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White Chocolate Mascarpone Mousse & Cocoa Nibs Shortbread Cookies

White Chocolate & Mascarpone Mousse With Cocoa Nib Shortbread Cookies

When I started this post yesterday I had no idea how fast the day would get away from me. Not because of work. Not because of play. I heard news of someone dear to me passed away. And I hit a wall. I could not put two thoughts together without having memories rush through my head.

I know we all experience the loss of someone dear many times in our lives and I certainly don’t write about all the sad stuff here. I try the opposite actually. But I want to tell you about Francoise. I must. You see, without Francoise, this blog would not be exactly what it is today.

 White Chocolate Mousse & Cocoa NIb Chocolate Cookies

A lot of us today have a pinch in our hearts knowing that Francoise is gone. She was, along with her husband Peter, the owner of Mistral, a French restaurant here in town which closed last year. To visitors she was a favorite cousin you see on vacation once a year. To her staff she was a surrogate mom, a favorite auntie and a royal pain in the butt too and we would not have changed that for the moon.

She gave me my first position as Pastry Chef. She hired me one day I was looking at a very small offering of dessert choices. Finally I put the menu down and said "Such a shame! Baking is so much fun!". I was working the line at another establishment at the time and she said "quit there! Come work for me! The guys don’t have time to make desserts. You’ve been baking all this stuff since you were a kid. You’re French! Me too! Let’s try!"

 White Chocolate Mousse & Cocoa NIb Chocolate Cookies

And that’s how I got the job. Really. We said we would try for a month. I stayed there five years. Just like many restaurant kitchens around the world, there were some pretty hard moments, some words that flew across the halls a little faster than they should have. There were long nights, tired feet and broken backs. But there was also that extremely exhilarating moment of 4 chefs starring at each other after a long New Year’s Eve of cooking and plating knowing that they had done it. And done it well. And they had passion pouring out of their tired hands. And they were ready to do it all over again.

The core people at Mistral did it day in and day out but few worked as hard as Peter and Francoise who were there seven days a week, fourteen hours a day. They had our backs and we had theirs. Francoise did not give second chances. She gave thirds and fourths. I can’t tell you how many waiters and cooks left and came back. Not because there wasn’t better in town. There wasn’t better in town to make you feel at home. Mistral was like the mafia. Once you were in, you were in.

Cocoa Nib Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

Francoise was like my favorite auntie. She made me smile, she worked me hard, she never let anything be second grade and she was driving me up the wall at times. Trust me, she was taking no nonsense for an answer and boy was she hard at negotiating with but once you were in the family, your family and the family of your family was in too. That’s hard to find. Oh man. The church for her funeral on Tuesday is going to be packed. As it should be.

Bill and I had our first drink together there on the first day we met. We had our wedding rehearsal there too. Our first anniversary. Bill and his band played there for 20 years. Way before we met. Way before we knew each other existed. For the first 10 years we were married, we never had a date on a Friday or a Saturday because he was at Mistral playing music. I’d go sit at the bar from time to time. I liked New Years Eve the best though. Bill and the band at the front of the house and me in the kitchen with the guys. Midnight would come around and they would push me toward the front to get kissed. And then they would cuss me back in to finish my shift.

 White Chocolate Mousse & Cocoa NIb Chocolate Cookies

Francoise is so instrumental to this blog it’s incredible now that I let all the words come out of me. She helped me get my credentials as a chef. She listened to my ideas. She taught me how to put value and worth to everything I did. I remember one day she asked for an estimate on a side gig and when I handed her the figures, she looked at me and said "great, now multiply that by 3. That’s what you’re worth." Every time a photo client asks me for a quote now, I can hear her say "and multiply that by 3"! She was tough. I am glad she shared some of that with me.

Speaking of photo, she’d let me take polaroids of my desserts all the time. She knew I wanted to keep some sort of record of the things I was creating. I think she saw I was getting that in my blood but I did not know what to do with it. She did not want me to do anything with it. I was her pastry chef. She had little use for a photographer!

