When one thinks of French Desserts, they invariably at one point think of Chocolate Mousse; when one thinks of any hoity-toity restaurant dessert we think of chocolate mousse (just done in some super-pretty, sculptured, towering, surrounded-by-things-that-don’t-look-edible way). When we think of Mousse in general, chocolate is the first one seared into the frontal cortex (or whatever cortex that works that).
Which makes it sort of odd that the first “mousses,” a word translating to “Foam” btw, were most likely savory creations. Theorized (but not really recorded) to have originated during the 1700’s, most likely when they started playing with aerating egg whites in meringues and other things. These would be folded with shredded and pureed meat to be baked, poached, steamed, etc.
Using the technique with desserts probably wasn’t so long of a wait; folding meringues or similarly fluffy and aerated frostings with cooked/pureed fruit or other seasonings would have been quite the logically accessible feat for various pastry toppings or simpler sweet tooth treats. Bringing in chocolate to the occasion, on the other hand, would be a different matter entirely.
Despite being introduced via the Spanish in the early 1600’s, the use of chocolate in dessert was a long way off. As an import item from the Americas, France’s only way of getting it in at the time being by Spanish trade or their recent acquisition of the Martinique island, cacao was quite the luxury. And being so expensive and rare, even the royalty was wary in having it used in any other way than the simplest version to which they knew: as a Drink. Its original use, as many are probably aware, was as a hot, often spiced (at least in the Americas), SAVORY drink, very similar to coffee. In fact, the first businesses allowed to sell the cacao to the public in France were Cafes, well those and Apothecaries, since it was also seen as medicinary.
And it stayed like this for a couple centuries, even with all the advancement in surrounding countries in converting the bean to a sweet solid, to be used in various dessert preps. The French just stuck with their fancy drink until, finally, they either did some development of their own or chose to buy the delicious sweets from Holland or wherever. By the 1850’s, it was melted and folded with meringue, making France’s first chocolate mousse. From there, like many of the desserts in this list, it spun and grew to a dessert every professional and home cook has made at least once. Not to mention paired with everything from seasonal fruit to sea salt and olive oil.
Chef’s Overdramatic Self-Centered Lecture Corner
Mousses in general, I find, are a pretty easy and fun thing to put together! There are a lot of ways one can make them, and like soufflé you can use whatever kinds of flavor you want. Only with a mousse, all that’s important is getting a concentrated, intense flavor; don’t need to worry about the “base’s” viscosity and thickness TOO much. So long as it can be folded into something, you’re good.
As for what we fold it into, we have a few options: whipped cream, egg whites (simply beaten or fully “meringued”), sabayon, a combination of all or none, anything with air incorporated. You can add and adjust it however you want, with more or less cream, butter, egg, sugar, etc. So long as it’s fluffy, you’re good.
Talking about the Chocolate, now, we can get to a few fun subjects. The main strategy is to melt the chocolate, and it should be a GOOD quality 60-70% bittersweet (gotten at a co-op/whole foods/baking supply store), with some cream/milk and/or butter, basically making a ganache. Any flavors can be added via booze, herbs, or spices. This is then folded with whatever aeration device one chooses until “fully incorporated,” though I like leaving a few white streaks for effect (it’s pretty! Plus it doesn’t harm the final product flavors).
There’s even this method of making it where, basically, one just melts the chocolate with some water (huge taboo, you NEVER want to get even a drop of water into melting straight chocolate, usually), then whisking it vigorously over an ice bath. Simply put, aerating the chocolate on its own before it cools and re-sets.
Personally, I love making my chocolate mousses with just whipped cream, really keep that rich, chocolatey ganache characteristic with a thicker, marshmallowy consistency. Maybe getting in a LITTLE whipped egg whites, which bring in a lighter, delicate mousse factor to the equation. But that’s my preference.
The FRENCH method, as I’ve researched, is quite interesting, and pretty singular across the board. Though amounts and certain practices may vary recipe to recipe, most posts on a “French Chococolate Mousse” I’ve found have a few main things in common. None of them use Whipped Cream, folding only with beaten Egg Whites. The only time heavy cream is used is to melt with the chocolate, which is made sure to be done VERY gently. Finally, they always incorporate Egg Yolks, usually just by “tempering” with the warm, recently melted chocolate.
Though that’s not always the case. Julia Child had a very intriguing recipe for hers, in which she basically made a thick, fluffy sabayon out of the egg yolks (-cough- and booze), which theoretically should add another layer of thickness and aeration to help the mousse along. She, like others, also used a bit of coffee to help boost the chocolatey flavors. As such, I felt compelled that, if I were to follow a specific French(ish) recipe to make a certain version of chocolate mousse, this would be the one I tried. If anything, it required a lot more effort to do the yolks right, and it was a little fun and unique.
Chocolate Mousse (a la Julia Child)
4 Large Eggs, separated
2/3 cup + 1 Tb Sugar
2 Tb Brandy/Cognac
1 Tb Water
6oz Bittersweet Chocolate, chopped or chipped
6oz Butter, cubed
¼ cup Dark Brewed Coffee
Pinch of Salt
½ tsp Vanilla
- Combine Egg Yolks, 2/3 cup of Sugar, Liquor and Water in bowl and move over lightly simmering water/double boiler.
- Whisk vigorously as it heats, keeping it over until it’s light, fluffy, and has “aerated” as much as it seems it will go.
- Remove and place over a bowl of ice water. Working quickly, replace its spot over the water with a bowl of the Chocolate, Butter, and Coffee, turning off the heat and keeping them covered with a towel to melt slowly and gently.
- Continue whipping the yolks as it chills, getting it as stiff and voluminous as possible.
- Stir the chocolate every now and then until it’s completely melted and silky, taking off the heat once done.
- Let cool a couple minutes, using the time to whip the Egg Whites (and also ensure the yolks stay aerated).
- Combine in bowl with Salt and Vanilla, whipping with stand or hand mixer until it’s turned fluffy and starting to keep shape (not yet at “soft peak” stage). Sprinkle in the remaining tablespoon of Sugar and continue working to Firm Peaks.
- Take the chocolate, slowly pouring it in a slow, steady stream into the egg yolk mixture, folding it in until mostly incorporated.
- Working with 1/3 of it at a time, gently add and fold in the whipped whites (may need to move chocolate to a bigger bowl to complete, there’s a lot), adding in the next mound of meringue when the previous is mostly mixed in.
- Fold until no trace of white can be seen and transfer to the desired holding vessels, whether it be cups, chocolate bowls, or even a pie shell!
- Let chill in fridge at least an hour and enjoy, preferably with whipped cream and crunchy topping.
Yeah, overall I really think I prefer using just whipped cream and maybe some meringue for folding, just love the richness and that fluffy feel to it. Not that this isn’t a good mousse, just… different. The texture is somewhat springy, maybe spongey-reminiscent, you can tell it’s affected by the egg yolks but I can’t quite describe how. It’s good, quite good, and sorta craveable in its own right, just not how I translate my “ideal” mousse.
The flavor is nice though, dark and concentrated chocolate, great to have with the whipped cream. I would actually make a couple adjustments to Julia’s formula though. First, a little less sugar, maybe use only ½ cup, because it’s pretty sweet (like, overly). Second, though I love and understand the concept of using just a bit of coffee to act as an undertone, actually INCREASING the flavors and personality of chocolate in our minds, there’s also too much of this in the recipe. I eat it, and it doesn’t taste like chocolate mousse; it tastes like chocolate-coffee, which is not what you want. Cut yours in half just to be safe.
But none of that really stopped me spooning as much of it as I could in the middle of the night like it was fat-free pudding. And at least it tasted good in pie!
A while back I purchased and read through a relatively well known book on pairing wine, which I loved. Besides chapters on particular regional pairings, discussing components, etc, it also had a few pages on “special subjects,” like cheese pairing and other difficult ingredients. One page discussed dessert, and had a whole thing on chocolate with wine. I just loved going through this particular section, because the author talked about the different levels of chocolate, and making sure you kept different kinds of chocolate desserts in mind, and basically the fact that you have to use all these different wines depending on the situation… and then basically just used some form of Muscat/Moscato for every chocolate situation.
Of course, they were all really different kinds of muscat wine, but the irony I think is just hilarious. That said, it’s at least a great starting point; I think a really good quality, sweet and bubbly, singularly refreshing Moscato d’Astiis a great wine to go with this. They’re both aerated, and despite its chocolate-ness the mousse doesn’t need that heavy or concentrated of a dessert wine to go with it. Other simpler, not too aged, syrupy, or oxidated Moscato dessert wines can work well; maybe even a Muscat de Setubal (from Portugal).
We could also enjoy some form of Raspberry dessert wine; there’s a local Minnesotan vineyard that makes one that tastes great with chocolate dishes such as this. Though really any sort of good fruit-based wine or Liqueurcan go with this, it just depends on one’s tastes and flavor preferences.
I harken to wonder if any full-bodied spirits like Cognac, Rum or Aquavit would actually be appropriate, though their inclusion in the recipe opens the door, and the mousse’s intensity in flavor (and sweetness) most likely allows for it to work on a certain level.
Finally, to start with a wine and end with one, I might choose some form of Coteaux du Layonas a good French accompaniment. The many desserts of Bordeaux should work too, but I like the idea of the calmer, spritely fruit and botrytis that clings to Loire’s sweet creations (vs the denser, syrupy Sauternes).