Posted in Food

Airy, Sweet and Light

Being in the “work from home” phase doesn’t result in fulfilling the work targets especially when the kids are still in holiday mode, getting bored with the stability of routine. Which is why, an attempt was made to channel their energy in the culinary style. A few blocks of dark chocolate, plenty of eggs from the farm, a quart of milk with the recipe for homemade mousse at hand and and we were good to go.

Going by their French origins, “mousse” which means foam, is a dish with plenty of air in it, giving it’s soft, light and fluffy or soft, creamy and thick texture. Made both as a sweet or savoury dish, mousse has been an integral part of many recipes (primarily desserts) since the 18th century. With the little documented history that is available, food historians quote recipes of savoury mousse, followed by fruit mousse and then the dessert mousse (especially choclate towards the mid-19th century) which increased their popularity.

“Mousses. These are a go-between souffles and ordinary iced creams. They are lighter and more spongy than the latter, on which account they are often better liked. They have the further advantage of needing no freezing before they are moulded. The mixture is first thickened over the fire like a custard, then put in the mould and set in an ice cave until firm enough to turn out. A cave is a necessity for the proper concoction of these dishes. To ensure success they need great care in the preparation.” Cassell’s New Universal Cookery Book, Lizzie Heritage [Cassell and Company:London] 1894 (p. 966-7)

Made typically with whipped egg whites or cream, or both; flavoured with chocolate, coffee, caramel, fruit purees or vanilla; sweet mousses are often had chilled to give a dense airy and soft texture. To give a richer feel, egg yolks may be stirred and beaten as well. Sweetened mousse also makes for a good filling between layers of thin cut sponge cakes or simply mixed between layers or onto cupcakes. Such preparations may need for the addition of gelatin into the mousse. Savoury mousse may be made from meat, fish, shellfish, foie gras, cheese or vegetables pureed and beaten. These hot mousse often get their light texture from the well beaten egg whites.

While many food historians often relate to mousse as one of the varied desserts made with whipped cream. The latter was often poured into the mixture or on top especially on preparations of coffee, liqueur, fruits to form the foam of simple to complex pyramidal shapes. Often known as crème en mousse (cream in a foam), crème mousseuse (foamy cream) or mousse ‘foam’, these recipes were there in the late 1760s. Though food historians largely believe that it was the experimentation with chocolate that lead to the rise of the new set of dessert recipes.

Early American dessert mousse recipes (as seen in the cookbooks) were often classified with ice-creams; wherein it was almost similar to parfait. What make the mousse different, is the four components that needed to be checked off, in the ingredient mix. First is the base (chocolate, strawberry puree, passion-fruit or even chicken), the binder (egg whites, gelatin) and the lightening agent or aerator (beaten egg whites, whole eggs, egg yolks or whipped cream). Some recipes call for specific flavouring agents or like extracts, liqueurs or spices, as per choice.

The difference in the mousse lies not only in it’s ingredients but also on how well the lightening agent is prepared and the folding. If there may more than one type of aerator, fold it in the order of most stable to least stable. On folding, too much of mixing will cause the aerator to be deflated, losing the soft feel of the mousse.
Which is why plenty of tiny hands do help in the making of the mousse. From the beating of the egg whites to licking the bowl well, it gives them a fun way to expend their energy. With the ingredients being mainly of the pantry type and plenty of time on hand; making mousse gives an added touch to the post-lunch dessert of ice-cream on the hot afternoons.

“Chocolate Mousse
Take four strips of chocolate, 1 quart of milk, 6 eggs and 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, dissolve the chocolate in a little warm milk, put the quart of milk on to boil and stir in the chocolate gradually. Set the saucepan where it will cook slowly. Beat the eggs well, mix in the cornstarch and add to the milk and chocolate. Sweeten to taste and boil gently until smooth and thick, stirring until done. Flavor with vanilla and pour into a glass dish. Serve cold with sweetened whipped cream heaped upon it.”
—“Housekeepers’ Column,” Boston Daily Globe, March 16, 1897 (p. 8)