Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Agnes Ayres’ Chocolate Mousse

Welcome back! I have been cooking my way through the 1929 Photoplay cookbook but I sometimes take detours. In this case, I will be preparing a recipe from the 1925 collection Favorite Recipes of Famous Women and the star in question is probably more famous today for her proximity to her co-star.

Agnes Ayres had been working steadily in the 1910s but it was under the Paramount banner that she found screen immortality. While her credits include films directed by Victor Fleming, Leone Perret and both DeMille brothers, she is best remembered for her role as Lady Diana Mayo in The Sheik and Son of the Sheik.

While sometimes listed as a victim of sound, Ayres’ career was pretty decently on the rocks well before The Jazz Singer but she did appear in The Donovan Affair, Columbia’s sound-on-disc talkie (which survives sans discs), and toured with revivals of The Sheik. Unfortunately, like her friend Rudolph Valentino, she died young; she suffered a fatal heart attack in 1940. If you want to know more about her life and career, give Dangerous Curves Atop Hollywood Heels a read.

Agnes submitted a recipe for a dessert that is particularly appropriate for summer: a nice, cold chocolate mousse. Since much of the world is suffering from heatwaves, what better way to cool down?

Before starting out, you should know that this recipe is HUGE. By a conservative estimate, it yields at least 12 servings and probably more. If you are preparing it for a smaller crowd, I recommend cutting the ingredient amounts in half. Also, you will want to use your very largest bowl to mix it all together.

You may have noticed that the recipe calls for eggs and no heat. If this makes you uncomfortable, the recipe can be made sans the eggs but it will not be quite so light and airy. The meringue adds a definite something.

For maximum safety, I used the egg whites that come pre-pasteurized and sold in a carton. (The carton says they will not work for meringue but I have always had success with them.) Alternatively, here are instructions for pasteurizing your own meringue. Obviously, your health and safety must come first. If you’re really, really afraid of the raw egg (or cannot have eggs at all), perhaps consider using Cool-Whip (or other similar non-dairy topping) or sweetened aquafaba to lighten the mousse. I have not tested these options but they are worth a try.

Agnes is not specific on how many egg whites are required to yield two cups of meringue so I used about four eggs worth and it seemed to work well enough. I also added 1/4 tsp. of cream of tartar (to stabilize the meringue) and the powdered sugar for sweetness because I could not find where she wanted it added in the recipe. Maybe it was for garnish but it tasted fine in the recipe. (I used a few tablespoons more to sprinkle the finished dessert.)

Oh, and a reminder that even the smallest amount of fat in the bowl or on your mixing implement can make your meringue fail. Wipe down your bowl with lemon juice or vinegar and whip your eggs BEFORE whipping your cream to ensure that your meringue succeeds. Agnes recommends a rotary egg beater but, of course, I used my stand mixer. Anything from a wire whisk to a hand mixer will work here.

(By the way, excuse the lack of making-of photos but it was 10 p.m. and I was just trying to power through the recipe. I can stay up late designing or writing but late night cooking is always a chore to me.)

The recipe mentions “dissolving” the chocolate, which almost makes it sound like cocoa powder is the thing but vintage recipe books from the period were usually pretty specific about these things and they definitely differentiated between cocoa powder and chocolate (and cocoa nibs, for that matter). I used a good quality semisweet chocolate as I worried that milk chocolate would get lost in all the cream and egg. I must say it is nice to see a vintage recipe that doesn’t skimp on the chocolate. I am used to seeing something like “use one square of baking chocolate, serves 400.”)

The melting of the chocolate in the hot milk is quite clever and removes the risk of burning it. I simply heated up the milk in the microwave in 30-second increments (use a much bigger vessel than you think you will need as you want room to stir and milk tends to boil over) and dunked in the chocolate. I stirred it occasionally as I was whipping the cream and eggs and it was completely melted by the time I was ready to mix everything together. Test the chocolate and milk mixture to make sure it isn’t too hot. It should feel as warm as a baby’s bathwater or a sunny day on the beach and no warmer.

Put the chocolate and milk in your biggest bowl, fold in the whipped cream and then gently fold in the meringue. Easy!

For a mold, I used an 8″ springform pan lined with cellophane but had enough mousse left over to fill four 8-ounce cups. Agnes instructs packing the mold in ice and rock salt but I have a modern electric ice box (I KNOW!) and so I just placed it in the freezer.

This recipe is lightning fast to prepare, uses common ingredients and is quite beginner friendly. Meringue is not nearly as intimidating as it sounds and folding is as simple as can be.

Score: 5 out of 5. Oh my goodness, this is divine! Light and airy but with a rich chocolate flavor. It’s like a chocolate cloud! You can either serve it fully frozen or let it sit out for a but so the edges start to soften. I sprinkled mine with powdered sugar and garnished with raspberries. A simple berry sauce would be lovely on this but it’s delightful on its own.

If you are not feeding a crowd, you can always pack the mousse into individual ice cream pint containers and store it in the freezer for your own sinful purposes. I promise not to tattle.

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4 Replies to “Cooking with the (Silent) Stars: Agnes Ayres’ Chocolate Mousse”

  1. Ingredients sound great and it looks scrumptious! Haven’t made a mousse in quite a while- Agnes Ayres’ recipe will suit just fine for dessert at our annual Labor Day weekend get together 🙂

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