It was the perfect Autumn afternoon. The sun, slanted so low now in the sky, made it’s way over to shine directly through my studio window. I had been out late with friends the night before celebrating the Equinox and telling old Irish stories so today was being lived at a slower pace than usual. Thoughts of ancestors and memories of visits to Ireland mixed so close to the surface that I could almost smell the peat fire. This called for a toast honoring the light that has passed and facing the dark to come. As I raised my glass in salute I paused to appreciate the sunlight woven through the whiskey. That’s when I noticed a face in my glass. Snapping back to realityville I realized it was actually my sister smiling through the window.
Pegeen had a habit of appearing out of nowhere. This time she held an invitation in hand. There was to be a traditional family Christmas this year and we were all bringing something that would trigger memories of our shared Christmas Past. She’s the youngest and has always presumed she was in charge. Consequently, invitations from her were to be taken as instructions on when and where to be. Truth is she is fantastic at remembering dates and organizing the logistic of our gatherings. Her older sister Laura excels by being the world’s best hostess. She truly has the golden touch when it comes to parties and especially holidays. These two are the ones you want planning anything where family, love, and fun rule.
My father was his family’s oldest and had been born within weeks of his parents immigrating from Ireland to Philadelphia. Christmases with his family were an often bizarre mix of Irish traditions and American additions. One tradition that I totally dreaded was The Party Piece. Everyone attending had to present some entertainment for the group. It could be singing, or reciting poetry, or maybe a dance. I was beyond shy and the thought of the crowd watching me perform scared me to death. Thanks to the Nuns that taught me I could hold my own reciting W.B. Yeats poems. You’d think they’d tire of hearing “Where the wandering water gushes from the hills above Glen-Car,” But sadly they didn’t. I usually managed to slide off to whatever other room held some job or any other excuse to save me from death by stage-fright. This usually meant winding up in the kitchen. Gramma’s domain to be sure.
Grandma was Magic with knowing what it took to warm your belly and soul when we all came back from Midnight Mass on Christmas. She was always the first through the front door and after everyone found a seat she would make a grand, rather regal entrance from the kitchen with my younger sister Laura and me in her train bearing trays of treats. We’d make the rounds of the younger attendees while Grandma would make sure every adult was served.
While we waited for Santa, the room filled with Christmas crackers that held paper crowns and noisemakers, uncles playing Irish pipes and tin whistles that made it impossible to stand still, Mary-Margaret dancing like she was weightless, and glasses of pure golden Irish whiskey being raised to missing family members. Under the guise of cleaning up, Laura and I would always secure enough adult treats to share with Mary-Margaret and the cooler of our sibs and cousins. Mary-Margaret’s dancing skills amazingly increased after each of our clandestine sippings.
My “trigger” treat was an easy choice. I’d recreate one of the treats Gramma McCarthy would have served to the adults at our gathering. Since they all seemingly involved Irish whiskey my trigger taste was set. With the idea in mind of how Gramma’s Christmases changed into the ones I remember, I decided to take her favorite treat and update it a bit. Irish Cream Liqueur came into being in the early 1970s ( a bit before Gramma’s time ) but it does have Irish in the name, and I like the taste so it became the update. It balances nicely with the Irish whiskey in the caramel sauce and adds to the overall creamy-ness. I think Gramma would be very proud.
Here’s how it’s done…
6 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3 cup water
3 tablespoons Baileys Irish Cream
4 tsp. sugar
2 egg whites
WHISKEY CARAMEL SAUCE
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons room temperature butter, cubed
2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons Irish whiskey
WHISKEY WHIPPED CREAM
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
1 tablespoon Irish whiskey
Make the mousse.
Bring the water to a boil.
Place the chopped chocolate and vanilla extract in a blender.
Add the Baileys and sugar to the hot water, stirring until the sugar is dissolved.
Pour this hot liquid mixture over the chocolate in your blender and let it sit for about 30-60 seconds to partially melt the chocolate then cover and blend on high for 30 seconds.
Add the egg whites and blend again on high for about 60 seconds.
Divide the mousse into four small serving containers, making sure the containers are big enough so there is room at the top for the caramel sauce and the whipped cream. Cover and refrigerate until the mousse set up, at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
While the mousse is setting, make the caramel sauce.
Spread the sugar in the bottom of a heavy-bottom saucepan.
Pour the water over the sugar and swirl the pan gently to moisten the sugar evenly with the water.
Heat over medium-high heat. Allow the mixture to cook without stirring. It will bubble quite vigorously. If it’s not cooking evenly, you can gently swirl the pan, but avoid stirring if possible. After 5-8 minutes, the mixture will turn a deep caramel color. Once it gets to this stage, quickly but carefully remove it from the heat.
Whisk in the cubed butter.
Gradually whisk in the heavy whipping cream and whiskey until smooth.
Stir in the sea salt, starting with just a pinch, adding in more as necessary to suit your taste preferences.
Once the sauce has cooled slightly, it can be transferred to a small container and stored in your refrigerator for 2-3 weeks.
Make the whipped cream.
Place the bowl of your mixer and the whisk attachment in your freezer for about 5 minutes to chill.
Remove them from the freezer, immediately add the heavy whipping cream and start whisking on high. Once the cream starts to thicken, add the sugar.
Continue whisking until soft peaks form.
Add the whiskey and whisk until combined. Whipped cream is best when it’s used immediately, but it can be stored in the refrigerator for a couple hours if necessary.
Finish assembling the desserts.
Spread about 1-2 tablespoons of the whiskey caramel sauce on top of the set mousse. If you don’t use all the caramel sauce, you can refrigerate it and save it for another day. Then divide the whipped cream evenly over top of the caramel sauce layer.
Serve and enjoy!
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