As mentioned here, August 15, 2012 would have been Julia Child’s 100th birthday. I’ve mentioned this before, my grandparents were friendly with the Childs. They bought wine from my grandfather in his store and my grandmother and Julia knew each other through a few gourmet cooking groups.
One of my prize possessions is framed and hanging in my kitchen. It’s a letter written to my grandmother a few months before her death. My grandfather had reached out to Julia to let her know that Grandma was sick so she wrote to her in response.
It’s a bit hard to read so I’ll re-type it here: “Dear Grace, Just a little note to wish you well. Myron tells me that you have been having a mean rotten time. No fun! Things have been going well with me, thank heaven, and we’ve a new television series on Public TV starting in October- hope you’ll see it. On baking this time- breads, brioches, gooey chocolate cakes and all kind of good things. Not fattening if you keep to small helpings. Here’s wishing you all the best, and sending you my love- Julia Child.”
Sadly, my grandmother died almost exactly a month later so she never saw the baking series (it was Baking With Julia). I found that letter years later when I was going through stuff at our house. My grandfather had saved it, along with this bill of sale from his store:
You’d think with these letters and the connections that I’d remember Julia Child. I do not. I recall tall and that’s about it. I feel connected to her, nonetheless.
As a tribute to Julia and her 100th birthday, a friend and I planned a dinner party composed of her dishes. My friend made her Beouf Bourguignon, roasted brussel sprouts and potatoes with parsley. It was all delicious and when we were done, there were no leftovers. My friend will guest blog that one soon. It was a meal worthy of Julia- several bottles of wine, lots of laughter and so much good food.
I was in charge of dessert so I made Julia’s Bombe aux Trois Chocolats. It’s a large chocolate cake filled with chocolate mousse and topped with chocolate ganache. Incredibly rich and decadent.
While the recipes themselves aren’t complicated, they are a bit time-consuming due to all the steps. I did mine over the course of two days. I suppose you could do it all in one day but I think you’d need the whole day. The recipes are really three separate things plus one set of instructions for putting it all together. As usual, I ended up putting my own twist on this for reasons I’ll explain as we go. Rather than making one whole cake, I made individual ones. Either way, it’s a delicious way to end a meal.
Kate’s Great Chocolate Fudge Cake
1 stick (4oz) of unsalted butter
4 ounces of unsweetened chocolate
1 more stick of unsalted butter
2 cups white sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup of white, all purpose flour
*For this you will need a jelly-roll (sheet) pan, 11 x 17 inches
Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees. Butter (or spray) your jelly roll pan and line it with parchment paper. Leave about two inches hanging over the edge of the pan. Then butter and flour your parchment. I actually just sprayed mine with baking spray. It worked just fine.
Make sure to use good quality chocolate.
Melt it with the butter in a double boiler. Julia says to have about 2-3 inches of water in the bottom of the double boiler and to let it simmer (over low heat). This will let the chocolate in the top part melt slowly, without scorching.
Bake for 25 minutes on the middle rack of the oven. It should be set but the top should be spongy. A toothpick inserted in the middle should come out with a few crumbs on it. It’s important that it not overcook- you need it to be chewy for texture in the dessert and you need it to be bendy in order to assemble it.
When you take it out to cool, let it sit in the pan for 10 minutes. Then turn the pan upside down over a cake rack and unmold the cake, gently. Peel off the parchment and let it cool at least 10 more minutes. Since I’d made mine the day before, I wrapped it tightly in plastic wrap and kept it in the fridge overnight. Before I used it the next day, I let it come to room temperature.
Chocolate Mousse (Chocolate Mougins)
12 ounces semisweet chocolate
1 1/2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
2 1/2 teaspoons plain unflavored gelatin (this was about a packet and a half of the kind I bought)
3 Tablespoons Dark rum, cognac or bourbon whiskey (I used Godiva chocolate liquor)
3 large eggs
2 egg whites (about 4 Tablespoons)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 Tablespoons vanilla extract
large pinch of salt
3 Tablespoons white sugar
Break up the two chocolates and place them in the top of a double boiler.
and end looking like this:
So the chocolate is melting, the gelatin is setting. Time to get the rest of the mousse going. Separate the eggs, putting the whites into a mixing bowl and the yolks into a saucepan.
Then add the cream and stir it slowly over low heat. It is important not to let come to a boil or else it will curdle. If this happens to you, according to the hippo, you can strain it and no one will be the wiser. (I think that Julia would have liked that tip.)Julia has all kinds of tips to know when the custard is ready. None of them have worked for me in general. The only one that sort of works for me is to let it coat the back of the spoon. Or to let it heat to 156-185 degrees Farenheit. Either way, immediately remove it from the heat and stir it for a minute so that it stops cooking.
Stir the gelatin into the custard. It will be in one big lump (actually one big shape of whatever it was in) but keep stirring and it will melt into the custard. Once it has dissolved into the custard, add vanilla and then the melted chocolate.
Beat the eggs whites (remember them from earlier?) with a mixer at slow speed until they get foamy. Then add the salt and increase the speed to fast. Keep beating until the egg whites form soft peaks. Add the sugar and beat more, until the egg whites are forming stiff, shiny peaks.
Fold these egg whites into the chocolate mixture. Gently, so as to keep as much of the air as possible. Cover the mousse and put it in the fridge to set. It should be soft but not runny.
I improvised a bit here. Julia uses the same chocolate as the mousse, recipe, melted and drizzled over. I made a ganache, using the ratio of 3 parts chocolate to 1 part cream. This means I heated 1 cup of cream over low heat to just under the boiling point and then added 3 cups of milk chocolate (good quality please) chips. I let it sit off the heat and then whisked it together until smooth.
Putting it all together
Ok so this is where I drove myself a little bit nuts. Julia calls for a 6 cup bowl, about 8 inches in top diameter. She says that you could use a charlotte mold “or even a flowerpot could be used, of course, and either is fine because they are both tall enough for drama.” I found a bowl that fit the requirements and lined it with plastic wrap as Julia instructed.
Then it was time to cut out the template. Julia suggests that you cut out a template using parchment paper so that you know how to cut the cake to line the bowl. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that I worked on this for a solid half an hour. Let’s just say that I am not spatially gifted.
I did finally end up with a template that fit the bowl.
But when I tried it on the cake, I couldn’t see how I was going to have enough cake. At all. Aside from the pieces pictured above, I also needed one to “cap” the cake- a round piece the same diameter as the bowl. I thought for a bit and then decided that I could make individual ones in ramekins. The best part about that? I didn’t really need a template. Though, I did make one- it was slightly easier than the large bowl. Not much but slightly.
So, this is where Julia and I diverged. If you want to make one big cake, I hardily recommend you consult her recipe because her instructions for the template are good. Unless you’re me. The steps are sort of the same, small or big.
Line each ramekin with plastic wrap. Place a circular piece of cake on the bottom, good side out (it’s going to be the top of the cake so make it pretty).
Fill with mousse.
Top with another circle of cake, sort of pushing down in order to keep the mousse inside.
Wrap in plastic wrap (I just pulled up the sides that were overhanging) and put into the fridge to set. Let them set for six hours or overnight.
When you’re ready to serve, whip up some cream, make or heat up your ganache and then get ready to unmold. Unwrap the plastic from the top and then place a plate over the opening. Flip the ramekin over and tap it. It should come out- you may have to wiggle the plastic wrap a bit. Peel the plastic wrap off and you should be left with a little chocolate bomb.
Top with the ganache, chopped nuts or sliced strawberries.
There you have it!
Happy birthday Julia. You are missed.