Chocolate Mousse Cake

chocolate mousse cake

There are two things hard about living in France. The first is ….well, let’s not get into that today. The second is getting recipes from French women. It’s not because they closely guard their secrets, but it’s because they frequently use recipes as guidelines rather than making them by rote.

So if you ask a question, the response is often—”Because that’s always the way I did it.” Which was what I was told when I read the instructions on the hand-written recipe I snagged, that said to dip the bottom of the bowl of melted chocolate in a larger basin of cool water to bring down the temperature, where lazy old me would just let it sit on the counter until it was cool. Who wants to empty all those dishes out of the sink?

chocolate mousse cake recette

They often refuse to specify exact quantities. “Just add enough flour until the dough looks correct” is a fairly common response when I press for things like ‘details’, and I keep imagining how much easier writing a cookbook (and a blog) would be if I could give instructions like that.

They are happy to add a little more or this, or take out a little bit of that, and variations are just part of the recipe, which isn’t expected to turn out the same way twice. At least in my experience baking with them.

chocolate mousse cake

This is a recipe from Romain’s mother, who leaves most of the regular cooking to her husband (who is a very good cook) and takes over the baking duties herself. She made the cake for me and I was floored at not only how rich and chocolaty it was, but by the unusual method of preparation.

It’s called, technically, Gâteau de Pape, or “Pope’s Cake”, but she didn’t know why. And a quick search on the newfangled internet revealed nothing else like this out there fitting that description. So if anyone knows anything about it, I’d love to know.

knife in mousse cake cake server

French people also don’t have all the gadgets and batterie de cuisine that Americans have; I haven’t seen all that many avocado slicers or automatic butter slicers in the kitchens of French people. Most newcomers to my apartment enter and immediately their eyes widen as they hone in on my imposing KitchenAid mixer and ask if I am running a professional bakery here. (I would concur that sometimes it does feel that way.)

I had some questions about her recipe after she gave it to me so I went over to her apartment to make one alongside her. And I brought along a scale, which when I pulled it out of my bag, she looked at it as if I just brought over the iPhone v.20, the one from ten years from now.

weighing butter sugar tin

So we cut, sliced, measured, and melted. We had to do a little math because the usual Nestlé chocolate bars that almost everyone uses in France for baking are sold in 200 gram tablets. She said she used “One-and-a-half” bars for the cake, and we had a little disagreement about that, since in my book, that’s 200 + 100 grams = 300 grams. And although I usually just let folks around here have their way when conjuring up their own peculiar rules, if I am sure I can win—and this time I had a scale on my side—an amount of chocolate was mutually agreed upon.

whipping egg whites sucre

When we got into the actual making of the cake, she realized her sugar tin was empty but said she preferred to use light brown sugar anyways and crumbled in a few of the cubes that were in the sugar bowl instead. Because I’m such a good guest, I let her get away with without weighing them. She also insisted on using a very worn down wooden spoon for folding in the egg whites…and a vintage square tureen for whipping the egg whites.

When I noticed a modern blue silicone spatula sitting in the utensil crock and asked why she didn’t use it, she said that she liked the wood spatula she was using, which was so worn down that when I tried using it, it was like folding in egg whites with a screwdriver.

chocolate mousse cake batter

One might say that this Chocolate Mousse Cake isn’t spectacularly high, or perfectly proportioned, or whatever, which is fine with me. I must be becoming French. And it does vary in texture; I’ve had it when it’s relatively firm and sliceable, and other times, a spoon would be the more appropriate serving utensil.

chocolate mousse cake end of chocolate cake

Most of the French people I know don’t shy away from using raw eggs. (They also don’t always refrigerate their eggs, but I do, so I’m not completely French I guess.) If you have concerns about eating uncooked eggs, buy eggs from a trusted source like a local farmer’s market. They cost more, but to me, I’m okay spending a little extra on an egg if I’m feeding it to my favorite person: Me.

And honestly, I can’t think of a better place to spend my hard-earned money than on a chocolate dessert as good as this chocolate mousse cake.

chocolate mousse cake

Chocolate Mousse Cake

For similar results, use chocolate that is approximately 52% cacao solids and whip the egg whites pretty firm before folding them in. A clean cloth or thin tea towel is what she uses to line the cake plate and I was told that it was best eaten two days after it’s made, so plan ahead.

Lastly, don’t worry if your cake isn’t sliceable; if not, simply serve portions with a large spoon. It tastes just as good.

  • 250 g (9 ounces) dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 45 ml (3 tablespoons) water
  • 190 grams (7 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 3 tablespoons sugar, preferably light brown
  • 4 large eggs, separated

1. In a medium saucepan, warm the chocolate, water, and butter over low heat, stirring, until melted and smooth.

2. Remove from heat and stir in the sugar then the egg yolks.

3. Fill a basin or the sink with a few inches of very cold water and beat the chocolate for a few minutes until the consistency of brownie batter.

(The original recipe said “blanchiment” which I thought meant “whiten” but when she did it, it didn’t whiten, or even really lighten at all. But I’d still do it.)

4. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Fold the whites into the chocolate mixture until smooth.

5. Moisten well a muslin cloth or a clean (lint free) tea towel, and line a 9-inch (23 cm) round glass or earthenware baking dish such as a pie plate, with it, letting the sides overhang the edges over the dish.

(Note: Although she normally uses and recommends a round dish, we used a square baking dish which worked fine.)

6. Scrape the batter into the dish and smooth the top. Lift the sides of the damp cloth and fold it over the batter, enveloping it.

