I haven’t posted anything for awhile since I have been busy finishing up my French paper on Émile Zola’s book The Belly of Paris (Le Ventre de Paris). The story is set in mid-19th century Paris in the old market of Les Halles, the giant iron structure that housed meat, poultry, fish, flowers and charcuterie for sale. In his book, Zola uses vast descriptions of the market- whole pages to describe the vegetables, cheeses, ‘stinking fish,’ and freshly-killed calves ‘swaddled in blankets with just the four bloody stumps sticking out.” If I were to die tomorrow, I feel like those images would still remain in my brain into the after-life.
Unfortunately, Les Halles* was torn down in the early 1970’s and I never got to see it. My husband got to visit there and Julia Child describes the market in her biography. Now, the old market has been replaced by a multi-level sterile shopping center, although new renovations are happening there now.
* For those of you wondering how to pronounce the words Les Halles, the ‘h’ is silent, so you would pronounce it as ‘Lay Alles’.
The old Les Halles– Paris
To celebrate my marathon experience of reading and writing about Zola’s book, I made (and ate) a dessert called Strawberry Chocolate Box. Melted chocolate is first formed into a square box-shape, then filled with some chocolate mousse and then dotted with cointreau-glazed strawberries and whipped cream.This dessert would have fitted in well at the old Les Halles market! It’s not too difficult to make- just getting the edges of the ‘chocolate box’ to form a straight line can take a little bit of effort.
To make this dessert, first you place two pieces of foil cross ways inside a square pan (this makes it easy to lift the dessert out of the pan at the end). Then the pan is lined with a thin layer of melted chocolate, coming to about 1 1/2 inches up the sides of the pan.The chocolate mousse filling is then poured into the chocolate ‘box’ and placed in the fridge until set. After removing the foil, glazed strawberries and whipped cream are then added.
Adding the chocolate mousse to the chocolate-lined pan
I don’t mind getting my face smudged with this chocolate dessert!
- 5 ounces (150g) dark chocolate
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1 punnet strawberries
- 1 cup thickened cream (to make whipped cream)
- ¼ cup strawberry or cherry jam
- 2 tsps Cointreau or brandy
- 2 ounces (60g) dark chocolate
- 1 tbsp Cointreau or brandy (optional)
- 2 eggs, separated
- ½ cup cream
- Melt chocolate in a heat-proof bowl placed on top of pan of simmering water (i.e. double boiler). Remove from heat and cool slightly. Stir in the two egg yolks and Cointreau or brandy (optional). Beat until mixture is smooth and thick. Whip the cream lightly with a fork, then add to the chocolate mixture. Using electric beaters, whip the two egg whites until soft peaks form, then fold into the chocolate mixture. Set aside.
- Place two sheets of foil in a square pan, overlapping cross ways. Bring the foil up over the top of the pan to allow easy removal of the chocolate case when set.
- Melt the chocolate and butter in a heat-proof bowl placed on top of a pan of simmering water. Pour into the foil-lined pan and spread thinly along the base and sides; the chocolate should come about 1 ½ inches up the sides of the pan. Try to keep the top edges of the chocolate as straight as possible to form the box shape. Place pan in fridge for a few minutes until set.
- Remove from fridge and then pour the chocolate filling into the pan and spread evenly. Place back in fridge until the mixture sets. Remove from fridge and gently peel the foil from the chocolate- you should now have a square box-like shape. (Don’t worry if the edges of the box are not real straight- try to smooth down the edges by running your wet finger along the edges).
- In the meantime, heat the strawberry jam and Cointreau (or brandy) together on the stovetop until the mixture becomes like a syrupy glaze. Hull the strawberries and then coat them with the glaze. Whip 1 cup of cream using electric beaters until stiff peaks form. Place the whipped cream inside a piping bag.
- Place the strawberries inside the chocolate box and then pipe in some of the whipped cream around the sides and center of the chocolate box.