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

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Chocolate Idiot Cake

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Baking Ingredients and Substitutions

Chocolate Sherbet

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

115 comments

  • This sounds and looks decadent.
    David, do you think I could use cling film instead of a cloth to wrap the cake?
    Thanks

  • Very nice : )
    Bon appétit!

  • Hello there,
    I’m Italian but my mum had to be French… impossible to have a recipe with a precise quantity of anything. I’ve learnt to make like you did: stay over and weight and measure during the preparation, more fun and sure to snatch every little secret! This cake is to die for
    thanks
    Martina

  • LOL; I thought you were asking ME?! I often get asked ‘can you give me the recipe for what we just had?’ and of course I have to say
    Well, I just opened the fridge and looked what I had and then I took it from there….!
    I NEVER know exact quantities but it always turns out nice… lucky me!

    I even once won a fancy Bretzeleisen (a four de gaufrettes, or a waffle cooker) for a pizza I created on the go – just writing it down and sending it off… So I never knew WHICH recipe of mine made me a winner, lol!
    Guess this makes me the nightmare of every food writer!!

    This looks delicious, thank you very much

  • This looks dangerously more-ish.

    Thanks for a mouth-watering blog, by the way. You (or rather your pictures and recipes) are responsible for a fair amount of my procrastination – and also for a fair amount of rocking ice cream in our kitchen!

  • the fact of beating the chocolate while it is cooling, isn’t this le foisonnement, I don’t know the english term. You know, when you are beating the ganache to help the air entering the chocolate and in order to have the chocolate/butter paste “blowing”, expanding ? Seems similar to me at least.

    You talked a lot about the fear of raw eggs, that’s something I do not understand at all (I’m very french after all :D), but what’s funny is that I feel scared by the “keep it in the fridge for two days”. I’ve beel told that an cracked egg or an egg without its shell should not be kept after a few hours. I think there’s not any real danger here, but I feel that’s funny people have different fears about that :D.

    I think people having the fear of raw eggs could simply put this “cake” in the microwave for 20 or 30 seconds. then let it cool. it would be slightly elastic but at least not raw :D !

  • Looks absolutely fantastic.

  • Me too, much more scared of leaving such cake two days in the fridge than eating a raw egg – I’m sure my fridge is full of wild life forms, and anyway, things tend to fall over other thing, and who’s got all that space for two days anyway?
    Anyway, I lived most of my life without caring much about weight, but I soon discovered that if you weight things it is easier to reproduce that one-off recipe whose results were to die off. I’m loosing my mediterranean soul somehow…
    Really decadent cakes.

  • That cake looks divine.

  • “Let chill for 2 days before serving.” This will be hard to do!

  • With my mom everything is ”approximately” or, like you said, until it looks right. Or, ”oh, about a cup” of this and that (and here cup can mean 2 dl or 2,5 dl or anywhere ”approximately” around that quantity). A frustration in the kitchen for someone who likes precision. This cake looks gooey, rich and so good. About the raw eggs, I thought the raw egg whites were no threat, only the egg yolks. I’m no expert, though.

  • Were the yolks not used?

  • this is one heck of a cake. I can imagine making this in a bowl I can eat directly, albeit non-glamorously, out of.

  • Delicious! Lovely photos.

  • This is pretty much a classic Marquise au Chocolat, which was wildly popular about 25 years ago, a signature dessert at the restaurant Taillevant where it was always served with pistachio creme anglaise. I served it a lot when I was chef for the Austrian ambassador at that time. Recipes are in many books from that period, such as Patricia Wells’ Food Lover’s Guide to Paris. Usually there is no water, a bit more sugar (confectioner’s), and it is generally molded in a terrine and sliced. The tea towel helps the mousse set to cutting texture but makes wrinkled edges. I always line the terrine with baking paper, leaving some extra to lift it out. That makes a very smooth finish on the cake.