Whipped Cream

Of course, it was not all rosy and wonderful. Gosh there were days my eyes would be glued to the back of my head from rolling so much! But anyone masochistic enough to work restaurant kitchens or photography would tell you that’s what we do. That’s what we know to do and what we are passionate about. It takes a good bit of forgetting about oneself to be able to do what Peter and Francoise achieved for so long. To be a pillar of the Charleston restaurant scene for over 20 years is no small affair. They gave and sacrificed more than the general person would for their business. That’s what they knew.

I remember asking Francoise one day she looked tired and restless if they could close for a few days and go somewhere to relax. She looked at me and said in her thick French accent "Oh…sweeeeettieee!"

That was Francoise. Rest came too fast to those who love her. She gave us all she was until she could not anymore. She gave Bill and myself some of the best memories of our private, social and professional lives. She is missed. Damn Franny…

 White Chocolate Mousse & Cocoa NIb Chocolate Cookies

The dessert that comes with this post is actually a take on the first special she let me run at the restaurant. I had made nougatine cups (like these) and filled them with a mascarpone and white chocolate mousse. It was served with a few cocoa nib shortbread cookies to offset the rich mousse. She loved it so that she asked me to make it again for my first New Year’s Eve at the restaurant. Except it’s Charleston and it was unpredictably hot and humid that day. I literally stood over the nougatine cups with a blow dryer set on cool to prevent them from melting away. And thus came about the first of many eye rolls in my career there.


White chocolate Mascarpone Mousse and Cocoa Nib Shortbread Cookies:

Serves 6

For the mousse:
1 cup white chocolate chips
4 oz mascarpone (can sub cream cheese)
1 1/2 cups heavy cream

For the cocoa nib shortbreads:
1 stick unsalted butter at room temperature
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 egg yolks
1 cup millet flour
1/4 cup potato starch
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/3 cup cocoa nibs

Prepare the mousse:
In a large bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt the white chocolate and mascarpone together. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature.
Once cooled enough, whip the heavy cream to medium stiff peaks. Carefully incorporate the heavy cream into the white chocolate mixture. Try to go fast or the white chocolate will have greater chances to seize on you and become grainy. I don’t add any extra sugar to this as the white chocolate is already pretty sweet to my liking but feel free to add up to 1/4 granulated sugar to the heavy cream as you whip it.
Pipe or spoon the mousse into glasses or ramekins.

For the cookies:
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar on medium speed. Add the yolks, one at a time and scrape the sides of the bowl if necessary to make sure everything is well blended. Turn the speed to low and add the millet flour, potao starch, cocoa and cocoa nibs and mix just until incorporated. Gather the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for an hour.
On a well floured surface or between two sheets of parchment paper, roll the dough to 1/4-inch thin and cut out cookies with your preferred cookie cutter. Bake for 8-10 minutes on parchment lined baking sheets. Let cool in the baking sheet or on wire racks.

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Jessica @ How Sweet December 4, 2010 um 1:10 am

Anything with the words "mascarpone," "white chocolate," and "mousse" has me 100% SOLD!

sanju December 4, 2010 um 1:32 am

Really very nice post. My heart is heavy.

coco cooks December 4, 2010 um 1:35 am

I'm so sorry . But she was incredible part of your journey.

Laura December 4, 2010 um 1:40 am

So sorry for your loss… There are so many restaurants in CHS that I have yet to try and you've inspired me to perhaps try Mistral one of these days.

Helene December 4, 2010 um 1:50 am

Laura: unfortunately you won't find it, it has been closed for a year.

Sue @ All About Food December 4, 2010 um 1:56 am

Such a beautiful tribute to one who was such a special and instrumental person in your life.
I love anything with cocoa nibs. I must try your cookies.
Peace be with you.

A Plum By Any Other Name December 4, 2010 um 3:30 am

What a lovely tribute and a delicate dessert to go with it. Very best wishes.

Y December 4, 2010 um 4:57 am

My condolences! She sounds like a very special person. I still remember with great respect and fondness, the first person who ever hired me to work in a kitchen.

Kristin December 4, 2010 um 5:32 am

Beautiful post.

