You can thank the inventor of the electric mixer -- Herbert Johnson in 1908, although the first hand-held mixer, the Sunbeam MixMaster wasn't introduced for 44 more years -- for helping to make the mousse a popular dessert in America.
Sure, there were variations on the mousse -- French for foam -- in the United States long before the MixMaster. A recipe for a pudding-like concoction called chocolate mousse was published in the Boston Daily Globe in 1897.
The introduction of whipped egg whites and, later, the hand-held mixer gave even untrained home cooks the confidence to create a confection that only upscale restaurants -- the continental variety -- were serving.
But even with the ease of a hand mixer, a classic mousse -- even the Julia Child version -- was still labor-intensive, requiring a lot of prep work. In the late 1960s, General Foods introduced a much easier way to create a mousse-like dessert called Whip and Chill. It fell out of favor when consumers realized that there was a very good reason there was a slightly chemical aftertaste underneath the lemon-, chocolate- and strawberry-flavored versions: I was loaded with processed ingredients, including propylene monostearate, sodium casienate, acetylated monoglycerides and sodium silico aluminate. (This was before consumers started questioning those not-so-natural ingredients).
And yes, you can still buy the mix, but it's really expensive. And why bother?
For a glass of the real fluffy dessert after a big meal, there's Chaz on the Plaza at the Raphael Hotel, where it's been a signature dessert for decades. No, it's not actually on the menu anymore, but if you ask for it -- as the restaurant's regulars still do -- the kitchen has it. Chef Jason Wiggins makes the real thing, from scratch. "There are no powders here, man," he says.
There's also a terrific chocolate mousse torte -- big and individual sizes -- at the Napoleon Bakery in Overland Park.
That's just the way the late Julia Child would have wanted it.
(Image via Flickr: Jules: stonesoup)