    It is key to stir in the yolks while the chocolate is still very warm, so they cook a little and make the mousse set. Don’t beat they yolks. I once had to make 8 of these for a dinner, and I attempted to make them all in one huge batch. The temperature cooled off so the egg yolks didn’t ‘cook’ enough, and the mixture never set so I had to freeze it for serving. One at a time is much safer!

    I’ve never heard of it connected with a pope; maybe her original recipe was molded in a Charlotte mold instead of a terrine? Sometimes that shape is called a ‘pope’s hat’ like Papeton d’Aubergines. But with chocolate it would look more like a fez!

    Try the pistachio creme anglaise with it sometime. It’s pretty wonderful.

  • Just another sign that cooks are the same the world around. The women I grew up around – sturdy American farm women who knew how to ‘set table’ – never measured or wrote down recipes. What I wouldn’t give to be able to go back in time and stand at their elbows with a digital camera and record the process.

    They would have regarded the scale with the same skepticism as Romain’s mother!

    Thanks for another great recipe, David.

  • Wow, this looks divine! Chocolate perfection…! Our mother’s the same with her recipes…little bit of this, add til it looks just so…just impossible!

  • The important word here being “best” in “best eaten two days after it’s made”.
    How much better is “best” exactly? I would need to find out and try it on the first day. Then on the second. And if there is any left, maybe on the third one too…
    Isn’t science a wonderful thing?

  • Miam miam. fluffy and perfect. A piece for breakfast right now would make my day.

  • Thank you thank you thank you! I’ll link this post from now when I share recipes and ideas and I’ll blame my inability to share recipes well on the fact that, after all, I am French! I honestly can’t remember the last time I followed a recipe to the letter or did not switch ingredients. I actually get frustrated with people who refuse to experiment a bit.

  • You had me at chocolate mousse. And cake.

    What a charming write up and picture into the french culture of baking. It warmed my heart; I also have a hard time being precise, and hence sometimes my baking projects turn out less than stellar. I will be making this recipe and will not worry if it varies a little bit from your picture because I’ll be feeding it to my favorite person. Me. :)

  • I am going to have to make this cake! I ate a fabulous meal at a local French/Beligian style brasserie, but the tarte au chocolat was quite disappointing– yours would not disappoint!

    It drives me crazy when people tell you “oh, I can’t remember exactly how much of (fill in blank) I used… just add enough till it looks right.” Mon Dieu :) I love your illustration of French culture, which I adore. I could just curl up with a cup of tea and read your posts all day!

  • It looks like it was originally an Italian dessert that was a favorite of Pope John Paul II, Dolce del Papa:

    http://secretlifeofshoes.blogspot.com/2005/04/pope-cake-carnival-of-recipes.html

  • BTW, the other recipes I’ve seen for Dolce del Papa all cook the cake. Those French sure are crazy (in nice sort of way)! However, I wonder if someone somewhere has a sheet of paper in their recipe box that has just:

    “Cuire a 160ºC pendant 30 minutes.”

    written on it.

  • My grandma baked like this and my aunt still does. They never owned a scale. I also never get exact answers out of them. They just measure with their eye. It is pretty amazing to me (and they are not French, they are German).
    Great recipe. Thanks for sharing!

  • David! I am fascinated by your blog on the baking and cooking episodes you go through and learning a lot in the process. However the photography close ups of French kitchens is just terrific. I loved the (chocolate mousse) kitchen and the patch work ceramic counter, rusted sugar tin and the vintage tureen/mixing bowl – mon dieu!

  • Oh. My. Heavens. I’m not normally a chocolate dessert person, as I tend to get my chocolate by eating a block of it a day, but that looks so divinely rich and fabulous that I might just forget about my prejudice for one night.