7. Let chill for 2 days before serving.

To serve, open up the towel and invert onto a serving plate. You could serve it with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, but it’s actually best just by itself.

Related Posts and Recipes

Julia Child’s Chocolate Mousse

Chocolate Idiot Cake

Eggs Without Fear of Salmonella

Baking Ingredients and Substitutions

Chocolate Sherbet

The Chocolate Cake Recipe I Found on a Men’s Room Wall

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  • November 2, 2010 7:32pm

    I loved reading your take and interaction with a French mother over what my best friend has called “Gâteau Mortimer” (I Googled it, just to see if my head was up my a** on this and I was just spouting off crap, but nope — here is a version here, too: Gâteau Mortimer — although this one calls for chestnut cream, which sounds good, too!). About five years ago, my best friend (who is married to a Frenchman and living in Antibes) gave me her version (seems like she said the name has its origin from a restaurant in or around Nice, but I think I probably am spouting crap on that one. I’ll have to ask my friend again where she got her recipe), and I’ve made it often. It’s very similar to yours/Romain’s mother’s recipe here.

    I have also called this one either “Chocolate Orgasm Cake” or “PMS Cake,” depending on where life is at in any given time. Heh.

  • November 2, 2010 7:37pm

    P.S. Geneva. A little more internet searching and the Gâteau Mortimer is showing up as being a specialty of a restaurant called Le Mortimer in Geneva. Her mother-in-law is from Geneva and I’m pretty sure my friend and her family have eaten there when they visited.

  • November 2, 2010 11:54pm

    Exactly like trying to decipher my late Gran’s recipes. One blue container full of sugar does not help, when I cannot, for the life of me, find the blue container you are talking about!

  • November 3, 2010 12:28am

    Reading your thoughts on deciphering French recipes gave me such a good belly laugh. I have the notebooks of my late grand-mère, Marietta and my ton ton Jean François. Their food was divine and absolutely shaped my tastes as a child though they hardly allowed me into their kitchens except to lick a spoon.

    Someday, I’ll figure out those recipes, but until then, the “almosts” taste pretty good too.

  • November 3, 2010 11:59am

    Strangely, I have a similar recipe which is baked to a chewy texture. It’s really really good, too.

  • November 5, 2010 8:05pm

    Someone already asked this,but how the heck do you not touch this cake for 2 days???? I’d pounce ASAP!

  • November 7, 2010 6:04am

    I once tried asking my Italian grandmother to show me how to make her lighter-than-air pasta, and when I pressed her for amounts, she said, in her very broken English, that she just knows when it’s right. How unfortunate that the one thing I asked her to show me, she was never able to teach me to make. Thank you for giving me a little insight to how different people from the “old country” can be from our obsessive American culture.

  • November 7, 2010 5:55pm

    Thanks David for the recipe. I find it hilarious and tempting to try! I can not stop smiling when I read the first two paragraphs. It is me! SO it is not only the French old ladies who can not give specific recipes but the younger women too!

  • S
    November 9, 2010 8:37am

    This may seem sacrilegious, but can i use hershey’s semisweet chocolate chips? There is no decent cooking chocolate to be found here. All can think of is using a Lindt dark chocolate bar.

    and a note to Randall Price:
    Thank you for the information you provided. I had something called a ‘marquise’ on my honeymoon that was to die for, but strangely enough, could never find a recipe, and then just gave up. Had I known that this recipe which to me seems like those of flourless chocolate cakes, that have always sounded good to me but that I’ve never tried would yield those results, I wouldve done so years ago. Thank you!!

  • November 9, 2010 9:04am
    David Lebovitz

    Because more commercial chocolate chips are made of ‘baking resistant’ chocolate, they’re designed not to melt. (More on the topic at my Chocolate Frequently Asked Questions.) So I would not use them.

    In most places, you can find bars of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate and I’m surprised that a supermarket near you doesn’t carry some. There are also places online that sell great chocolate now, too. Happy baking!

  • November 12, 2010 10:44pm

    David, this cake looks absolutely amazing! I don’t think “decadent” begins to describe it. I, seriously, wish I could reach through my computer monitor and snag a piece to eat at my desk at work.

  • Corey
    November 12, 2010 10:55pm

    Regarding the name, you asked for any hints about why “Pope’s cake”….I only know that Italian pastry has a chocolate tart called something like “priest’s hat” because, according to source of recipe, the dome shape of cake is similar to that of a priest’s hat.

  • Cvetanka Kazakova
    December 1, 2010 2:49pm

    Mr.David i made this cake and it looks like on the picture and it taste divine,thank you for the recipe.

  • Lis
    December 15, 2010 4:23pm

    I just want to say your recipes are amazing. Loved Ready for Dessert!(which i’m hoping to find here in English).
    I know what you mean about French women not wanting to give details, but I think it goes beyond French women(Mexican and Italian I’ve noticed as well). When I tried to get the recipe for tamales from my mom, it didn’t take me long to get all the ingredients from her. However, as for the quantities, I never really got a straight answer; the closest I got was ‘half a bag of corn flour’.
    I haven’t actually tried this recipe though; I just sort of moved near Paris, and our apartment is small-our kitchen even smaller-therefore, I have no place to put anything. No bakeware, measuring cups or scale nothing. Hopefully soon, I’ll try it!

  • Tina
    January 21, 2011 2:00pm

    Well that looks so easy. it is definitely going to be included on my what-to-cook list for this year. It just sounds so easy and comforting and wonderful to cook and I am really trying my best to improve my cooking.