August 1, 2015

Nectarine Mousse Cake (Gateau de Mousse a la Nectarine)

26 years ago, my parents and their friends hosted a Bastille Day dinner party in our neighbors' backyard. The inspiration and recipes came from the July 1989 issue of Gourmet Magazine.

No detail was overlooked, from the handwritten menus to the French wine. 

We talked about sending this photo to Gourmet. 

The menu, hand-lettered by our neighbor

My mom made dessert.

My parents escaped Communist Poland in 1971 and came to America in 1972. In between, they spent a year in Paris. They were young, scared, hopeful, and very much in love with the place and with each other.

From a Parisian passport photo booth, 1972

I think a part of them will always remain in Paris. They chose my name because it so easily morphed into Monique, and they made sure I studied French and knew the importance of cooking with real butter. 

At the Bastille Day party, we were freshly returned from a trip to Europe. My parents tasted the nectarine cake and declared it as authentic and delicious as anything from a Parisian bakery. It wasn't an easy cake to make, but it was officially in my family's permanent recipe collection.
My dad, the Fargo Francophile.

Over the years, it became my mother's signature cake. She made it for dinner parties, as a gift for neighbors, as a birthday cake and as my dad's contribution to potlucks at work. She invented a strawberry variant, and she swapped in more convenient ingredients like frozen peaches or boxed cake mix when seasonality and schedules required it.

One holiday, my mother baked so many nectarine mousse cakes that she became a regular visitor to our neighborhood liquor store. My mom made and brought a nectarine mousse cake for the liquor store employees so that they could appreciate the context of her frequent 10 a.m. purchases of peach schnapps.

The Bastille Day neighbors moved to Arizona, I went off to my college, my father passed away, and my mom moved into a senior condo where she had fewer opportunities to bake the cake. She never lost the recipe or forgot the technique, and she would enthusiastically bring it out for an appreciative audience.

Last weekend, while I was in town for my high school reunion, I brought over a dear friend and dessert aficionado who hadn't seen my mom in 20 years. She gave him a copy of the recipe, and she invited him to bake it with her so she could demonstrate the nuances of gelatin and mousse and assembling the layers.

I went home, bought some nectarines, and decided to make the cake for the first time. I was nervous about the purees and the gels and the syrups, but it all came together just like I hoped it would: complex, layered, and flavored with a bit of my family's story.

I served it to my neighbors, although we didn't recreate the Bastille Day party. Perhaps next year. 

I'll bring dessert.

Gateau de Mousse a la Nectarine (Source: Gourmet Magazine, July 1989)

Nectarine mousse:
   1 1/2 lb Nectarines
     1/2 c  Sugar
       5 ts Unflavored gelatin
     1/4 c  Lemon juice
     1/4 c  Peach schnapps
   1 1/2 c  Heavy cream, well chilled
            Genoise cake (see recipe)
            Peach syrup:
     1/4 c  Sugar
     1/3 c  Peach schnapps
            Peach glaze:
   1 1/4 ts Unflavored gelatin
     3/4 c  Peach preserves or jam
       3 tb Peach schnapps
   Halve, pit, and chop nectarines and, in a heavy saucepan, combine
   them with sugar and 1/2 cup water.  Bring to a boil, stirring, and
   cook it at a slow boil, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.  In a
   food processor, puree the mixture and force it through a fine sieve
   into a large bowl, pressing hard on the solids.
   In a small saucepan, sprinkle gelatin over the lemon juice and
   schnapps, let it soften for 5 minutes, then heat mixture over low
   heat, stirring, until gelatin has dissolved.  Stir gelatin into
   nectarine puree, blending the mixture well.  Let it cool to room
   In a chilled bowl, beat the cream until it holds soft shapes, (not as
   stiff as soft peaks) and fold it into the nectarine mixture.
   Trim the Genoise and cut it into three layers, horizonally.
   Peach Syrup:    In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and 1/4 cup
   water. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar is dissolved, and stir
   in the schnapps.  Let the syrup cool to room temperature. Assembly:
   Center one layer in the bottom of a 9-1/2-inch springform pan and
   brush with half the peach syrup.  Pour half the mousse over the cake
   and top it with another layer of Genoise.  Brush with the remaining
   peach syrup and pour the remaining mousse over the cake, rapping on
   the side of the pan to expel any air bubbles and smoothing the
   surface. Chill for 2 hours, or until it is set.
   Peach Glaze:    In a small bowl, sprinkle gelatin over 3 Tbsp cold
   water and let it soften for 5 minutes.  In a small saucepan, combine
   the preserves and schnapps, bring mixture to a boil, stirring, and
   simmer it for 1 minute.  Remove pan from heat, add gelatin mixture,
   stirring until gelatin is dissolved, and strain the mixture through a
   fine sieve into a bowl, pressing hard on the solids.
   Assembly:      Pour all but about 2 Tbsp of Peach Glaze over top of
   the mousse cake, covering it completely, and chill the cake for 2
   hours, or until glaze is set.
   While cake is chilling, in a food processor, grind the remaining
   Genoise layer into fine crumbs.  Toast the crumbs in a jelly-roll pan
   in a preheated 350f oven for 5-8 minutes or until they are golden.
   Cut half the nectarine into thin slices, and arrange them
   decoratively on top of the cake in a pinwheel pattern.  Brush the
   remaining glaze over the nectarine slices and chill the cake,
   covered, for 1 hour, or until the newly applied glaze is set.
   Run a thin knife around the edge of the pan and remove the side of
   the pan. Working over a sheet of wax paper, coat sides of cake with
   the cake crumbs.
   Let cake stand at room temperature for 20 minutes before serving.

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