    Love the ambiguous recipe-ness of the French, too! Just another part of their too-cool-for-school charm ;)

  • Hi David,
    A question about the raw eggs: If they’re not raw, how do you stir them into your batter? Or did I misunderstand something? Because the only eggs I’ve ever used in baking were raw…

    Thanks,
    Adrian

  • David,

    Have you tried it after chilling for one day? It seems that outside of perhaps “drying out” a bit more after two days that it shouldn’t be much different on the second day that it would after having been chilled overnight. Maybe it does set more from losing moisture during the second day after it has chilled…which would also be a benefit to using a muslin towel vs. plastic wrap, although the recipe probably far pre-dates plastic wrap anyway!

    I loved the reference to the wooden spoon being like folding egg whites in with a screwdriver!

  • .

    Adrian: The eggs are raw when used, and are not cooked during the process either.

    Randall: It is similar, although the Marquis that I’ve made are usually really dense and sliceable, almost like a pâté. And this is more creamy and mousse-like. But I do like those thick ones, too, especially with ice-cold crème anglaise!

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

    So pragmatic.

    I love how this recipe has such a short ingredient list. Those wind up being the tastiest, especially if you can get your hands on outstanding chocolate, as the chocolate flavor shines through without extraneous ingredients to interfere. I believe I need to get my hands on some Valrhona Equatoriale Dark to try this recipe.

  • I agree with the comment above that this is the Marquise au Chocolat, it was the first thought that came to mind. I’ve seen it molded in a cake pan and cut into slices and served with creme anglaise.

  • That woman obviously has some seriously awesome kitchenware—that square tureen! That sugar tin!

    Also, I’m immensely pleased to see that we have the same scale—I pretty much use you as the authority on everything. I was telling a friend the other day (while gushing over The Perfect Scoop) that I will do anything that you say. If you wrote that you have to hop on one foot and whistle while mixing in the sugar, I would do it, because you ALWAYS know.

    Oh and the cake doesn’t look half bad either ;)

  • A few giggles later… just to say thank you, so enjoy reading your blog!

  • Apparently eggs in the US are washed before being sold in grocery stores and this removes a protective coating which prevents the penetration of air/bacteria through the shell of the egg. That’s why they need refrigeration. In most other countries, eggs aren’t washed.

    The cake looks amazing! And I love that bowl she’s whipping the egg whites in! question: I thought adding water to melted chocolate would make it seize. When is that true?

  • kim: Harold McGee, in his excellent book On Food and Cooking says; “Egg quality deteriorates as much in a day at room temperature as in four days under refrigeration..” and goes on to talk about how leaving eggs at room temperature accelerates bacteria as well.

    Perhaps because in France people buy small quantities of eggs at a time, or aren’t concerned so much, they leave eggs at room temperature and they’re sold that way in supermarkets as well. I’ve not heard that the washing removes a protective layer but that’s interesting if true. Still, I refrigerate eggs once I get home.

    Erica: I bought that scale last time I was in the states on the recommendation of a, um, “well-known cooking magazine”. I’m not all that fond of it as it has a limited capacity and I can’t put my mixer bowl on it and weigh things in it because of the limit : (

  • Chocolate, miam
    Mousse, miam
    Cake, miam

  • Reading this post was quite amusing.
    I am Italian and that’s how I learned cooking from my mom. No recipes or scale involved( even though, we did have a lot of scales around the house).
    It took a long time to get used to, to writing down the amounts and ingredients or even follow a recipe. I always had the urge to change something while cooking.
    Now, that I am pastry chef, the scale is my best friend, and can’t quite understand why in the US cups are still so popular, hardly accurate enough.

    Great post. You surely are a good guest, most people would have gone nuts in the same situation.

  • This sounds great. One of my favorite recipes is from my French great-grandmother; it only has ingredients and the rest is up to me. Pretty liberating!

