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Bitter sweet - chocolate mousse memories

"No matter how many new desserts come along, the classic chocolate mousse is rarely met with anything but delight." Nigel Slater

This is the beginning of the recipe I use for chocolate mousse. It is written in a red notebook which is aging in a picturesque manner. It is old. As is this recipe. But before I explain where I'm going with this post, indeed the meandering way the whole post developed in my mind, let me give you the recipe - which is for four small portions. You don't need big ones for chocolate mousse.

"4oz. (110g) dark chocolate

2 dessertspoons sugar

2 eggs

2 dessertspoons cream

Heat some water to boiling in a small saucepan

Grate chocolate and put in a medium-sized bowl, which will fit over the boiling water without touching the water. Add the sugar and egg yolks.

Put bowl over simmering water and beat the contents until smooth.

Cool slightly, then add cream. I sometimes add some orange juice or liqueur at this point.

When quite cold fold in stiffly beaten egg whites

Pour into glasses, pots or ramekins and chill. Serve with biscuits and more cream."

The recipe comes from the lady in the photo below - David's late sister, Jenny - which is really a bit odd, because Jenny, in spite of her many marvellous qualities, was not a cook. Indeed on the few occasions when we visited her in England it was her husband Bruce who cooked - and in later times - her sons. But 'my' chocolate mousse comes from her - and so every time that I make it, which alas is not very often, I think of her and the first trip that we made back to England together, after five years in Australia. For it was on that trip that I was given the recipe. So many memories from one family photograph, three of those people no longer with us and one, yet to be - another baby for Jenny, a son who married his long-time partner last week.

Chocolate mousse has been on my ideas page for a while now, but it is quite a leap to how I decided to write about it today. What I felt I should write about today - nothing to do with food really - was an 'in memoriam' piece about this other lovely lady - Faye Lee, a friend from my primary teaching days, who sadly died last week. She was possibly the best primary school teacher I have ever known, and it was my misfortune really, to take over her class when she decided to give up teaching for a while and see the world. I don't think the children really forgave me for that. She was a lady full of life, bubbly and light like chocolate mousse. And she could cook. Cakes especially - I have a few of her recipes written down in that little red book and on pieces of paper filed away in my scrap folders. She was also good to my children and unwittingly played a part in two of my younger son's early obsessions. The first was fishing. I have no idea where that one came from, but he insisted and on a trip to visit Faye and family's holiday home on Phillip Island, on his first foray into fishing he actually caught a fish. I had been hoping that he wouldn't. And nobody knew what to do with it when caught either. On another trip there he was introduced to archery - he was older then - a mid teenager - but that was an obsession that was around for quite a while and included lessons. It died when we could not create a suitable target. Faye was also responsible for easing their transition into a totally new school when we moved from Adelaide. She played an important part in our lives, however intermittently, as I have no doubt she did for many others. We were just one of the hundreds. The world has lost a great lady.

But let's not be mournful, because as the title to this post suggests the memories relating to chocolate mousse are joyful too. This is Zoe, who has just turned 14, on the occasion of her parents' wedding. I think she would have been about two, and she has obviously been eating the chocolate mousse which I made for our dessert for our picnic lunch in the beautiful Treasury Gardens. The wedding was a small one, like my own - just the immediate family from both sides in the Treasury building in Melbourne. Which is why the picnic lunch in the gardens. Self-catered and even the patrolling police joined us for a chat and a photograph. A stunningly beautiful day and a memory to treasure. I think my oldest grandson has evidence of chocolate mousse in his smile too.

Skip a few years and I am reminded of another bitter sweet memory of chocolate mousse. This time we are in the years of COVID - so bitter in the sense of separation and anxiety. However, those times were also full of joyous moments, for at the suggestion of my older granddaughter we instituted the Zoom cooking lessons at the weekends, many of which I featured on this blog. I think we all loved them, and one of the most memorable was the chocolate mousse lesson. Here are the boys - triumphant at the end of the lesson, which had been a bit traumatic because although simple unless you have an electric hand whisk it is difficult, and also because of the separating of the eggs, which neither they nor their father were very proficient at. I think we lost a few eggs, and were down to our final one before my son was able to separate the yolks and the whites successfully. The girls had efficiently separated them in their house before the session even began! The whisk had to be borrowed from a friend. I think we often forget how ill-equipped with even basic things like graters and whisks some kitchens are.

Apologies for the self-indulgence of these memories. Perhaps it's why chocolate mousse has a special place in my heart. And in spite of there being thousands of different recipes out there, Jenny's is the only one I will use. And here it is, with one last memory. That small brown pot is French. It is actually a pot that was used for a particular brand of yoghurt we found in the hypermarket, on one trip we made there. I loved the pots, and collected them. Alas I did not have a complete set, but on a later trip I found some in a flea market and bought them for a couple of euros, to complete the set.

Is Jenny's the best recipe? Well rather accidentally perhaps, yes it is, because you see it is basically Elizabeth David's recipe, and we all know that she is the queen when it comes to French food:

"Use decent chocolate, keep it simple, and if in doubt, consult Elizabeth David ..." Bob Granleese/The Guardian

It's not quite the same though because when Elizabeth David comes to her recipe she adds in some butter and leaves out the cream, although she doesn't mention the butter in her introduction:

“Nearly everyone knows and appreciates the old and reliable formula for a chocolate mousse - 4 yolks beaten into 4 oz of melted bitter chocolate, and the four whipped egg whites folded in." Elizabeth David

And maybe everyone did know and appreciate the old and reliable formula, although I don't think I ever remember my mother making it. Felicity Cloake in her ongoing search for the perfect version of everything, however, also basically goes for Elizabeth David, and I have to say that her version, shown here looks very similar to what I usually end up with.

But, of course there are variations, some of which just are silly:

"Like all right-thinking people, [there is] no time for such gimmickry as incorporating olive oil, berries or, God forbid, basil" Bob Granleese/The Guardian

Mind you, you might be tempted by Heston Blumenthal (of all people) and his version which is stupidly simple. Pour boiling water over chocolate to melt it; put it over a bowl of ice-cold water and whip to combine and is custardy; continue whipping until it swells and there you are. Not quite chocolate mousse though is it?

Matt Preston has a useful little article which summarised all the usual variations, so if you want to try any of them a quick Google search will find you a recipe.

Me - I shall just stick to Jenny's and all the happy, and sad, memories that it evokes. Bitter sweet. Like chocolate.


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