It would be rude not to.
I am currently at the tail end of a few days away in Switzerland, which is lovely, but which has thrown into sharp relief my addiction to chocolate. Neutrality, watch mechanisms and a shady financial services industry wrapped up as high-end banking with discretion aside, the Swiss take chocolate very seriously indeed. And so do I. No meal (breakfast included, although we try not to talk about that) is complete in my mind without at least a square of chocolate to curb any lingering savoury cravings and to nip quickly in the bud a wave of yearning for sweetness. The chocolate lust itself has to be nipped in the bud by the sharpness of a good piece of fruit otherwise it would readily run to a full bar, each and every time, no handbrake, no remorse.
Before coming away I volunteered at Curry Club, a ‘pay what you feel’ modern soup kitchen in Hackney serving three-course meals, cooked by chefs with amazing produce, for all, whether you can pay or not. It’s a wonderful thing. Not least because of the chocolate mousse it introduced me to. The thing is, having tasted and served it a few weeks ago, I’ve subsequently become obsessed with it. So being in Switzerland, surrounded by all the chocolate, one thing might have led to another.
To contextualise further, there was a time in my life when I considered a six-pack of supermarket own-brand chocolate mousses as one portion, to be enjoyed in a single sitting, instead of a purchase to be enjoyed across a few meal times, or taken individually and shared.
Supposedly matured and having learned a little self-restraint, a decade later I put paid to a romantically curated wedding anniversary weekend in Paris by being aggressively overzealous with the large ceremonial bowl of rich chocolate mousse at Chez Janou. I understand now that they leave the bowl with you on your table expecting that you might help yourself to a tablespoon each, perhaps a half tablespoon more after that. I’d almost licked the bowl clean by the time the waiter returned to retrieve the bowl from our table for the next.
Of course, I grew up in a time of quite riotous development when it came to naughty snack foods, and in the fridges of my childhood delicious dessert snacks were ten-a-penny. Creme caramels, Rolo and Milkybar yoghurts, crunch corners, frubes. The fridge also seemed to often have a bowl or plate with angel delight or jelly or some sort of mousse half-finished and very receptive to the occasional unseen swipe with a teaspoon. Considering it now, and borrowing from Philip Larkin, angel delight “in those days sparked the whole shooting-match off”. I ate a lot of angel delight. Strawberry, banana and butterscotch were in rotation, largely due to the multipack containing those flavours and us needing to finish them up before a new pack could be purchased, but it was the chocolate flavour that we held in the highest esteem.
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
It’s not that I’m trying to dodge responsibility for my own addictive shortcomings, it's just that, as problematic Philip rightly alludes to, these things can be passed down from above, whether the intention or not.
I’m minded to shelve the self-indulgence and expand on the history or culinary relevance of the chocolate mousse, but its origins and invention are somewhat unclear. Assumptions are that its origins belong in France in the early 20th century, its invention sometimes attributed to Auguste Escoffier, however, if we’re honest with ourselves, there is no definitive evidence to support this claim. Chocolate was introduced to France in the early 17th century, likely via Spain, and I suspect someone French had discovered the joy of whipping cream long before that. It wasn't until the 18th century that chocolate became more widely available in France, and by this time its ability to melt and still be delicious would not have been lost on anyone within swiping distance. It’s not a stretch of the imagination, therefore, to imagine a chocolate mousse of sorts gracing tables in French kitchens long before Escoffier codified and defined French cuisine for the masses.
More exciting, perhaps, was the invention of the mass-produced chocolate mousse, although this too remains unattributed in the annuls of culinary history. Safe to say though, in the 1960s and 1970s, the popularity of instant and ready-to-eat desserts led to the widespread availability of chocolate mousse in the market. And I consider myself thankful for its existence every day.
The thing is, the relationship in terms of quality between the chocolate mousse at Chez Janou to the six-pack of supermarket chocolate mousse in my fridge has no bearing. But the relationship in terms of pleasure couldn’t be closer. This will upset and shock some people, but it shouldn’t. The sentient being primed for joy should be able to tickle those neural pathways in myriad ways, not just with finery and excess. It’s why the depiction of the obsessive gourmand holds such little aspirational allure, why we’re prone to mock the snooty foodie as opposed to mimicking their good taste. It is why someone will eat at somewhere as rarefied as Osip and find references to McDonald’s and Burger King in the beautiful morsels and mouthfuls. It’s why when I land back in London tomorrow I know my fridge contains some leftover high-end chocolate mousse, as well as two little pots of overaerated, under-chocolated, poorly rendered chocolate mousse, and I am excited about eating the one as I am the other.
So now I have a dilemma. I’m in possession of the recipe for the best chocolate mousse I’ve ever admitted entry to my bouche, and I’m unsure if I should share it. Not, you understand, as I want to keep it to myself and deny others its pleasure and its power, instead, you see, as I’m not sure I’m really meant to have the recipe at all, it’s the result of someone somewhere’s hard graft, it is someone else’s hard worked for intellectual property, it’s the recipe for a signature mousse of a restaurant in Paris, and it’s no doubt an heirloom, a closely guarded secret.
And yet I have it, I’ve made it, I’ve eaten it obsessively, as mentioned it is a supreme, and I want you to have it too; to feel its featherweight heft on your tongue, it’s gossamer richness on your lips, its ephemeral chocolate purity that lasts just long enough for your brain to lose all sense of rationality and fire neural pulses to your hand to keep going, just one more spoonful, just one more taste. I could share the list of ingredients and not the method. Preserve the sanctity of the thing that way? Or share it all, save the specific notes that ensure it is as good as it deserves to be. Or make a change to the original recipe, a minor substitution that means it’s still good, but not great. Or I just share it verbatim? Leave it to you, your skill, your sourcing of chocolate, eggs and cream to determine how good it will be? For in a recipe this simple, that is as much a part of the perfection of the end result as anything else.
At the risk of reproach, I think you should have it, I think you should experience it’s joy. So here it is:
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