  • Eggs do have a natural protective layer called the bloom which is destroyed if washed or pasteurized. That’s maybe another reason why Americans chill eggs, as many shop bought eggs are pasteurized in the US. The pasteurization which is meant to kill bacteria is ironically what makes egg more receiptable for bacteria infections later and therefore must be chilled. I also think it’s cultural, as in Europe people have smaller fridges (not only in Paris!) and traditionally would buy smaller quantities (as you pointed out) . It’s quite a shock the first time you see a US sized fridge !!! I often have to educate people about not storing all fruits and vegs in the fridge – and I only ever by the amount of eggs I need for a couple of days. Ideally I’d have chickens on the balcony……….

  • well, the fact that most French ingredients (as in the US) come in standardized packages make it easy to cook/bake without having to check too much on quantities. Especially once you know that butter packages come in 250g (with convenient 25g marks on the paper) , chocolate in 200g, etc. It’s just a question of simple maths after that, 1/5 of a package of flour is 200g, etc.

    I do use an old-fashioned Teraillon scale here in the US,essentially when I need to weight flour to make tart dough, and a verre mesureur, and that staple of French measuring, the verre à moutarde.

    Re: eggs being not refrigerated, I have never checked if it was the case but it may very well be that eggs in French are pasteurized? Anybody knows?

    Thanks for the recipe. It is a bit like a marquise, but with whipped egg whites, so much lighter.

  • Simian: I remember when I first moved to France, I was at the cheese shop and remembered that I needed one egg. And I felt kind of dumb for just ordering one, but the fromager wrapped it up and sold one egg to me individually as if it was normal. I imagine a lot of that goes back to when people didn’t have refrigerators and shopped daily.

    It is funny because when I was working on my ice cream book, I would buy 4 or 5 dozen eggs at a time and the looks I got from the shopkeepers was pretty funny. (Although quite a few got rewarded with ice cream a few days later, because my Paris-sized freezer wasn’t big enough for them all!)

  • I must have been French in a past life, because the peculiar mannerisms you mentioned are things I find myself doing all the time. I always scoffed at the people with KitchenAid mixers, thinking they were excessive for the average home cook. When I agreed to make a large wedding cake for a friend last year I finally did get a KitchenAid (as a gift) and I’ll admit I haven’t looked back, but it took me many years of sore arms and struggles with hand mixers to come around.

  • Oh, and I prefer to store eggs and butter at room temperature, but I have a lot more fridge space than counter space, so into the fridge they go.

  • David,
    This looks wonderful! I think that the best recipes are those that seem to have the least ingredients. Unusual to use brown sugar, but it bet it gives the mousse, a deeper sweet flavor. I love the type of sweetness that brown sugar gives, it just tastes richer. Since I am not much of a wine expert what wine would you pair with this dessert? Although I have to say that I think it would be delicious with a cup of espresso or maybe one of those yummy Irish coffees? One of my personal favorites is to pair chocolate with a good stout beer, there’s something about the bitterness of the stout that just works with chocolate.

  • Hi David, I googled Gateau du Pape and the recipe I found was almost identical to yours. The blanchiment you mentioned was probably referring to the” amandes blanchies” in this recipe, which they also called “dolce del papa”. Whatever it’s called it looks wonderful and I certainly will give it a try. Do you think the almonds will give it more texture? Thank you again for a peek into Romain’s mother’s kitchen. Loved her authentic french kitchen wares.

  • The cake looks amazing, seems so creamy. I really like the way it looks!
    Ana

  • I sure am glad that measurements (even using the U.S. cup method vs metric volume vs scale) and recipe writing became modernized and even standardized, such as it is at present. You were fortunate to be able to stand at her side and learn her version of this chocolate decadence. We are lucky that we have you who were willing and able to translate it and provide her method, in all measurement types and the techniques to use. Now anyone, beginner to experienced, well equiped or not, can make this delicious looking creation. Yay modern recipes!…And most recipes will still serve as a guideline to be morphed into something else by an inspired cook.

  • whoa! it’s a no-bake recipe huh? AWESOME!

  • I am sooooo making this!!!!!!

