creative medievalism

josie long

There is an unavoidable truth about these “Middle Ages.” It is uncomfortable. For some, myself among them, it is painful. The fact of the matter is that some things about the Mediaeval period were not good. Some things that are integral to everyday life now, and that make our lives longer, easier, healthier, more pleasant, less painful, and generally better.

Not dentistry. Or Modern Medicine. Or Sciences such as astronomy. Not a balanced nutritious diet. Sure, that’s all very good and all.

I refer of course to chocolate.

Now, some people, in this advanced day and age, cannot eat chocolate. That is very sad. Some cannot eat many of the wonderful chocolate-based confections available to post-modern man; for some, the answer may be very dark plain chocolate (in my own opinion, the only kind worth eating, and a separate food-group in its own right). For others, the problem is gluten and lactose intolerances; in some people’s cases, it is a dark side of The Modern World and its Progress.

I’m not going to claim that for every post-modern problem, there’s a pre-modern solution. In this case, though, there’s a medievalist one: think medievally, creatively. Apply derivative ingenuity. It’s in every Medieval recipe-book and for good practical reason: the need to make substitutions on high days and holy days, when abstaining from flesh; and when running low on seasonal ingredients. The swing side: 101 ways to get creative with glut surplus, or, how not to die of boredom via endless pickled cabbage.

It’s also a post-modern solution: mix techniques and ingredient-sources, apply precepts of global fusion, and remix.

Remixing is, of course, also and always essentially medieval(ist).

This post is all about “getting medieval.”

There is a solution to the gluten-free lactose-free chocolate mousse problem. It is from The Daily Torygraph, not one of my regular sources for anything usually, but the main free online source for this recipe. It’s also in printed form in:

  • Cotter, Denis. For the Love of Food: Vegetarian Recipes from the Heart. London: Collins, 2011. (pp. 282-84)
  • —. A Paradiso Year: Spring and Summer Cooking. Cork: Atrium, 2005. (an earlier version of the recipe, “Cherries in kirschwith chocolate-olive oil mousse”: 50-51)

Mr Cotter and Café Paradiso have appeared on here previously, back in a post from May 2009: Dantescheria. They are wonderful and marvellous, and I mean that in the strongest, highest, most medieval senses of merveillos and mirabile.

Olive oil chocolate mousse, salt and chilli sesame praline, and cherry salsa

denis cotter chocolate mousse

Serves 6

200g dark chocolate
175ml light, fruity olive oil
5 eggs, separated
160g caster sugar

For the salt and chilli sesame praline
200g caster sugar
125g sesame seeds, lightly toasted
2½ tsp salt flakes, crumbled
8 dried bird’s eye chillies, deseeded and ground

For the cherry salsa
100g caster sugar
3 tbsp kirsch
200g cherries, stoned
4 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

In a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of simmering water, melt the chocolate and slowly stir in the olive oil. Beat the egg yolks with half the sugar until pale and fluffy. Stir in the chocolate and oil mix. Whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff, then continue whisking while adding the remaining sugar in small batches. Fold the egg white mix into the chocolate.

Line six dessert rings with baking parchment, rising above the rings a little to give a higher structure. Spoon some mousse mix into each and smooth the tops. Chill overnight.

Make the salt and chilli sesame praline: put the sugar in a small saucepan over a low heat and leave until the sugar has melted and turned golden brown. Stir in the sesame seeds and immediately spread out on a sheet of baking parchment. When it is cool and hard, break up the praline and chop it to a coarse crumb in a food processor. Stir in the salt and chilli.

For the cherry salsa, place the sugar, three tablespoons of water and the kirsch in a small saucepan and simmer for five minutes. Leave this syrup to cool. It should be slightly thickened. Just before serving, chop the cherries into small pieces and add syrup according to your own taste. Stir in the mint.

To serve, place a mousse on a plate. Lift off the ring and carefully peel away the parchment. Drizzle the salsa around and scatter the praline.


  • if you really like chocolate, substitute something chocolatey for that praline and replace the fruity stuff with hot chocolate sauce (the classic Dame Blanche sort)
  • and other fruits work well: cold or hot, fresh fruit, coulis, compôte, etc.; whichever fruits you happen to like eating with chocolate
  • or ignore everything—all those satellites—except the central Ongian-Barthesian kernel that is The Chocolate Mousse. This is my usual approach.

The next step in this recipe would be, for vegan versions for example, to find a suitable substitute for the egg. Ground flax seems to replace it well in muffins and suchlike. Tofu scrambles welland makes good omelette-esque breakfast sandwich fillings. Chickpeas ground variously apparently also do breakfast egginess; not tried this myself. Avocado can be deployed to add squidgy richness, and for moussing. Agar agar, carrageenan, or other seaweedy stuff are an option for gellid-textured desserts. Raw soaked fine-ground cashews can sub for beaten egg yolks.

But a replacement for separated eggs, and especially for well-whipped egg whites in peaks?

I did find this, on Chef in you:

Egg White Substitute –> Use Agar Powder – For each egg white, dissolve 1 tbsp plain agar powder in 1 tbsp water. Whip, chill and whip again.

And from The Sweet Life:

This Chocolate Peppermint Mousse uses both coconut milk and cashews to resemble a classic French mousse. Classically mousse is made by separating eggs and whipping them up individually before reincorporating. This provides the airiness that is unique to mousse. The cashews in the recipe replace the whipped egg yolks as they are thick, fatty, and full of protein while the fat of the coconut milk is turned into coconut whipped cream and folded in at the end, similar to the egg white meringue in classic mousse.


I wonder if some W. Heath Robinson machinery, liquid nitrogen, and other Magic might help? Is it time for an intervention from the greatest alchemical genius of the post-modern / post-medieval age, Heston Blumenthal?

Much as I like ending any writing by opening up into questions and gazing out into The Bigger Picture, I didn’t really want to end on a speculative note but would rather stay with the marvellously medieval. So here is some medievalish marvellousness which is also, as it happens, all about asking questions.

I was delighted to find something I’d thought lost. (That’s already a marvel and possibly miraculous in itself.) Josie Long is another genius of the current age, working in the medium of comedy; composing in a Blumenthalian / medieval palette of high and low, serious and frivolous and facetious, deeply silly in the most profound and humanly vital way, merrily geeky, interweaving multiple threads, polysemy and polyphony, mixing and remixing, punning fun, and plain joy and fun and, well, wonder.

While it’s been disappeared from the BBC Radio site, her sort-of-lecture series that is all about marvelling and questioning, “All of the Planet’s Wonders (Shown in Detail)” is at her website. As the BBC puts it: “Comedy series in which Josie Long attempts to better herself through learning from reference books, with help from Irish comedienne Maeve Higgins.”

In greater details, episode by episode, here it is for your greater enjoyment. May you have a marvellous day, week, and indeed year…


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