Sometimes when you try to get to the bottom of things, you find you can’t! Take chocolate mousse (not hard to take by any means), for example.
I decided to do a favorite recipe for chocolate mousse with a Szechwan peppercorn sabayon as part of the Marx Food’s Ridiculously Delicious Challenge (we were given a box of ingredients to use to make a dish with… I chose the peppercorns and coconut sugar…mmm). Coming up with the recipe was easy… it’s based on my favorite Julia Child mousse recipe from her 1989 The Way to Cook. Julia’s is a never-fail recipe… but not her first effort at chocolate mousse. Her original in Mastering the Art of French Cooking was more in the style of a chocolate pot de crème -- without cream -- all rich eggy goodness with butter supplying the necessary oleaginous component for that luxurious mouth-feel we all crave. As I whipped up my divine chocolate cloud I got to thinking -- who made the first chocolate mousse, where did it come from?
Chocolate dessert only goes back to the mid 19th century as far as I can see. Originally, chocolate was a very hot spicy drink from the New World made with water and not milk. This continued through the 18th century with cream and other additives coming into the mix (like jasmine and ambergris!).
18th c. Porcelain Mancerina (the cup that fits inside is called a jicara from the Aztec gourd vessels)
I found this gorgeous innovation for drinking hot chocolate called the mancerina on the blog Potsdecreme. It was invented in the mid-17th century by the Marques de Mancera,Viceroy of Peru from 1639-48 (said The Oxford Companion to Food). The stationary cup holder kept the hot beverage from tipping over and scalding the guest. I can see why it was so popular for so long (you can see more chocolate cups and history HERE and HERE ) with such gorgeous vessels to carry your chocolate in... why mess with success? Aren't we glad they did??
The blog Extreme Chocolate said “The first written record of chocolate mousse in the United States comes from a food Exposition held at Madison Square Garden in New York City in 1892. A "Housekeeper's Column" in the Boston Daily Globe of 1897 published one of the first recipes for chocolate mousse. The recipe yielded a chocolate pudding-type dish, instead of today's stiff, but fluffy, mousse.”
I’d like to believe the legend that the artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1854-1901) invented chocolate mousse. He was a great cook and gourmet and after his untimely death at only 36, his boyhood friend, art dealer and tireless supporter, Maurice Joyant, collected his recipes in a cookbook in the early 20th century (translated into English in a 1966 edition). Included was ‘Mayonnaise au chocolat’*… evidently his creative take on the newly popular savory mousses of the day. Luckily the name didn't stick even though the mousse went on to be nearly as famous as its creator (don’t worry, I will revisit this cookbook again). It has been said that Lautrec created the chocolate mousse and the cocktail snack (he loved the American cocktail), now that is brilliant!
Perhaps if he had stayed with food and away from absinthe, he might have stayed around longer.
Like Julia’s original, the first recipes had no cream (although hers is served with a creamy sauce). I read Robert Carrier had the first cream version in the 1960’s and by the 1980’s chocolate mousse was ubiquitous, although often little more than chocolate flavored whipped cream. My version is far more than that -- good chocolate is the key and the rum, coffee, star anise and orange add warm, spicy notes (and Aftelier’s Petitgrain or bitter orange essence if you are lucky!). The Szechuan peppercorn sabayon I’ve had for 20 years in my ratty handwritten recipe book so I can’t tell you where it came from. I do recommend using good eggs... pasture raised are my favs (from my pals at Grazin Angus Acres. Remember you don't cook them so the fresher the better
Chocolate Mousse with Coconut and Szechuan Peppercorn Sabayon
Chocolate Mousse inspired by Julia Child
8 oz bittersweet chocolate
2 T strong coffee
2 T dark rum
finely grated zest of 1 orange (microplane is best for this)*
1 star anise, crushed into pieces (from Marx Foods)
3 oz softened unsalted butter
3 egg yolks
1 c heavy cream
3 egg whites
¼ cup ground fine coconut sugar from Marx Foods
*for special flavor you could add a drop of Aftelier’s Petitgrain (from the leaves of bitter orange) or bitter orange essence
Soak the star anise in the rum and coffee for a few hours till it has released its scent in the liquid then strain, reserving the liquid. Melt the chocolate with the coffee, butter, rum and zest. When chocolate is melted, add the yolks… whisking constantly (if you add the butter to the chocolate too soon it could separate). Allow it to cool a little then beat. Whip the egg whites and when stiffened add the sugar slowly. Fold this into the chocolate. Whip the cream till stiff and fold into the mousse and add the drop of orange oil now if you wish. Chill
3 T water
1 T honey
4 egg yolks
16 toasted Szechuan peppercorns from Marx Foods
Whisk the yolks, water, honey and peppercorns (I used a hand mixer for maximum volume) over a low heat till creamy and foamy. Add the cream and chill. Strain the peppercorns after they have perfumed the sabayon if you would like, pressing on the solids. If you really like the peppercorns, as I do, toast them and grind them in a spice grinder and add to the sauce… it leave a wonderful tingling sensation on your tongue that is delightful and a contrast to the richness.
Plate the mousse and spoon the sabayon around it… add extra orange zest if you would like… I love the bitter orange flavor!
*Toulouse-Lautrec's Mayonnaise au Chocolat
In a saucepan put 4 bars of chocolate with very little water and let them melt on a very gentle fire.
Add 4 large spoons of granulated sugar, half a pound of good butter, 4 yolks of eggs and mix carefully.
Let cool and you will have a smooth paste. Beat the whites of eggs to a snow and mix them, while stirring, into the paste
Thanks to Gollum for hosting Foodie Friday.... having an anniversary today!!!