  • Looks so delicious! It made me crave on chocolate=) Thanks for this wonderful share!

  • How on earth do you wait two days to eat this!?

  • David, what I love about your blog is not just the recipes (this one looks divine and will have to be tried this weekend!!!) but the delightful stories that you share.

    I spent summers on a dairy farm with an auntie that was a wonderful baker. When she was dying, my cousin decided that it was (finally!) time to write down her recipes . . . her bread recipe started with “in Gramma’s red bowl, pour in flour to the first grapes” (we had an old pressed glass bowl with grapes in the pattern that had been our grandmother’s) — unfortunately, the bowl broke before anyone thought to MEASURE the amounts (although every time we used it we speculated that it would be a good idea if we did).

    I’m grateful we have an Ag school in the area that sells fresh eggs at our farmer’s market.

  • Looks delish! I was talking to a friend of mine who keeps laying hens and I noticed that she doesn’t refrigerate her eggs. She told me that if they are fresh and have never been refrigerated, they keep fine at room temperature for a long time, but once they’ve been refrigerated they must stay cold. Not sure if that’s true or not, but she never refrigerates hers and they’re fine (although, they are the freshest you can get! Plus organic, free-range, hormone free etc etc).
    My French Mother in law always refrigerates hers, but the bakery I used to work in in the South of France always kept them on the shelf for sale and we sold them a l’unite, which I think is great!

  • David,
    I am relatively new to the world of pastry so please forgive what may be a horribly amateur question. Why in this particular recipe do you melt the chocolate etc. directly on the heat instead of using a double boiler?

    Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful blog. I recently bought Ready For Dessert and I look forward to delving further into the pastry world.

  • Please don’t link to those Nestle bars again. I miss them so and fear I may lose my mind if I don’t get one soon.

  • I have a really bad chocolate hankering right now and settled for M&Ms so your post has made me REALLY regret not just getting my butt up and making this instead!! Looks incredibly delicious….

  • Wow – simply fabulous! I’m drooling at the thought of this decadent cake. Not sure about the raw eggs, but then again I’ve been licking batter with raw eggs for 35 plus years now with no issue. :)

  • The Italians make “Pope’s cake” – with chocolate – but not tons of it, as well as eggs and almonds and cream. I wonder if it is a variation that evolved in France.

    Love the measuring debate. The oinly way to learn from my savory-sweet aunts was to watch them cook and bake. Nothing was measured and rarely was anything written down and all was heaven. They were salty but had angel wings in the kitchen. And nothing I made from watching them tasted as good as theirs. Pasta dough was always explained to me as: knead till it “feels right.” Mix something till it “looks right.” There’s a story here …

  • love, love, love the post…..I feel like I was right beside you and French Lady making the cake and I adore the description of her spatula likened to a screwdriver…..well done! Best, Jane

  • Pope’s Hat–I immediately thought of this style rather than the usual stand-up affair. I recall Pope Paul most frequently looking like this:

    http://j-walkblog.com/index.php?/weblog/posts/changing_the_popes_hat/

  • I love that the recipes are whatever feels right that day! I wish we all would prepare our foods that way. BTW, I would adore this cake.

  • You have inspired me to try baking again…I wasn’t terribly good at it as I have very little patience and want everything to look like my imagination but your recipes and articles have piqued my interest..I am looking forward to your future trip to Normandy/Brittany. Autumn should be perfect….

  • My kind of baking recipe! Approximate And Gluten-Free! It’s been my biggest challenge as a gf baker/blogger. I’ll be trying this recipe soon. Thanks for an entertaining read!

  • The cake does look delicious, extremely so! Years ago a French woman gave me her recipe for Cretons. The recipe in your photograph for the cake reminded me of it. No definitive ingredients amounts etc. I have never been able to replicate her Cretons so I gave up trying and just purchase it at the deli.
    If you make Cretons I sure hope that you post the complete recipe ;)

  • Your adventure reminds me of my own attempts to follow recipe shorthands written by my Norwegian emigrée grandmother, whom I never met. Her notes are full of charming broken English moments, incomprehensible abbreviations, and head-scratching antique reckonings of quantity like “butter the size of an egg.”

    Sadly, some of my results have brought to mind the phrase “lost in translation,” and also have brought home to me the value of access to an oral tradition. Kudos for haggling over measures! You should now add “food ethnographer” to your cv!

  • Reading my David Lebovitz posting every night puts a smile on my face after a long day at work. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

  • This looks amazing! The recipe-as-a-guideline phenomenon that my family in Louisiana has must be a remnant of the French culture there. To me, a recipes is a checklist of ingredients so I don’t forget anything and my whim overrides what’s on the paper. BTW, how does one reconcile lining the pan with a tea towel with the super-fragranced laundry detergents there?

  • My Memere was a fabulous cook and everything was by feel or look.
    She had polio as a child and never went to school so never learned to read or write….everything she cooked was by instinct and was very, very good.

    One of my favorite memories is of my 10 year old self trying desperately to measure everything as she baked the most devine sugar cookies.
    I still have that yellowed scrap of paper with my loopy cursive detailing the instructions as I saw them unfold on that day :)

    I’m sure she was likely frustrated by my insisting that I had to know how much of something she put into whatever she was making.
    She said it was easier to have the recipes in her head because that way she didn’t lose them. Her measuring cup was an old chipped tea cup, the spoons were never exact measures but rather a coffee spoonful or soup spoonful…fun to try to duplicate.

    I will say that when I make Tourtiere now it is exactly as she said,’ you cook and add and taste and adjust the seasonings then taste and adjust again, until it’s perfect, you will know when it is right’.
    There is always that moment when it IS perfect and I smile imagining she can hear me tell her that she was right.

  • Interesting and deliciously looking chocolate cake! Thank you for sharing. Seems like the perfect weekend treat for colder getting days.

  • Great & funny post! LOL! I laughed so loudly in office that everyone looked at me! Your remarks on the old wooden spatula and the weight machine cracked me up! LOL! I’m too a chocoholic so this is a must try for me! Thanks for sharing ..and for taking time to weigh the ingredients! I’m a sucker to weighing every single thing…LOL!

  • Christy: I had thought they introduced those in America but I couldn’t find a link. I know a lot of people in France use that chocolate…and the recipes on the packages!

    Nikki: Generally speaking, chocolate melts at a low temperature so it’s normally best to melt it in a double boiler. However with other ingredients like butter and water, with the aid of stirring, it should melt nicely over low heat without any issues. And hope you like the book!

    Dime Store Foodie: I like chocolate with port, Banyuls, or another sweet dessert wine. I find red wine too tannic to pair with chocolate and overwhelms, so try one of those.

  • This is such good story, and funny, too. I have experienced the same things with my mother, who would say that I should add as much flour as the dough can take. What did that mean?! My husband’s grandmother is still smiling, every time I start taking notes when she shows me how she makes her bread or Bulgarian cheese pie. I am sure, she thinks I am stupid. The only difference is, those women have prepared these same dishes over the years time and again, while I rarely cook the same meal twice. I always go for something new to try.
    Thanks a lot for the good recipe and the funny presentation. Sounds so close to home. All the best and have a nice weekend!