Neha December 4, 2010 um 6:01 am

We should all be so lucky to have someone (or in this case, many someones) remember us the way you remember Francoise.
My sympathies.

♥peachkins♥ December 4, 2010 um 7:11 am

they look so perfect together!

Lourdes December 4, 2010 um 8:12 am

Dear Helem,
I love all the recipes you put, and I have made many of them successfully.
But when I see those pictures so beautiful, I wonder where you get all the utensils (bowls, cups, spoons ….) I would like if possible to indicate where you buy it, especially if the Internet (Internet address).
Thanks. A greeting Lourdes.

Helene December 4, 2010 um 12:34 pm

aux chocolat",,, a lot of antique stores and garage sales, anthropologie, crate&barrel, Pier 1…nothing out of the ordinary I think 🙂

Marie December 4, 2010 um 1:08 pm

i'm so sorry for your loss. it's so nice then, that you have such fond memories of your time together. a lovely post.

Unknown December 4, 2010 um 1:44 pm

Helene, I am so sorry for your loss. I loved going to Mistral anytime I went to Charleston. It was a wonderful restaurant! That and Gaulart & Maliclet (sp?) were my favorites.
It is so hard to lose a loved one. I hope you can feel comforted by your many memories of her and the thought that she probably touched and inspired many the same way she did you.

Angela December 4, 2010 um 1:45 pm

What a beautiful tribute to Francoise. I feel I got to know her through this post — and you. Thank you for finding the words for such a heartfelt piece. My deepest condolences.

lucy December 4, 2010 um 1:46 pm

adorabili verrine e i biscotti sono un adelizia.complimenti!

Gloria Baker December 4, 2010 um 2:02 pm

Sorry by your lost. I understand your well! an this look amazing! absolutely beauty! I love white chocolate! and mascarpone! gloria

oneordinaryday December 4, 2010 um 2:30 pm

What a lovely tribute.

Anonymous December 4, 2010 um 3:16 pm

Every time I lose someone, I try remembering this Sufi saying which goes something like this, "Lord break my heart that more room may be made." It sounds like your friend gave you many wonderful memories and filled your heart, just as you do for others. – naomi

Barbara l Vino Luci Style December 4, 2010 um 3:36 pm

So sorry to hear of your loss but your story was such a moving tribute to an obviously amazing woman I'm touched by it. Take good care; losing someone we love is so hard but time really does help fade the pain and you are lucky to be left with such wonderful memories!

Natasha @ Saved by the Egg Timer December 4, 2010 um 3:49 pm

The White Chocolate Mascapone sounds absolutley amaaaazing!

Radhika @foodfor7stages December 4, 2010 um 4:29 pm

My heart is heavy after reading this post. My sympathies.

Anonymous December 4, 2010 um 4:47 pm

What a nice tribute… nice that you blog. This is one for a long term memory. And the dessert looks divine!

Kajal@aapplemint December 4, 2010 um 6:07 pm

God bless her soul …
I'm sure she is so proud of you Helen , you are one gifted lady … she must have been instrumental … but whats within has to shine out right … 🙂
Beautiful dessert as awlays. Will have ti try this one out.

Gen December 4, 2010 um 7:40 pm

C'est un beau dessert, en verrines c'est superbe!

Nessa Robins December 4, 2010 um 8:53 pm

Such a well written, beautiful tribute to your frend and mentor.
The loss of a loved one is one of lifes most difficult things to bear.
The dessert sounds delicious- one I will definately try out!

Anonymous December 4, 2010 um 8:56 pm

Bravo pour ce bel hommage que tu viens de rendre à Françoise. J'en suis toute émue et je sais quelle part importante elle a eu dans votre vie. Courage à vous deux.

Cookin' Canuck December 4, 2010 um 10:17 pm

What a wonderful tribute to your friend. I am so sorry for your loss. It sounds as though Francoise will live on in the memories of many people that crossed her path.

This mousse and the photos are, as usual, gorgeous.

The InTolerant Chef ™ December 4, 2010 um 10:34 pm

What a lovely story about your friend. It sounds like she touched many lives the way she touched yours.

