Happy Bastille Day!

For every modern nation, there is a line drawn in the sand at which historians believe it was impossible to reverse the course of events. For the US, the birth of our country could have been acceptably marked at the passage of the Stamp Act of 1765, or the Boston Massacre in 1770, or the Tea Party in 1773, or the first shots fired at Lexington and Concorde in 1775. Washington's final victory over Lord Cornwallis on October 17th, 1781 is hard to argue with. John Adams, himself, assumed that July 2nd, the day the Continental Congress approved the Declaration of Independence, would be celebrated in history. In fact, New York abstained that day as it didn't have authority to agree to independence (and wouldn't get that authority for a week), and Jefferson immediately insisted that a paragraph condemning the Slave Trade be removed. July 4th was the day the revised edition was approved again (with New York still abstaining), and the whole thing was finally sent to the printer. For France, there were similar points in history. Financial and propaganda support of the American Revolution may have given legitimacy to the anti-monarchy ideas in the minds of the French everyman. In May, 1879, Louis XVI reconvened the Nobility, Clergy, and Commoners to hear their greviences -- in a sense, limiting the monarch's limitless authority. There was the June 20th Tennis Court Oath by the commoner leaders declaring they would not separate until a constution was established. In early July, a constitution was being written with, if not the blessing, then at least the knowledge of Louis. The arrest of Louis on August 10, 1792, or his beheading on January 21, 1793 may also be considered as final as Washington's victory.

However, the storming of the Bastille, on July 14th, 1789, is the act historically considered to be the point of no return. Though the Bastille once housed political prisoners, it was being decomissioned, and there were only seven prisoners there at the time (four convicted of forgery, two lunatics, and an actual aristocrat who might have been there for reasons of insanity). Ironically, if it had been July 4th, 1789, one other notable aristocrat, the Marquis de Sade, would have been released, but he had been transferred. Given the lack of prisoners, the mob was most likely looking for weapons, not free thinkers.

Open treason against the monarch, whether solemnly approved and printed, or blatently stormed, is hard to retreat from.

For the US, after the Revolution, we shipped the grouchy Royalists and Loyalists out of the country. Some went back to England, some to Canada or the other colonies around the world. When the War of 1812 came a couple generations later, we had few serious Royalists left in the States, and our nation was more or less united against the possibility of British re-acquisition. France, on the other hand, did not have the luxury of shipping out its Royalists. France was France, had been for a thousand years, and those who lost the Revolution were killed or exiled or went into a grumbling, muttering underground. France would see the Revolution, the Reign of Terror, an Empire, another Republic, another Empire, another Republic mixed with flavors of an Empire, and a couple dips back into monarchy of various nuances. And that was just in the first 80 years.

So, Happy Birthday France! Perhaps not the modern nation as it exists today, but definitely France the people, the birth of the idea.


I'm a culinary Francophile, even though I attempt to fusion its techniques with world cuisine. I'm not a dessert person, however. Most baking is chemistry and science, the lack of a scant tablespoon, the loss or addition of an ingredient on a whim, can completely destroy a recipe. Mousse, however, is pretty forgiving. Mostly whipped cream and whipped egg whites for the base, the flavoring can be just (just!) chocolate, or a menu of other items. I've gone fairly classic here with a dark chocolate syrup with egg yolks. A bit of playing, substitution, and improvisation doesn't hurt this dessert, which is why it's one of my favorites.

Chocolate mousse should really use prepared, solid chocolate. I personally like using semi-sweet chocolate chips, melted over a double-boiler. But, dark chocolate candy bars, milk chocolate, bakers chocolate, or a variety of different forms can be used. I was sure I had chocolate chips in my pantry, but, alas, I had steadily eaten them on ice cream the last few months. I did have cocoa powder (unsweetened, 100%). Weirdly, we do have some white chocolate in the house, which I consider unworthy of the chocolate name, even though the fat may be from the cocoa bean itself. I wondered about maybe using cocoa powder with white chocolate. A quick internet search showed I could use 3 tablespoons of cocoa powder with 1 tablespoon of butter to approximate chocolate bars, which seemed much more palatable to me than deigning to use white chocolate (and besides, the cocoa-white-chocolate mixture got thumbs down from purists, as the white is already processed and weird things could happen).

So, for the basics: 3 eggs (separated), 4 tablespoons of butter (2 now, 2 later), 1 cup heavy cream, 6 tablespoons cocoa powder. 4 tablespoons sugar (3 in the cocoa powder-butter mix, 1 to the egg whites).

The eggs are separated into two bowls

6 tablespoons of cocoa powder are mixed with 2 tablespoons of butter and 3 tablespoons of sugar

This is heated over a double-boiler until smooth, then 2 more tablespoons of butter added to smooth it out even more. The chocolate mixture will cool off to just over body temperature.

Meanwhile, the heavy cream is whipped to hard peaks. At this point, I should mention that my wand mixer died before I even started, and I didn't want to clean the KitchenAid after this, so I sucked it up and actually made this by hand with (several) whisk(s). I figure it was the least I could do for France. I can barely type now, though.

Egg whites get the same treatment. At the soft-peak stage, a tablespoon of sugar is added, then whisk some more until just under the hard peak stage.

The chocolate is cool enough at this point -- okay, body temperature may be stretching it, but it has to be cool enough not to set the egg yolks when they get poured in. That's maybe 130-140F, if I remember correctly, which is pretty uncomfortable to touch. If you can stick your finger in the chocolate (to maybe taste it, perhaps), and it doesn't make you yank your finger back out again, it's good. And, just as a public service announcement, if you stick your finger in the chocolate in a real commercial kitchen, the pastry chef will probably stick his entire foot up your ass kicking you out the door.

So, egg yolks get stirred into the chocolate. Then about 1/3rd the whipped cream gets gently (gently!) folded into the chocolate. Then about 1/2 the egg whites. Then everything gets dumped into the remaining 1/2 egg whites and gently (gently!) folded. Then this gets dumped into the rest of the cream and gently (gently!) folded. The idea is to incorporate everything together a bit at a time, working into a big batch. But, since the fluffiness of the cream and whites is entirely due to air bubbles, the entire structure can (and will) collapse. This should be kept to a minimum, though, and it's not too hard as long as everything is treated with a little care.

Spoon into whatever container you want. White or red wine glasses, champagne glasses, and martini glasses all work really well. A couple hours in the fridge until everything sets, and you have heaven in a glass.

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Cappuccino and Bagel