My name is Kathryn Favelle and I am Manager of Events and Education at the National Library of Australia. In my work, I have the opportunity to meet lots of fantastic people, writers and other creative types, historians, biographers but I never met Patrick White. I do, though, have a Patrick White story.
When I was in Year 11, my drama teacher decided she wanted to mount a production of White’s The Ham Funeral. Dutifully, she wrote to White, seeking permission for the production. The response came back: permission denied! Only professional productions of White’s work were permitted and a college production certainly didn’t meet that criterion. We were outraged as only a bunch of 17 and 18-year-olds can be. And I swore never to read his work – a vow I kept until David Marr’s biography convinced me to take another look. I still haven’t finished a novel, despite attempting Voss, The Vivisector and Fringe of Leaves, but one day I will.
Attempting one of White’s recipes seemed a much more manageable prospect but finding one my finicky seven-year-old might enjoy was a little trickier. I settled on Susan Previent Lee’s Chocolate Mousse – how can you go wrong with a chocolate mousse? When I was growing up in the 70s, chocolate mousse came out of a packet. In the 90s, I added a chocolate Toblerone mousse to my repertoire – sadly, I’ve lost the recipe but I do recall lots of eggs as well as lots of Toblerone. There are no eggs or Toblerone in Susan Previent Lee’s recipe. But there is lots of chocolate, sugar and cream.
First, a bit of research. Who is/was Susan Previent Lee? White’s recipe gives no clues. Nor does the index to the biography. A quick Google search revealed a Susan Previant Lee (note the small difference in spelling), who published A New Economic View of American History in the 1970s. Is this our mousse maker? If so, how did White come across the recipe? Did they meet somewhere? Did White eat the mousse at a friend’s house? This is a lesson to me (and to you) to annotate my own exercise book of collected recipes – someone, one day, might like to know who Chocolate Winnies were named after.
Susan Previent Lee’s Chocolate Mousse
6 tablespoons strong coffee
4 tablespoons cognac
8 ounces semi sweet chocolate (PDF confectioner’s choc.)
¼ cup superfine sugar (I used ordinary CSR)
1 ¾ to 2 cups heavy cream
¼ teaspoon vanilla
Pour coffee and cognac into a double boiler; add chocolate and heat. I did make some substitutions, replacing the cognac and coffee with cointreau and water. Bless Google for converting 8 ounces into 226.796 grams. I used 250 grams of chocolate and then ate a square to balance things up.
After chocolate is melted stir until the mixture is well blended. Add sugar and continue stirring over heat until mixture is glossy. Let cool.
Make crème Chantilly by mixing cream until very thick. Beat sugar and vanilla into cream.
With rubber spatula slowly and thoroughly blend mixture into cream. Cover and refrigerate. Serves 6.
The recipe is very simple – although I did dither a bit about how to divide the quarter cup of sugar (I used caster sugar, White used the normal stuff) between the melting chocolate and the cream. In the end, I put a quarter cup of sugar in with the chocolate and then added a dessertspoon to the cream and vanilla to create the Crème Chantilly.
There were a few scary moments when I wondered whether the chocolate would ever melt or if I would have to throw out the congealed lump and start again. But in the end, everything melted, blended and went into the fridge to set.
At this point, I became a little excited and decided that, for the purposes of this post, the mousse needed something to identify it as Patrick’s. So I melted some more chocolate and made Patrick White chocolate glasses. I don’t think Adriano Zumbo will ever be threatened by my piping skills but they do look like glasses, don’t they?
What’s the verdict?
This is a very rich, solid mousse. Not much air in there and it would be difficult to eat a small bowl of it (well, we forced ourselves). Probably it needs to be served with a raspberry coulis and something not quite so rich.
I rated it a 3 – humdrum. My guests, however, rated it a 5 – perfection (this from a man who tells me he makes the best chocolate mousse ever but he hasn’t made it once in 20 years!) and a 4. The seven-year-old refused to taste it. Let’s give the mousse the average of those three scores – 4 -has a genius.
I will add it to my recipe book but I think I might call it Patrick White’s Chocolate Mousse (with thanks to Susan Previent [sic] Lee), taken from his recipes, Papers of Patrick White, 1930–2002, Manuscripts Collection, MS 9982, Series 22, National Library of Australia – just so future researchers know it’s provenance.