Unknown December 4, 2010 um 10:43 pm

¡Delicious!, it´s great.

Cool Chic Style Fashion December 4, 2010 um 10:52 pm

Anche senza leggere in un primo momento si può godere del tuo blog, anche solo con le immagini, ciao

Lora December 4, 2010 um 11:08 pm

Beautiful post. Love tribute. I am sure somewhere she is smiling.

Marilyn Miller December 5, 2010 um 4:38 am

Awwww! Sweetie! I am so sorry for your loss.

Carol Jardim December 5, 2010 um 4:53 pm

I'm so sorry for your lost, she definetely sounded like a wonderful chef by your post.

I don't know if I got touched most by your story or your pictures, but I just HAD to try this mousse right away as soon as I saw it. Just did it and it works perfectly, thanks!


angela@spinachtiger December 5, 2010 um 5:18 pm

I love this story. God bless Francoise. I had a boss/mentor much the same. He was in his 60's when I was in my 20's. He made me crazy crazy and often furious. He had this habit of smoking with long ashes that would fall off on your lap when he come and talk to you from behind.

But, he gave me all the breaks of my career and when he retired, I cried and cried.

Dana December 5, 2010 um 5:25 pm

I'm so sorry to hear about your friend, it sounds as though she was a phenomenal lady.

Amber December 5, 2010 um 6:47 pm

Very elegant y beautiful dessert!

Helene December 5, 2010 um 6:53 pm

Carol: thanks for the feedback! So glad it worked!

A little precision though: Francoise was not a chef at the restaurant but the owner. They needed one that's why he hired me.

Patricia Scarpin December 5, 2010 um 9:57 pm

Oh, my dear friend, I'm so sorry for you loss. Losing someone we love is a tough thing, but I am sure all the sweet memories you have from her will help you cope.

Beautiful dessert and beautiful post.


~ Chef Louise December 6, 2010 um 2:22 am

sorry for your loss…

Mairi December 6, 2010 um 5:42 am

What a beautiful tribute, she sounds like a truly amazing lady. Thanks for sharing. M

Anonymous December 6, 2010 um 1:10 pm

This post made my eyes watery… Beautiful words about a seemingly incredible lady.

My Little Expat Kitchen December 6, 2010 um 2:54 pm

I'm so sorry for your loss Helene. It is always difficult losing someone very close to you. This post, this homage to her, is beautiful. Cherish everything she has ever taught you and you will always have a part of her with you.

Rebecca December 6, 2010 um 3:56 pm

gorgeous photos. looks perfect to my mouth, except for the cocoa. i'm just not into chocolate. i know, poor me. otherwise, it looks fantastic.

Helene December 6, 2010 um 4:00 pm

Rebecca: take out the cocoa and add 1/4 cup flour. Remove the cocoa nibs and add some vanilla extract and voila…no chocolate.

A recipe is always a canvas for you to create your own with whatever your prefer.

Sanjeeta kk December 6, 2010 um 4:08 pm

Very touching and emotional read. Great to have found this lovely space. Hope to come here often for more of such delicious treats from you. Best wishes.

Maria December 6, 2010 um 6:14 pm

Beautiful post. Thinking of you.

Jenn December 6, 2010 um 6:22 pm

I'm sorry to hear about your friend. What a beautiful post and a nice tribute to her. It made me feel bittersweet for you.
And gorgeous picture as always!

Anita (Married… with dinner) December 6, 2010 um 6:50 pm

such a beautiful tribute. I'm sorry I never met her, but I will always be grateful for the things she did that encouraged you to become the strong, talented woman you are.

Kate at Serendipity December 6, 2010 um 9:43 pm

Oh, Helen, I'm so sorry for your loss. It's hard to start the holidays with a heavy heart.

I feel like the world is a little poorer today…

terri December 6, 2010 um 10:17 pm

what a beautiful tribute to an amazing woman! i'm so sorry for your loss.

Alicia December 7, 2010 um 12:43 am

I'm so sorry about your friend… this treat looks wonderful. Cocoa nibs are so wonderful — pure chocolate!

