It’s incredible how the generosity of a stranger can uplift you and make you smile when you are down. Just remembering how Sujit Sumitran, (who I shamelessly stalk on FB because of the beautiful sourdough loaves he bakes), offered to send me sourdough culture all the way to Mumbai from his home in Bangalore makes me feel happy inside. Before I knew it he had followed up for my address, and then arrived in the mail, these dehydrated little sleeping flakes of dough, all ready to get life anew in my home. One of the starters was the coveted San Francisco sourdough and another an Italian variety. There’s certainly something about sourdough breads. And I don’t just mean the flavours. It’s the magic of bread made from wild yeast that was caught from the air breathed by people across the world. From their hands, from the grains they grew and milled in their fields. It’s like baking with a bit of history.
Meanwhile I was excitedly making my own culture and getting caught up in the joy of creating bread from nothing except flour water, salt and yeast from the very air of the kitchen that is my playground and crime scene. I am now the proud owner of 3 pet starters that are sleeping in my fridge. When I wake them up, they come out to play and make lovely crackling loaves of bread that are delicious and healthful. But more on that in another post.
Once the starters were ready, bread making ensued. Unfortunately, in the middle of my new exciting sourdough experiments I started to fall ill. It started with the flu, escalated to bronchitis and degenerated into severe breathing issues and skin eruptions. Long story short, I was diagnosed with asthma and severe allergies connected to an auto-immune disorder. None of which was anything I have an idea of. Starting with the familiar end of the spectrum, we decided to go in for an ELISA test to diagnose the allergies and discovered the culprits. One of them the yeast I was working so much with.
While I try to wrap my head around my apparently unrequited love affair with food, I cannot believe that it is the enemy and I refuse to give up on yeast and bread baking (eating I can sacrifice more easily). The doctor, thankfully, says the same. His says that for someone with an allergic disposition, what you are allergic to will keep changing. Giving up on the foods hence is not a solution.
Food always has been my way of discovering the world, its history, culture, politics and my own self. Now I’m learning that where certain foods can harm, certain foods can heal. The more I read, the more I realise how much food can affect your well being and state of mind. A lot of research seems to indicate that several allergy related deseases are heavy linked with lifestyle and our changing environment + deteriorating quality of food and ingredients. Unsurprisingly diets that are supposed to help allergies and immune disorders and all advise staying away from anything packaged and eating homemade, made from-scratch foods or better still, eating the way that man was originally meant to. A healer I know and respect once strongly recommended the blood group based diet that is based on the theory of how blood type represents a different evolutionary heritage. It further upholds that if people eat food that is not compatible with their blood type, they will experience many health problems. On the other hand, if a person eats food that is compatible, they will be healthier. And then there are also people who swear by Paleo or the Primal diets in managing if not curing immune diseases and allergies among other things. (I’m toying with the idea of trying these out so if any of you have, I would love to know more about your experiences.)
I did not imagine that I could end up with asthma and an immune disorder that involves chronic skin issues and potentially arthritis at the ripe old age of 36. And I don’t even know what that means really. What I am determined to do though, is find a way to make this work. From all that I read, gluten is best avoided and dairy is something I am still intolerant to (though apparently not allergic to currently, YAY!!). It’s true that I can enjoy meats, fruits and other nuts and vegetables. But right now for me, the brightest light in this journey is eggs.
According to all that I am reading, whole eggs are a great source of nutrition. Both the white and the yolk have their role to play in the road to good health. But the best bit is that eggs lend themselves to a whole host of delicious possibilities. Which is what brought me to this wonderful recipe. Ill or not, a girl must always eat deliciously is what I firmly believe. And who says that only the unhealthy food can be delicious?
I promise you that this is one dessert you will fall in love with. It was such a hit in our house that I made 3 batches in 2 days and it all disappeared without a trace. Atul wants to call it the OMG Mousse because of how delicious it is. And Meryl (who isn’t really a dessert girl and one of the healthiest eaters I know), was caught stealthily heading to the fridge every chance she got. She ended up eating it for almost every meal till it lasted. I have now been made to promise solemnly that this will be on the menu every single Sunday from now on. Oh! and after around 7 years of living together, this is the first time Atul asked me to teach him a recipe. “You know, just incase you aren’t around, sweetheart”.
Most bakeries today use whipped (hydrogenated vegetable) cream to lighten chocolate mousse. If you are seriously lucky, you may run into one that uses real dairy cream but that’s rather improbable. Most traditional French recipes, however, just use eggs and chocolate for this ethereal concoction. In this genius recipe by the fabulous French chef (and hands down my favourite macaron maker) Pierre Herme, melted chocolate is thinned down with milk and then further lightened with beaten egg whites. I also considered a few recipes that stabilise the egg whites with the addition of hot sugar syrup (sort of like an Italian meringue) before they whip in the chocolate but I found that it’s a fiddly step and entirely unnecessary when simply whipping them up well can result in such beauty. The lack of dairy and minimal addition of sugar results in a mousse that’s intensely, purely chocolaty and yet deceptively light. This mousse will melt on your tongue and disappear before you know it. It will haunt you with its allure and make you reach for more. What’s more, it will make you both happy and healthy.
- egg whites - 4 to 5 (5 if your eggs are tiny and you like the mouse lighter)
- egg yolk - 1
- sugar - 2 tablespoons
- salt - 1 small pinch
- dark chocolate chopped or chips - 1 full cup (i used Callebaut dark chocolate chips that I bought from the Petit Plaisirs Patisserie in Versova)
- Almond milk - ⅓ cup (you can use regular milk. I think water may work too)
- Pour the milk into a large microwave proof bowl and add in the chocolate. Cook for 30 seconds. Take out the bowl, stir and then heat for another 15-20 seconds. This time when you stir, the chocolate maybe holding its shape but will melt down with the milk into a smooth, homogenous delicious emulsion. If it isn't melted yet, you can cook it in increments of 15 seconds till it does. (You can also do this step in a heatproof bowl over another bowl of boiling or steaming water but I find the microwave much easier).
- Let the chocolate mixture cool slightly and stir in the egg yolk till incorporated. You will notice that the chocolate will slightly thicken at this point into a custard like consistency . If you add the yolk while the mixture is too hot, it will get cooked and spoil the texture.
- Dry a clean bowl by wiping with a fresh clean cloth. Make sure the bowl is free of moisture and grease or your egg whites will not whip up. Transfer your egg whites along with the sugar and pinch of salt into the clean, dry bowl. Similarly make sure your whisk attachment for the cake beater (or a hand whisk if you are thats your choice of self destruction) is dry and clean. Now starting from a slow speed, work your way up till the highest speed with the whisk and whisk till you get stiff but glossy peaks that hold their shape when you lift the beater.
- Once the egg whites are beaten stiff, add one third of it to the chocolate mixture and fold to lighten it. Now gently but firmly, fold in the rest of the egg whites till the mixture is just incorporated. You need to do this swiftly but gently, making sure that the air is not lost and the mixture stays as fluffy as possible. Pour into your cups or glasses and chill for atleast 2-3 hours before gobbling
2. It's critical for this recipe that the whites whip up into beautiful snowy peaks and for that you need to keep a few things in mind:
- Your egg whites should be separated from the yolk properly. Not even a speck of the yellow should be left behind in the whites.
- The bowl in which you beat the whites as well as the whisk need to be dry and absolutely free of moisture or grease/oil.
- Do not over whip the whites to the point where it becomes dry and grainy looking. At the right point, the whites will be glossy and as you lift the whisk from the bowl, it will form firm peaks that do not droop at the top at all.