Mousse and the Royal Mouth

January 24, 2020

 

Beer froths into one type of mousse...not the point of this post. "Brasserie" [Brewery], engraved by Robert Benard, in Receuil de Planches, "Brasserie," Plate II, 1763.

 

If you were royalty, you’d worry about being poisoned. If you believed you were a divine incarnation, you’d suspect that everyone cleaved unto you to be close to power and not for your well-being or welfare. If you were a Bourbon monarch, such as Louis XIV, you’d need people to guard against miscreants dwelling among you who have access to your food. You’d call them, plainly, Officiers de Bouche. Officers of the Mouth literally used their tongues to protect the king. They were his royal food preparers, setters, and tasters. Nothing entered his body that did not first pass safely from their own hands to their own lips. Beyond that protective service and their role in nourishing the royal physique, Officers of the Mouth also served the aesthetic demands of the reign, charged as they were with creating and serving menus of elaborate culinary delicacies fit for a king.

 

The Mouthren, as we’ll call the collective of operatives, consisted of a Maître d’hôtel (Majordomo and overlord of the art of the table) and an enormous staff that broke down under the general direction of the Grand Ecuyer-tranchant (Equerry of the Kitchen, who cut and carved meat), Grand Panetier (the Breadmaster), Grand Échanson (the Master Cupbearer, who oversaw the drink services), and the Grand Bouteiller (the Master Bottler, in charge of the wine cellar and drinks in general).

 

 Handbook for perfecting the art of elite stewards, 1662.

 

Among the artists of the transcendent experience that was the sovereign dining table were the Sommelier royal (Royal Sommelier, who set the table with linens and cups appropriate to the service), the Confiturier royal (Royal Jam-Producer, who governed all the processes that turned fruit of the tree into table fare, from jellies to candies and sauces to drinks), and the Pâtissier royal (Royal Pastry Chef…of course). If the dining room was the center of household sociability and the luxury banquet was central to the performance of monarchic healthy and stability, the Mouthren were the king’s Knights of the Round Table, apothecaries, and PR firm rolled into one.

 

 

Royal Menu for Louis XV at Choisy Castle, 27 February 1753.

Illuminated by Brain de Sainte-Marie.

 

A litmus test of the importance of these regal posts and the fragility of culinary choreography came early in the history of haute cuisine. François Vatel, one of the architects of modern gastronomy, committed suicide over a shipment of fish. In 1671, he had risen to the kitchen rank of Controller General of the Mouth for Le Grand Condé (Louis II de Bourbon, Prince of Condé), one of Louis XIV’s cousins from an old, powerful branch of the Bourbon line. On the occasion of the Sun King’s visit to Chantilly—the Condé estate—Vatel would be charged with feeding upwards of 2000 people over several days. It was a dream come true for any chef in the kingdom, until it became his personal nightmare. Epistolary court chronicler Marie de Rabutin-Chantal, the Marquise de Sévigné reports that on the afternoon of the first banquet, tragedy struck: the shipment of fish did not make it to the château. Unable, therefore, to produce one of the courses on a menu that had been hand-written and distributed to guests who arrived with divine right, Vatel faced his cardinal sin against culinary propriety by impaling himself on his sword.

 

Menon, Service for 50, not including oysters, Le Nouveau traité de la cuisine, avec de nouveaux dessins de table... Vol. 1 (26).

 

Not every partition of the food symphony carried such dire responsibility but every instrument had a role to play in the inventive fashions that made French cuisine, as Joan DeJean put it, “the essence of style.” For example, although he often ends the list of officers of the bouche, as his art ends the meal, the dessert chef rose to the top of the list of chocolate purveyors in the course of the 18th century. Already crossing over from pharmaceuticals to food, chocolate found a lifelong European friend in cream.

 

The basic chocolate desserts recorded in cookbooks of the late 17th century involve dairy: chocolate cream, chocolate milk (Massialot), and, of course, ice cream (Audiger). Both milk products and cacao were rare ingredients in the day, one because its health benefits only came to the fore in the mid-18th century and the other for its exotic cost. Together they punctuated the well-heeled meal for the better part of a century. More elaborate dishes for said feasts followed. Among them, one became and remains the reigning queen of after-dinner luxury: chocolate mousse.

 

The language of mousse attended chocolate from the moment it arrived with serving instructions on the European continent. Cacao was to be steeped and frothed or moussé in French, from the verb mousser, to foam. The act of whipping the chocolate drink proved key to its identity and serving it called for a particular utensil, the molinillo or "froath-stick" agitated in a signature pot designed for it, which the French called a chocolatière.

 

Lady Ann Fanshawe, "the same chocelaty pottes that are mayd in the [...] Indis," c. 1651. Wellcome Library.

 

Dictionaries help reconstruct how and when the terms mousse and chocolate swapped places syntactically and chocolat moussé (frothed chocolate) became mousse de chocolat (chocolate mousse). In its 1762 and 1798 instantiations, the Dictionnaire de l'Académie française used chocolate as the example of a frothed drink to illustrate the meaning of moussé:

 

MOUSSÉ, ÉE, participe. Chocolat moussé, c'est--à--dire, qu'On a fait mousser.

 

...Frothed Chocolate, that is, [chocolate] that has been frothed

 

The first part of the definition appears in this form in the 2nd edition of the dictionary, which added the "that is" disclaimer to its 5th edition. The dessert as we know it finally received proper mention in the entry for the 6th edition of 1835.

