Friday, August 15, 2008

Celebrating Julia with the Memory of an Encounter

Today would have been Julia Child's 96th Birthday and all over the food blogosphere you will see tributes to the grand dame of American cooking. To check out a few, head over to Champaign Taste and check out the round up of Lisa's 3rd Annual Julia Child Birthday Celebration.

You already know that Julia Child was a huge influence on me. So much so, that when it came time for Sara of I Like to Cook and I to host the February Daring Baker's Challenge, we both knew there would be only one recipe we would want to do: Julia Child's French Bread. My post on her incredible French Bread recipe is the number one visited post on The Sour Dough. What you may not know is that I had a chance encounter with Julia Child while both of us were still living in Cambridge, MA.

Harvard Square, near where both of us lived, had four very fine gourmet food shops: Cardullo's, the long departed Harvard Square Wines, Formaggio Kitchen and Savenor's, who left after a fire but has returned to it's original location on Kirkland Street. During the final year that Julia lived in Cambridge, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet her quite by accident while both of us were shopping at Cardullo's.

I had stopped in to pick up some cheeses, teas, and a few other hard to find European goodies and had placed them carefully into one of those little baskets that Cardullo's provides. Cardullo's is a tiny shop that is packed to bursting at the seams with narrow aisles. It has only one register and often there is a line where you practically stand on top of each other waiting to check out. While I was standing in line reading the signs posted near the cash register about expected arrivals and reminding customers that charges weren't accepted below a certain dollar amount, I glanced down just in time to see this large hand reach into my basket and pull out the chunk of Roquefort cheese.

I turned around to give the rather presumptuous person a piece of my mind only to encounter the towering figure of Julia Child. She proceeded, in that distinctive voice of hers, to tell me and everyone else in the line about how much she enjoyed Roquefort, how she liked to serve it and how fantastic it was crumbled into a cheese souffle.

Instead of giving Julia the what-to for grabbing cheese out of my basket, I just stood there stupidly nodding my head and trying to get my brain to form a coherent thought beyond, "Oh my God, that is Julia Child standing there waving my hunk of cheese around and telling everyone around us how to use it". When it was my turn at the register, Julia handed me back the cheese and told me to enjoy it. I think I was able to mutter, "Thank you very much Ms. Child" but I don't remember because I was still in awe of being that close to my cooking idol.

Not long afterwards, I heard that she had moved full time to Santa Barbara and her famous kitchen was headed to the Smithsonian but those brief moments in her larger than life presence will be a cherished memory until the day I die.

Lately, I've been craving something light and chocolate and I can't think of anything better than Julia's Mousseline Au Chocolate. Don't be put off by all the steps involved. This is easy and results in a fantastic dessert or filling for cream puffs.

Happy Birthday Julia!

Julia Child Chocolate Mousse for her birthday

Mousseline Au Chocolat

From the 19th Show of "The French Chef"

Serves 6 - 8

Melting the Chocolate

1 cup semisweet chocolate bits or 6 squares semi sweet baking chocolate
4Tbsp strong coffee

Place chocolate and coffee in a small saucepan and place over a larger pan with hot water or in the top part of a double boiler hat water underneath. Stir for a minute or until the chocolate begins to melt and then let it melt over the over the hot water while you proceed with the rest of the recipe.

The Egg Yolks and Sugar

4 egg yolks
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup orange liqueur, rum, Benedictine or strained orange juice

Place egg yolks in mixing bowl and start beating with whip while gradually pouring in the sugar. Continue beating for 2-3 minutes until mixture is thick, pale and forms a slowly dissolving ribbon when a bit is lifted and falls back onto the surface. Beat in the liqueur or orange juice and set the bowl in a pan of almost simmering water. Beat at moderate speed for 4 - 5 minutes or until foamy and warm when tested with your finger. Remove bowl from hot water and either beat the mixture in mixer for several minutes until cool, or set in a bowl of cool water and beat with whisk. It should again form the ribbon and have the consistency of thick, creamy mayonnaise.

Adding Butter and Chocolate

1 1/2 sticks (6 ounces) softened unsalted butter

Stir the chocolate again and continue until perfectly smooth. Gradually beat the softened butter into the chocolate. Beat chocolate and butter into the yolks and sugar

The Egg Whites

4 egg whites, room temperature
pinch of salt
2 Tbsp granulated sugar

Using a hand mixer, beat egg whites slowly until they begin to foam, then beat in the salt. Increase speed gradually to fast until soft peaks are formed. Sprinkle on the sugar and continue beating until stiff peaks are formed. Stir one forth of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Scoop the rest of the egg whites on top and delicately fold them in

Chilling and Serving

Immediately turn the mousse into a lightly oiled 6 cup metal mold, a serving bowl, or individual cups. Cover and chill for several hours or overnight.

If you are unmolding the mousse, dip mold for several seconds into hot water, run a knife rapidly between edge of mousse and mold, and turn a chilled serving dish upside down over mold; reverse the two, giving a sharp downward jerk, and the mousse should drop into place in a few seconds.

Serve with whipped cream flavored with powdered sugar and liqueur.