipped cream to the chocolate and whisk and fold as you did while making the cake. Fold in the remaining whipped cream once the first half is whisked in. When the chocolate and cream are evenly blended, pour the mousse over the top of the cooled cake in the ring. Use an offset spatula to smooth the top. Return the cake to the refrigerator.

For the top layer:

Repeat the directions for the middle layer, using the white chocolate.

Pour the white mousse over the top of the chocolate mousse and return to the refrigerator. Refrigerate for at least 4-5 hours before serving.

When it’s ready to serve, remove the ring by running a thin knife gently around the edge of the pan, then open the lock and lift it off. Slice the cake with a warm, wet knife, wiping it off between slices; this will ensure a pretty presentation. Garnish with chocolate shavings or curls, chocolate sauce, or fruit. Yields about 16 servings.

This dessert may be made ahead and frozen for up to several weeks. Or you can prepare just the cake layer and freeze it, filling it the day you’re going to serve it.