Out with the old, in with the mousse.
Not that it’s local or seasonal, but chocolate mousse was the grand finale to a big trip last spring and I’ve had it on my mind ever since. Final four days spent in Paris, the final museum, final walk, final meal, and the final dessert, a spectacular chocolate mousse. We’d been certain and then uncertain about this restaurant, Chez Janou, located near where we were staying and recommended by several neighborhood residents. I got it into my head that it might be stuffy, too formal and expensive so at the last minute we almost canceled our reservation. In the end we cruised by on foot to scope it out and were drawn into a neighborhood’s corner bistro, a lively place, not stuffy at all and on a Saturday night pleasantly congested and cozy. People of all ages were engaged in weekend conviviality, into their second or third hour of wine and food.
In the Marais district, Cafe Janou oozes Parisian character with conversation and wine flowing easily, great food, soft light and a crowded bar, tightly gathered tables where you politely acknowledge your immediate neighbors – sometimes a brief acquaintance is made, but usually the privacy of each party, however nearby, is respected. We ordered wine, steak and frites, a bowl of fresh green beans. Bob jumped in to fresh tagliatelle and escargot. There’s more to that story, but another time. Let’s just say that we both enjoyed the steak and fries.
And for dessert a final taste of Paris, Mousse Chocolat. In addition to being otherworldly delicious it was served in an unusual way. Dessert plate set on the table, the waitperson arrived with one arm hitched around an enormous bowl of mousse. She offered the large spoon for self serve, but then plopped one, two, and then three spoonfuls of utter decadence onto my plate. I loved that third spoonful, which was too much, but comforting to have sitting there in case I needed it, like a big hug waiting in the wings. Who doesn’t need one more bite of chocolate? I savored every sinful spoonful, licking the spoon clean after each bite and then going back for another, eyes closed, in a chocolate swoon. I must have been a sight to behold, but nobody noticed. Everyone else was in a similar state.
The experience has stayed with me. This is Julia Child’s French Chocolate Mousse, made with egg yolks and sugar, whipped egg whites, chocolate, strong coffee and rum; the making of this mousse was the 20th in her original TV series. Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream if you like. This may or may not be Chez Janou’s mousse recipe, but it’s swoon worthy anyway and I trust Julia in such matters. For a party make a double batch and serve it in a large bowl, one that you can barely manage to carry to the table. There’s something so satisfying about dipping freely into that expanse of mousseness.
Use local eggs and dairy if you can, and a locally processed chocolate like Theo’s semi-sweet Jane Goodall bar, making it a more or less local endeavor.
Chocolate Mousse Recipe
From The French Chef Cookbook, Mousse Chocolat. About 40 minutes hands on, then refrigerate. Three distinct components to this recipe, the chocolate & butter, egg yolks & sugar, and the egg whites.
Ingredients for part #1: 1 C semisweet chocolate bits or 6 squares (6 oz.) of baking chocolate/4 T strong coffee/1 1/2 sticks softened butter
Directions: Place small pan of chocolate and coffee into a larger pan of almost simmering water. Turn off the heat, stir and allow it all to melt together slowly, stirring occasionally and then beating until smooth/ Add softened butter and mix until smooth.
Ingredients for part #2: 4 egg yolks/ 3/4 C granulated sugar – superfine if you have it/ 1/4 C orange liqueur, rum or benedictine (or use orange juice).
Directions: Beat yolks by hand or with an electric beater/ Gradually pour in the sugar and beat until thick and pale yellow/ Stir in the liqueur and set the bowl in a pan of almost-simmering water/ Beat by hand or with an electric whisk or beater for several minutes until foamy and mixture is warm to the touch/ Remove from heat and beat again until cool (place in a large bowl of ice water to speed the process)/ It should have the consistency of a thick, creamy mayonnaise/ When cooled, thoroughly mix egg yolks & sugar with chocolate & butter mixture.
Ingredients, part #3: 4 egg whites @ room temperature/ pinch of salt/ 2 T superfine sugar
Directions, final step: Place egg whites in a very clean, dry bowl and beat, adding salt once whites begin to froth/ Continue beating until soft peaks are formed, sprinkle in the sugar and continue beating until egg whites form stiff peaks/ Using a rubber spatula, fold in 1/4 of the egg whites into thoroughly cooled chocolate mixture/ Add remaining egg whites and continue to fold gently until mixed/ Place in a bowl, cover and refrigerate for several hours before serving, or can be made a day ahead.
It’s good after just a couple of hours of refrigeration, or remove from the fridge after several hours and let sit for 30 minutes before serving. Serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream.