Bastille Day and Julia Child

So here it is Bastille Day in France and I have to pay tribute to an American woman. Because she is the one who encouraged American home cooks to learn French cooking. 

Julia Child.

There never was anyone quite like her. Not showy. Not pretentious. She just thought that French cooking and methods and food shopping were superior to any others and knew that Americans could do better than the open-a-can cooking so prevalent in the States back then.

Most people are familiar with Ms. Child’s vibrant, energetic personality, especially those who have seen the movie “Julie and Julia.”

I saw a different side of her. She was one of the best teachers ever. I took 2 cooking classes with her once (along with several hundred other people) and saw for myself how calm she was. How she took us, step by step, to perfecting fish en croute and several other recipes. She was serious without being self-important, funny without putting on a show. 

In 1961 her book (she actually wrote it with Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck), “Mastering the Art of French Cooking” was published. 

This was the book that not only encouraged Americans to learn French cooking, but instructed how to do that. This was the book that sparked all that followed, that helped create the environment that allowed American cooking to develop into the sophisticated cuisine it is today.  

Some people say the recipes in “Mastering” are too long and old fashioned now. We are used to a very different kind of food and recipe writing these days.

But the recipes are long not because they are complicated but because they are so very instructive. You can’t make a mistake if you follow the directions. That’s good for people who are fearful or new to the kitchen. Before you go off on your own, it’s smart to understand the basics, to know what something should taste like. 

And while it’s true, most of us do not dine on Veal Orloff or Caneton a l’Orange these days, the book also contains some terrific recipes for such items as hamburger, onion soup and chocolate mousse. 

Here’s to Julia Child. I still admire her and thank her for encouraging me on my own culinary journey. And here is her recipe for Chocolate Mousse from “Mastering.” I’ve adapted the instructions to conform to our more modern style, but the recipe is hers and it’s delicious.

Chocolate Mousse

4 large eggs, separated

3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon finely granulated sugar

1/4 cup orange-flavored liqueur

6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate

4 tablespoons strong cold coffee

6 ounces unsalted butter, cut into 6 chunks

pinch of salt

2 cups creme anglaise or whipped cream

Beat the egg yolks with 3/4 cup sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer set on medium-high for 3-5 minutes or until thick and pale. Stir in the liqueur. Place the bowl over a pan of barely simmering water and cook, continuing to beat with a whisk, until the mixture is hot and bubbly, about 3-4 minutes. Melt the chocolate and coffee together in the top part of a double boiler set over simmering water. Remove the pan from the heat and beat in the butter, a piece at a time, until the sauce is smooth. Stir the chocolate mixture into the hot custard. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they stand in soft peaks. Add the remaining tablespoon sugar and continue to beat on high speed until the whites stand in stiff peaks. Fold about 1/4 of the beaten whites into the chocolate mixture. Fold in the remaining whites. Turn into a serving dish or individual serving dishes and refrigerate for at least 2 hours. Serve with creme anglaise or whipped cream. Makes 6-8 servings