  • Back for a second helping….
    Just to say I still haven’t read all the comments but I want to speak out a great
    LOUANGE to @ Randall Price for the great precisions…. fascinating reading and so much less fattening than actually ‘cooking’ and eating the cake….
    :)

  • I made the mousse cake this evening and it’s patiently sitting in the refrigerator, I’m now wondering if we will resist the temptation to try it for 2 whole days! I wrapped it in a linen tea towel so at least it’s not looking at me when I open the door. In the Summer I would serve this with fresh home grown raspberries as a special dessert. Thank you for sharing this lovely recipe :-)

  • David, David, this is killer! After reviewing the “recipe” I realized there was a restaurant in San Jose, CA in the 80′s that made this and I raved over it so much they gave the recipe to me. Since then, that cake is the ultimate dessert that still gets huge wow’s at dinners. I must say tho, it kills me when someone trys to take a huge slice of it (like a pie) then says “I don’t like this!”..it happened once and I wanted to slap that person for wasting the dessert! Thanks for reminding me that any day is a good day for this treat-the cake- not slapping!

  • If it’s as good as your chocolate idiot cake I’ll give it a try…
    and throw in a little thank you as that idiot cake played a part in sealing the deal with my now husband!

  • Hm, well I’ve never run up against the maximum capacity of the scale, and it hasn’t gone crazy like all the other scales I’ve owned, so for me it has been perfect, though I can see how for a professional such as yourself it might be a little lacking. I guess to each his/her own!

    Thanks again for the wonderful blog.

  • I’m a sucker for almost everything french. Sometimes I wish I was born in France, but that’s beside the point.
    That mousse looks extremely superb. Could I have a slice, please? (:

  • that looks so good. I would eat the whole cake.

  • Our french family makes a mousse au chocolat which uses the same ingredients except for the butter and the procedure is the same. It comes to the table in a transparent crystal bowl for all to share. I find it light and good.
    Moussse au Chocolat
    1 tablette de chocolat 200 gr
    Sucre
    6 oeufs
    1 pincée de sel

  • http://secretlifeofshoes.blogspot.com/2005/04/pope-cake-carnival-of-recipes.html
    I NOTICED THAT EACH POPE HAD HIS OWN CAKE…perhaps this was recipe from her younger era? Great recipe, though; thanx for all your meaderings and
    details!!!

  • I was surprised to see people picking out their own eggs in London’s Borough Market. The egg shells come rubber stamped with the place of origin and perhaps the name of the laying hen!!
    Love reading the comments here!!
    merci
    carolg

  • the women in my family don’t follow exact recipes too, you just have to watch and learn they use to say , they learned to cook the same way from their mothers

    the chocolate cake looks so luscious!

  • Thanks for this simple and evry original cake. Though I am French, I had never heard about it
    Your comments about exact quantities made me smile, I would think it’s not a matter of coutry but a matter of generation and/or education.
    My grandmother was Italian, she grew in a poor family begining of the past century, so she got only basic education…
    She was a great cook (and even did had her own restaurant), but all her recipes were like “2 to 3 handfuls of flour”…”enough oil so that the paste it’s not too liquid”…and so on.
    And of course, nothing was ever written, all in her mind.
    This used to drive my mother crazy, since she cooks with detailed proportions to the gram!

  • I love my chocolate, but I am lusting after the bone handled server, the tureen, and the Sucre tin. Thank you for sharing such lovely photos.

  • It was a very interesting read, but eating a refrigerated raw batter is not appealing to me (and what a relief, for once, calories saved, for your next temptation!). ;-)

  • WOW! That’s about all I want to say.

  • yes, flourless chocolate cake is the way to go…i’m making one tomorrow for halloween! serving it with pumpkin ice cream and whipped cream with candy corn garnish…that’s the american way!

    happy halloween!

  • looks really good! would it be possible to add alcohol to it?

  • One way to find out! *hic*

  • From a classic French cookbook, La Vraie Cuisine Française” by Robert Courtine, aka Savarin (1963), a recipe for chocolate mousse.

    “On incorporera du chocolat râpé avec des jaunes d’oeufs, à feu doux. Une fois obtenue une pâte bien unie, on ajoute les 6 blancs d’oeufs battus en neige et l’on tient au frais”.

    The entire book reads like a twitter feed.

