Sunday, January 07, 2007
The Essence of Chocolate
If you follow any food blogs, you've probably already gotten a peek at The Essence of Chocolate - a gorgeous chocolate cookbook from the guys at Scharffen Berger, John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg. I'd had my eye on this book, so I was thrilled when offered the opportunity to review it Happily, the book lived up to and even exceeded my expectations.
This is not just a cookbook. Interspersed with the recipes are chapters that describe how the Sharffen Berger company came into being, how chocolate is made, and how cacao is grown. Both the narrative and recipe sections of the book are lavished with beautiful full page photographs.
Perhaps what pleases me most about this book is that there are so many enticing recipes and that they generally appear to be very doable - not overly difficult and not requiring obscure ingredients. If I allowed myself to dog-ear this book (I can't bear to - it's too beautiful), there would probably be at least twenty page corners folded over. I'm also very happy to find a number of ideas for using those cocoa nibs that have been languishing on my shelf.
The recipes are divided into four sections: Intensely Chocolate (rich chocolate sweets), Essentially Chocolate (lighter chocolate sweets), Hint of Chocolate (sweet and savory recipes with just a little chocolate), and Basics and Add-Ons (recipe components or accompaniments that aren't necessarily chocolate). Some of the recipes come from the folks at Sharffen Berger, but most are contributed by well-known chefs and cookbook authors, including Rick Bayless, Flo Braker, Thomas Keller, David Lebovitz, Alice Medrich, and Jacques Pépin.
There are also a number of simple ideas, called "Quick Fixes", scattered throughout the book. These are more like interesting ideas than recipes: load up a clean pepper grinder with cocoa nibs and mill some nibs over melon or strawberries; or use a mixture of cocoa powder and salt as a rub for chicken, meat or vegetables.
Like most everyone else, I'm trying to get back to eating a little less indulgently after the holidays, so I have not yet sampled any of the chocolate sweets in the book. I did try the Three-Bean Chili which has a bit of cocoa in it to provide rich color and aroma. This was a very easy to make vegetarian chili, using canned beans and tomatoes and having a cooking time of only 10 minutes. Probably because of the short cooking time, the acidity of the tomatoes seemed to overwhelm the other flavors. But allowing the chili to sit overnight and reheating it eliminated this problem entirely. I thoroughly enjoyed the leftovers. Next time I would make this the night before I planned to serve it.
I've long wanted to make marshmallows and when I saw among Claire's new year resolutions, "Make Marshmallows", I thought, me too! There just so happens to be a recipe for marshmallows in the chapter of Basics and Add-Ons. It is used in the S'mores recipe and is suggested as one of the things you might dunk in the Chocolate Orange Fondue. I'm enjoying mine straight, though I plan to have a couple in a mug of hot cocoa tonight. Marshmallows are basically a sugar syrup mixed with gelatin that is beaten into a foam and then allowed to set. You'll need a candy thermometer, but other than that they're really very easy - and fun! This particular recipe is flavored with a generous amount of vanilla extract and dusted with a mixture of cornstarch and confectioners' sugar, but you could tinker with the flavoring or coatings. I'm thinking next time of rolling them in toasted coconut, dipping them in chocolate, or as my brother David suggested, rolling them in cocoa powder.
If you're still not convinced that you must have this book, you might want to take a look at a few of the recipes from the book that are posted at Leite's Culinaria, where the book was named as one of the Best 20 Food Books of 2006: Almond Roca, Apricot Hazelnut Squares, and Cocoa Caramel Panna Cotta.