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CHOCOLATE ARMAGNAC MOUSSE CROWN
12 to 14 servings

1 cup Armagnac or good-quality brandy
1 1/2 cups (about 12 ounces) lightly packed moist pitted prunes
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise

20 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
5 large egg yolks
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1 cup chilled whipping cream
3 large egg whites, room temperature

4 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
Armagnac Whipped Cream
Chocolate Leaves (see recipe)

Line 10-cup metal bowl with 2 sheets of plastic wrap, extending
over sides. Combine Armagnac and prunes in medium bowl. Scrape
in seeds from vanilla bean; add pod. Cover and let stand 6 hours.

Drain prunes, reserving their soaking liquid. Discard vanilla
bean. Chop prunes into 1/3-inch pieces.

Melt chocolate with 1/3 cup plus 1 ablespoon water and 1/4 cup
reserved rune soaking liquid (reserve 1 1/2 tablepoons of remaining
liquid for Armagnac Whipped Cream) in heavy large saucepan over
low heat, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat. Whisk yolks
with 3/4 cup sugar in large bowl until pale yellow and thick, about
2 minutes. Whisk in warm chocolate mixture. Fold in chopped
prunes. Let stand until cool but still liquid.

Using electric mixer, whip cream in medium bowl to firm peaks.
Gently fold 1/4 of cream into chocolate mixture to lighten. Fold
in remaining cream. Using electric mixer fitted with clean dry
beaters, beat whites in another medium bowl to soft peaks. Gradually
add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and beat until stiff but not dry.
Gently fold whites into mousse. Pour mousse into prepared bowl.
Refrigerate uncovered until set, about 3 hours.

Melt chocolate with butter in heavy small saucepan over low heat,
stirring until smooth. Let chocolate mixture cool to lukewarm.
Pour chocolate over mousse, spreading with back of spoon to cover.
Refrig- erate until chocolate hardens, about 1

Unmold mousse onto plate. Remove bowl. Peel off plastic. Spoon
Armagnac Whipped Cream into pastry bag fitted with medium star tip
(no 4). Pipe stars of cream over mousse, covering completely.
Decorate top with Chocolate Leaves. Cut into wedges and serve.


Armagnac Whipped Cream
Makes about 4 cups

2 cups chilled whipping cream
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons prune soaking
liquid reserved from Chocolate Armagnac Mousse Crown

Using electric mixer, beat cream to soft peaks in medium bowl.
Add sugar, then soaking liquid; beat until stiff.


CHOCOLATE LEAVES
Makes 20

4 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons solid vegetable shortening
20 camellia or lemon leaves, wiped clean

Line large cookie sheet with foil. Stir chocolate with shortening
in heavy small saucepan over low heat until melted. Remove from
heat. Spread thin layer of chocolate over veined side of leaves,
being careful not to drip over edges. Place on prepared sheet.
Refrigerate until firm, about 30 minutes. Gently peel leaves off
chocolate, starting at stem end.

Note: For an alcohol-free dessert, substitute hot water for the
Armagnac.

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