Ilke December 7, 2010 um 1:11 am

So sorry for your loss! At least she has seen you succeed as a photographer and blogger, and cultivated all the things your readers admire now!
We have been coming to Charleston many years , too bad we had missed out on that restaurant. Could have been able to eat your desserts!

EFT for Cancer December 7, 2010 um 1:32 am

So sorry for the loss. She seems a very good friend of yours. The pastries are great. It a great tribute to do with someone special.

Nantucket Mermaid December 7, 2010 um 3:43 am

So sorry for your loss Marie-Helene. I lost my mentor on November 22. She was a wonderful influence in my life and I will always remember her with Joy…that is her name. 🙂

bigFATcook December 7, 2010 um 10:27 am

Yummy yum yum!!! It looks DELICIOUS!! :))) The cream looks really light and fluffy. I love it.

Anonymous December 7, 2010 um 3:44 pm

Love pomegranate… and those chocolate nib shortbread cookies look fantastic! Great photos!!

Anonymous December 7, 2010 um 3:44 pm

Love pomegranate… and those chocolate nib shortbread cookies look fantastic! Great photos!!

Carolyn Jung December 7, 2010 um 5:16 pm

My condolences on the loss of your dear friend. I think it's especially hard at this time of year when our thoughts are so centered around those close to us. But the memories will always live on. And in your case, they are sweet ones, indeed.

audrey December 7, 2010 um 9:19 pm

i'm so sorry for your loss, helene. how wonderful it is that you're honoring her with fond memories that capture the essence of what made her so significant in your life. God be with you as your mourn your friend. <3

Also, I was the winner of the gluten-free cookbook in your last giveaway and e-mailed you my address but never heard back from you. I hope the info. found you okay : )

Helene December 7, 2010 um 11:16 pm

audrey: I sent you an email today and transmitted all your info and address to Shauna of Gluten Free Girl at the end of November who in turn turned it in to her publisher. Let me know if you do not get your book in the next couple of weeks and I'll ask her again.

Fragolina December 8, 2010 um 9:23 am

Sorry for your loss Helene. Touching post. It's a great thing when a person comes into your life and leaves a touch that would change your whole career .

retro sweets December 8, 2010 um 9:48 am

So sorry for your loss. Even so, you've come up with a great post to honor her memory. And even if your relationship has imperfections you still wrote it on a brighter side.

Alice Olive December 8, 2010 um 9:19 pm

A beautiful post. You show how much you loved and respected her.

Amy December 9, 2010 um 7:20 am

Love the combination of the flavors in your recipe! Also love your new profile picture too! 😉

sweetakery December 9, 2010 um 12:51 pm

My condolences! She sounds like a very special person!…beautiful post!..

Unknown December 17, 2010 um 1:48 am

That's a beautiful remembrance. Thank you for sharing it. I'm going to make that fabulous-looking white chocolate mousse this weekend, and have two quick questions. How much is one cup of white chocolate chips by weight? And: should the whipped cream be incorporated quickly, or slowly? The instructions leave me just a bit confused… Thank you so much for your wonderful, gorgeous blog.

AnneSo Ohmiroir December 17, 2010 um 5:21 pm

Such a beautiful post.

Kate December 19, 2010 um 3:27 am

I'm so sorry for your loss. Francoise sounds pretty amazing, as does this dessert. You had me at white chocolate.

KJonas July 28, 2011 um 11:33 pm

Just made your mousse, and it was splendid. A really great combination of flavors. It went very well with some pistachio ice cream!

Amy February 7, 2012 um 1:07 pm

I made your mousse and the biscuits and they are a great combination. I love that the biscuits are not too sweet and they complement the mousse so well. Thank you for introducing me to making mousse with mascarpone and for the two lovely recipes.

Amy February 7, 2012 um 1:08 pm

I made your mousse and the biscuits and they are a great combination. I love that the biscuits are not too sweet and they complement the mousse so well. Thank you for introducing me to making mousse with mascarpone and for the two lovely recipes.

Anonymous March 26, 2012 um 2:13 pm

looks so yummy….had been searching for a mascarpone mousse recipe, this one with white chocolate sounds delicious…

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