  • This cake looks fabulous! I never thought about making a chocolate mousse cake. When my French in-laws visit, they are always amazed at our big American kitchen with our various kitchen appliances and useless tools. But they enjoy cooking in it, nonetheless (and I enjoy them cooking in it, too). I totally agree on the raw eggs thing. Thanks for sharing!

  • Kids,
    Randall Price is spot on..,.and then David is correct about slicing the marquise…but….has no one talked to you all about coddling an egg? Just a 40 second bath in boiling water. Check it out on Google.

    This desert looks just so FINE. Will do it tomorrow which is all saints Day.

  • How To Pasteurize Raw Eggs

    Place the eggs in a pot with cold water. Put the water on medium heat and stand by to watch as the temperature rises. You don’t want the temperature of the water to exceed 150 degrees. If you want to be exact, you can keep a thermometer probe in the water, if not 140-150 degrees is the stage before bubbles start to form. At that temperature, you can just about keep your finger in the water for a few seconds before you burn yourself. When you reach this temperature, try to keep it. So lower the heat, and watch so the temperature doesn’t rise, then keep the eggs in the water for about 3-5 minutes.

    If you want to be even more careful, you can soft boil the eggs as this will work for some recipes. Some dressings for example that call for a raw egg yolk, will taste fine if you utilize a soft-boiled egg yolk, or even better sometimes. If however, you’re making chocolate mousse or parfait, then you’re better off pasteurizing the egg and not soft boiling it.

  • joyce: Yes, I’m sure you could add a spoonful of your favorite tipple into it.

    Geraldine: Thanks- but do you know if you can whip the egg whites if you’re coddling the eggs first? At the end it says if you’re making mousse or parfait that one should use pasteurized eggs. All of the pasteurized egg whites I’ve seen usually say on the package that you can’t whip them (which I found out one time, the hard way…)

    Sophie: Ha! That’s a great analogy!

    Cris: I know what you mean, I love them all too. So beautiful.

    Didier: I was surprised that I couldn’t find a similar cake on Google with the same name. But as other readers pointed out, it’s somewhat like a Marquise au chocolat.

  • Oh, heavy sigh, cake, and chocolate too. The perfect combo. I’m on my way across the pond.

  • David, I was puzzled about the whitening step and went over the recipe on the back of the envelope again. I read: “Melt the chocolate. Beat the yolks with the sugar until light in color (blanchir is indeed whiten). Whip egg whites. Glass bowl lined with wet towel. Refrigerate.” Independently of your observations and instructions, I would interpret this to mean that the yolks and whites are beaten separately and then incorporated into the chocolate mixture, but this is very different from what you describe. Any thoughts?

  • Hi David,
    Just back from a long weekend in Paris and the Richard Lenoir market was brilliant on Sunday morning. Very painful not to have my shopping trolley with me, but husband put his foot down and Eurostar would have had their say as well. Had lovely blowouts on shopping at Dehilleron and G. Detou, so many thanks for your accurate descriptions on Paris – they were very much appreciated and came in very handy (advice from your Sweet Life in Paris and Chocolate books). It had been over 30yrs since my last visit to Paris, but thankfully, Dehilleron was almost the same. The troops now want me to take them to Florence, Rome and Valencia, which will be fine as those cities are long time friends. All the best, Judith Basham

  • Excellent–another no-cook Lebovitz cake! The first one wasn’t quite intentional, but it was probably the only cake I could have made that day and have ended up with a birthday cake for my mother-in-law. It was the almond cake, we’re in a new rental, & that was the day I finally decided I had to insist that the oven get fixed. The almond cake was in the oven, oh, I can’t tell you how long, and basically was warmed enough to set up. I took it out after I decided it couldn’t take any more low-heat dessication, and served it as it was. My face was a little flushed all the way through dessert, but nobody noticed & all enjoyed. After his parents left, I fessed up to my better half, who was surprised & had thought the cake was supposed to be the way it came out.

    I’m so looking forward to making a no-cook cake that’s actually supposed to be that way.