 

Il se dit, chez les Pâtissiers, d'Une espèce de crème fouettée dans laquelle on mêle du chocolat, de la vanille, etc. Mousse au chocolat, à la vanille.

 

Pastry chefs use it to describe a type of whipped cream mixed with chocolate, vanilla, etc. Chocolate mousse, vanilla mousse.

 

But chefs had been folding egg yolks and cream into melted chocolate for decades by then, first as crème au chocolat. At the mid-century, the Madonna of early-modern cuisine, a celebrity chef known to us only as Menon, wrote a series of trend-setting guides to cooking and banquet table design.

 

 Menon, Service for 80, Le Nouveau traité de la cuisine, avec de nouveaux dessins de table,

Vol. 1 (106)

 

Menon's recipe for crème au chocolat, a dessert he suggests among the entremets (small dishes and desserts) for many menus, used flour to thicken the cream:

 

Finely chop 6 tablets of chocolate and bring them to a boil with 3 cups of cream. Mix 4 egg yolks and a heaping teaspoon of flour. When the cream cools down, mix in the egg yolks. Pass it through a fine-mesh strainer and cook it in a double boiler.

 

Prenez six tablettes de chocolat que vous coupez bien minces, & les faites bouillir avec trois demi-septiers de crème, vous délayer quatre jaunes d'oeufs, plein une cuillière à caffé de farine. Quand votre crème réfroidie vous délayer la crème avec les jaunes d'oeufs; passez-la au tamis & la faites cuire au bain-marie. (Nouveau traité, 269-70)

 

Mousses were more like meringues, using egg whites or taking a whip to the cream to aerate it. Menon's recipe under the name mousse de chocolat called for more egg yolks, no flour, and 'moussing' to finish it off.

 

Melt 6 ounces of chocolate in a generous cup of water over a low flame. Stir it with a spatula and when it is fully melted and reduced like a beef stock, remove from the heat to add 6 egg yolks, then add a cup of sugar. Put the into a terrine. When the sugar has melted and the cream has cooled, finish as noted previously [by whipping the cream, letting it drip through a strainer, whipping what drips, and, if it does not whip well, adding egg whites to help it foam].

 

Faites fondres six onces de chocolat dans un bon verre d'eau, que vous mettez sur un petit feu doux, remuez-le avec une espatule, quand il sera bien fondu et reduit comme une epsece de bouilli, vous le reitrerez de dessus le feu, pour y mettre six jaunes d'oeufs; ajoutez-y une demi-livre de sucre; menez le tout ensemble dans une terrine; lorsque le sucre sera fondu & et que la crème sera rafraîchie, vous finirez les mousses de la même façon que les precedentes. (Confiseur, 175)

 

The wholesale plagiarism of this recipe in Pierre Buc'hoz's Dissertation of 1788 suggests that the mousse de chocolat only became a mousse au chocolat after the Revolution. The subtle difference in the grammar (mousse de vs. mousse au) doubtless has to do with the broader history of the language. But it may also have something to do with the ascension of chocolate as the flavor of choice. In 1750, mousse à la crème was the base recipe and a dish in its own right flavored with essence of orange bud and ceder or bergammot. Menon then provides recipes for flavoring it instead with coffee, chocolate, and even safron. Under the New Regimes during the first third of the 19th century, chocolate mousse edged out the other preparations so that the 1835 dictionary lists it as the iconic mousse à... (becoming "au" because chocolat is masculine), with vanilla--a modern variation--as a close second.

 

There are no tales of a monarch or an Officier de Bouche dying by mousse, though the risk of spoiled cream--should the confection not be well iced, as Menon says it should, before serving--must have made for serious lip puckering on occasion.

Bibliography

 

Audiger, Nicolas. La maison reglée, et l'art de diriger la maison d'un grand seigneur & autres, tant à la ville qu'à la campagne, & le devoir de tous les officiers & autres domestiques en general. Avec la veritable methode de faire toutes sortes d'essences, d'eaux & de liqueurs, fortes & rafraîchissantes, à la mode d'Italie. Ouvrage utile à toutes sortes de personnes de qualité, Gentilhommes de Provinces, Etrangers, Bourgeois, Officiers de grandes maisons, Limonadiers & autres Marchands de liqueur. Paris, M. Brunet, 1692.

 

Diderot, Denis and Jean d'Alembert, eds. L'Encyclopédie. Receuil de Planches, sur les sciences, les arts libéraux, et les arts méchaniques: avec leur explication, Vol. 2, Paris: Briasson, David, Le Breton, Durand, 1753.

 

“'Mrs Fanshawes Booke of Receipts of Physickes, Salves, Waters, Cordialls, Preserves and Cookery written the eleventh day of December 1651 by Me, Joseph Averie,” MS7113, Wellcome Library.

 

Massialot, François. Le Cuisinier roïal et bourgeois. Paris: Claude Prudhomme, 1691. Trans. The Court and Country Cook. London: W. Onley,1702.

 

Menon. Nouveau traité de la cuisine, Avec de nouveaux desseins de tables et vingt-quatre menus, Vol. 1, Paris: Paulus-Du-Mesnil, 1739.

 

--. La science du maître d'hôtel confiseur. Paris: Paulus-Du-Mesnil, 1750.

 

 

See also the Library of Congress list of Gastronomy Books

 

 

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