Thursday, August 16, 2012

A Chocolate Mousse

Today was the first time I realized that Julia Child shared the same birthday as my now 9 year old stepdaughter. If there's one thing I've noticed about Talia in the kitchen, it's that she doesn't tire. While her older brother, Youssef, has no patience for laborious baking, Talia can knead for as long as she can if you let her, she'll whisk until her arm goes stiff and she'll be sure to eat every last bit of whatever it was she helped with. 
So this August 15th, it was appropriate to whisk aggressively, to get out the tension of today, a day that reminds me that we haven't been able to speak to them, to see them since January 2011. Happy birthday Talia, may you grow to be a master baker and one that we know. Happy birthday, Julia, it would have been nice to have you around a little longer. Egyptian custody laws, may you be reborn fair to both parents equally.  
This is Julia Child's recipe for chocolate mousse adapted by David Lebovitz. Airy, gummy magic. 

Here's my column for The Egypt Monocle featuring this recipe:

I’ve just returned from the north coast, where my days learned to slow themselves down, to breathe to the beat of the sea. There, all that pressed me was the urge to pick off those white specks of sand that had plastered themselves onto my now darker skin.
Leaving the beach has left me with only one thought that is really nothing new. We are so rushed in Cairo and so stuck in traffic that there is time left for little. It has affected me faster than I would have imagined and I fell for a short while into the deep dark hole of quick recipes and shortcuts that will allow me more time in other domains.
When I first got back to Cairo, I started watching Fatafeat, a food channel held in high regard by many in the Middle East. Ignoring all the English-speaking shows I was familiar with — Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Rachel Ray — my focus stayed on the Arabic shows to catch up with the chefs, trends and techniques pleasing the Arab world these days.
At the next big Cairene family lunch, I then easily fit into the trivial chit chat on favorite TV chefs and finally found myself familiar with names I had heard of when I was away but found no easy access to in Southeast Asia. My input was that I liked Nermine Hanno. Crickets, silence, then finally collective input — the final word was that she was good but slow and too elaborate. Slow being the key word, a fault in production.
Watching her show, every move is deliberate, clean and precise; every slice identical to its predecessor, every plate consisting of minute details that make her dishes truly beautiful on screen. Because of the channel’s understanding of Hanno’s skilled interpretations of both modern and classic cuisine, they have boxed her into a slow-paced show that gives way only to the softness of her voice and the occasional saxophone playing hotel lobby music. The average viewer, with a million and one things lined up on their to-do list, doesn’t care to make their home cooking so detailed and may easily tire of the languid manner of the show.
We are becoming a culture that won’t wait it out for a better end result and it is for this reason that you see Egyptians following Emeril’s “Bam!” instead of Nermine’s subtle and sophisticated flavor combinations, the same Chef Nermine Hanno that left a career in English literature at the University of Alexandria to attain the Grand Diplome in cuisine and pastry at London’s branch of Le Cordon Bleu and later apprenticed under Michelin-starred chef Chris Galvin at The Orrery. She’s also the chairman of the World Chefs without Borders, helping to send trucks, along with the Egyptian Chefs Association, filled with bags of food to the Salloum border where people were crossing with their heart-wrenching stories between Libya and Egypt.
While Hanno continues to achieve, many Fatafeat viewers I’ve met see her as a television personality with much talent and a flat show;  a shame because they’re missing out on a lady that will teach them that labor-intensive recipes usually yield spectacular results if followed correctly with the utmost discipline. A little bit of Julia Child in an Egyptian woman’s body.
This recipe below belongs in essence to Julia Child. It uses up many bowls and lots of butter. It will take time to make. It will take time to set. It will force you to appreciate the simple ingredients it contains. But if you make it right, it will be a recipe you’ll hold close for life.

Chocolate Mousse
You'll need:
170g bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
170g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup (60ml) dark-brewed coffee
4 large eggs, separated
2/3 cup (170g), plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons (30ml) dark rum (You can make it without adding extra vanilla.)
1 tablespoon (15ml) water
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Heat a saucepan one-third full with hot water, and in a bowl set on top, melt together the chocolate, butter and coffee, stirring over the barely simmering water, until smooth. Remove from heat. Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside.
In a bowl large enough to nest securely on the saucepan of simmering water, whisk the yolks of the eggs with the 2/3 cup of sugar, rum, and water for about 3 minutes until the mixture is thick, like runny mayonnaise. Remove from heat and place the bowl of whipped egg yolks within the bowl of ice water and beat until cool and thick, as shown in the photo above. Then fold the chocolate mixture into the egg yolks.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with the salt until frothy. Continue to beat until they start to hold their shape. Whip in the tablespoon of sugar and continue to beat until thick and shiny, but not completely stiff, then the vanilla. Fold one-third of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then fold in the remainder of the whites just until incorporated, but don’t overdo it or the mousse will lose volume. Transfer the mousse to a serving bowl or divide into serving dishes, and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, until firm.


  1. Looks delicious, be sure to check out some of our African safari desserts :)

  2. looks yumm
    Sarah what about the coffee , when to add that?


  3. sorry dear , got it

  4. Hi Sarah,
    I came across your column & I would like to thank you for your most kind words.
    much appreciation,
    Nermine Hanno


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