It’s not often that you run across a homemade dessert that can be made easily and on a whim. Most recipes will have you waiting for the oven to preheat and tracking down that cake pan you haven’t used in ages. Chocolate mousse, on the other hand, asks that you bring little more than a few bowls and a readiness to whisk—no tiresome baking, sifting, kneading, or frosting.

This is one of those rare desserts that can be made easily on a weeknight: it calls for a mere three ingredients and takes hardly any time to prep. Because it’s so barebones, you’ll want to make sure that you’re using high-quality ingredients, especially when it comes to the chocolate. When you dig into the finished product with a spoon you’ll understand why: this mousse is first and foremost a vehicle for all of cocoa’s complexities, set afloat by a quiff of air.

You will need:

A medium saucepan

A heat proof mixing bowl

Two additional large mixing bowls

A whisk or electric mixer

Something to serve the mousse in, e.g., small bowls, flute glasses, ramekins, juice glasses, or teacups

Five squares of good-quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (there is no additional sugar in this dessert, so choose a chocolate you would eat on its own)

1 cup of very cold whipping cream

Three egg whites with no trace of yolk

To Do:

1. Fill the saucepan with one to two inches of water and bring it to a simmer over medium heat. Place the heatproof bowl over the water, making sure it’s not touching the water.

2. Chop the chocolate into small, uniform pieces and place them in the heatproof bowl along with a quarter cup of the whipping cream (Place the remaining cream back in the refrigerator until ready to use).

3. Stir occasionally until the chocolate is melted and the cream is evenly mixed in. Remove the bowl from the saucepan and set it aside.

4. Place the egg whites in one of the clean bowls (note: If the bowls, whisk, or whites have any trace of fat or oils, the whites will not properly whip). Whisk vigorously until stiff peaks form. This means that the egg whites will thicken, turn from clear to opaque, and stand up on their own in pointed peaks. This will take about three minutes (alternatively, you can use an electric mixer).

5. Clean and dry your whisk (or your beaters if you’re using an electric mixer). Pour the rest of the whipping cream into the third clean bowl and whisk until it forms stiff peaks. You should now have three bowls: one with melted chocolate and cream, one with stiff egg whites, and one with whipped cream.

6. Fold half of the whipped cream into the melted chocolate, then gently stir in the rest. You’re trying to incorporate, but not deflate, the whipped cream.

7. Gently fold all of the egg whites into the chocolate-cream mixture, again incorporating, not deflating. You can stop folding when there are no longer pockets of either whipped cream or egg white, but be careful not to overmix.

8. Spoon the mousse into your serving cups.

9. Put the cups in the refrigerator, chill for two hours, then serve with additional sweetened or flavored whipped cream if desired.

There are plenty of ways to riff on the original chocolate mousse. Here are five recipes that take it to the next level.

1. Basic Chocolate Mousse

This ethereal mousse is so rich, dreamy, and light that it makes chocolate pudding look downright staid and dowdy. You’ll want to make all five servings, even if you’re only feeding one or two. Get our Basic Chocolate Mousse recipe.

2. Amaretto Chocolate Mousse

If you’d rather stay strictly sweet and traditional, this variation opts for vanilla and almond liqueur, which gives the mousse a heady and slightly boozy decadence. Get our Amaretto Chocolate Mousse recipe.

3. Chocolate Mousse Pie

Up for a double dose of chocolate? This recipe calls for plopping our basic mousse into a chocolate cookie crust before burying it in a pillow of whipped cream. Get our Chocolate Mousse Pie recipe.

4. Chocolate Mousse with Olive Oil and Flaky Salt

Because mousse is a fairly basic and elemental dessert, it lends itself well to experimentation—you can feel free to really go out there with additional flavors or add-ins. Here, the surreal-sounding combination of olive oil and sea salt adds a savory finish to the chocolate. Get our Chocolate Mousse with Olive Oil and Flaky Salt recipe.

5. Raw Vegan Chocolate Cinnamon Mousse

This recipe is full of flavor and creamy cocoa goodness, but it’s magically gluten-free, dairy-free, egg-free, nut-free, and soy-free. Get this Raw Vegan Chocolate Cinnamon Mousse recipe.

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