Fifty Shades More Dangerous: Coeurs à la Crème and Les Liaisons Dangereuses
In the year 1782, when the Aristocracy of France had reached a fever pitch of debauchery, a collection of 175 letters was published and distributed with the declared intention of ‘rendering a service to public morals to reveal the methods employed by those who are wicked in corruption of those who are good.’ The editor, who supplied only his initials, C—De L--, indicated that the correspondents’ names were changed in order to protect the innocent victims.
The first edition sold out within a few days. Society was outraged by the publication, by the depravity of its contents and by the anonymity of its protagonists. Further editions were demanded and devoured. Marie Antoinette herself was known to possess a bound copy with the title discreetly absent from its cover.
What could possibly have been so outrageous?
The Marquise de Merteuil has a grudge to settle against the Compte de Gercourt. She decides that she will make a laughing-stock of the pompous Compte by having his fifteen-year-old rosebud of a fiancée ‘educated’ prior to her wedding night. The Marquise writes to her erstwhile-lover, the Vicomte de Valmont, requesting that he undertake the task of educating the innocent Cécile de Volanges. It should cost him little, she assures him, to ‘seduce a young girl who has seen nothing and knows nothing, who, so to speak, would fall undefended.’ The Marquise pledges to reward Valmont with a night of unprecedented rapture in her own boudoir.
Valmont declines both the employment and the reward as he is preoccupied with plans to defile Madame de Tourvel, the wife of a magistrate renowned for ‘her piety, her conjugal devotion, her austere principles.’
Infuriated by Valmont’s refusal, the Marquise writes scathingly of the ‘ludicrously ill-dressed’ Madame de Tourvel and her ‘bodice that reaches to her chin.’
If you fail, what dishonour! And so little glory if you succeed.
Undeterred by the Marquise’ s disdain, Valmont proceeds to wage an unflagging and often comic campaign of seduction. Madame de Tourvel, however, is alarmingly well-defended against Valmont’s efforts to convince her of his reformed character and devout affection. She puts up such a good fight that she wins Valmont’s respect, perhaps even his heart. His desire is enflamed by her refusal to yield. The mounting excitement, he admits in a passionate letter to the Marquise, ‘is fast becoming more than (he)can control.’
The virtuous de Tourvel is brought to the very point of capitulation when a warning letter from none other than Madame de Volanges, mother of the rosebud Cécile, convinces her to steer well clear of the Vicomte de Valmont and even to banish him from her presence.
Valmont, his ardour thwarted and pride wounded, is eager to exact revenge and suddenly only too delighted to assist the Marquise:
Oh Yes, her daughter must be educated. But that will not be enough. She must be ruined too.
And that is only the beginning.
The Marquise de Merteuil and the Vicomte de Valmont make a despicable duo, unsurpassable in their depravity but matchless in their magnetism.
Les Liaisons Dangereuses may be taken, medicinally, by the innocent as a cure for naiveté. It may be swallowed whole by the profligate as a diabolical lesson in the strategy of love. However you take it, Les Liaisons Dangereuses remains a relevant cautionary tale. Choderlos de LaClos detailed the difference between a scoundrel and a sociopath. He decried the with-holding of a proper education from young girls and condemned those parents who deny their daughters the protection of a marriage for love. Above all, he issued a warning to those who hypocritically uphold conventions of honour and reputation.
There is a happy ending. In 1786, the author (for yes, it was always ‘only a novel’) married a lady called Solanges Duperre, two years after the birth of their first child. Despite an unconventional beginning to their relationship, personal letters between the couple suggest that de LaClos was a model husband and father and a pillar of decency. Towards the end of his life LaClos considered writing another book in which he would show that true happiness could only be found in family life. He didn’t write that book and perhaps it is just as well. Who would ever have believed it was true?
Coeurs à la Crème
La vengeance est un plat qui se mange froid.
Vengeance is a dish best served cold. This phrase is often quoted, mistakenly, as originating from Les Liaisons Dangereuses. While the phrase does not appear in the text, the sentiment is at its core. Turn away from the dark side, leave vengeance aside, and opt instead for something light and frothy.
Coeurs à la Crème, are traditionally made in muslin-lined, heart-shaped moulds which are readily available from culinary suppliers. The moulds are inexpensive and guarantee an impressive dessert which belies the simplicity of the recipe. A small muslin-lined sieve will serve just as well as surely few lovers would object to sharing one generously proportioned dessert.
Everything about this dish, from the melt-in-the-mouth vanilla-scented crème to the sharp tang of the sticky sauce, screams seduction.
Use with caution.
Ingredients (makes two)
For the crème:
100g plain cream cheese, enthusiastically stirred to loosen up
100mls cream, gently whipped to soft mounds
1 egg white, energetically whisked to stiff peaks
20g (1 Tb.Sp.) castor sugar.
1 tsp of vanilla essence or, even better, beans scraped from half a vanilla pod.
For the Sauce:
130g mixed berries of your choice (raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, cherries, whichever tickles your fancy)
1 dessert spoon of lemon juice (or perhaps a little more if your preference is for the more acerbic)
25g of icing (confectioner’s) sugar.
For the crème:
Line each mould (or sieve) with a handkerchief-sized piece of damp muslin.
Combine the cream cheese and the vanilla in a mixing bowl and, using a balloon whisk, stir with enthusiasm in order to lighten the texture of the cheese making it more receptive to all that’s ahead.
Add the whipped cream and stir again.
Add the sugar to the whisked egg white and whisk again to stiff peaks.
Add half the egg white. Use a large metal spoon and a confident turn of the wrist to thoroughly combine the egg white with the cream cheese mixture.
Add the remainder of the egg white and, more gently this time, fold it in.
Spoon the mixture into the lined moulds, pressing gently to fill every corner of the hearts. The moulds should be filled to over-flowing to allow for a slight reduction in size as they drain.
Lick the bowl.
Fold the muslin over the top, place the moulds on a plate and allow them to drain overnight in the fridge.
For the sauce:
Blend, whizz or mash the berries with the lemon juice and pass through a fine nylon sieve.
Add the icing sugar and stir until it dissolves.
Taste the sauce and add more lemon juice or sugar to suit your palate.
When you are ready to proceed with the seduction, occupy your loved one with the task of pouring two glasses of Sauternes, ideally from Château d'Yquem.
Turn out the Coeurs on to a plate, drizzle with the sauce and scatter berries with wild abandon.
Buy Les Liaisons Dangereuses here.