Tuesday, December 19, 2006

'The Essence of Chocolate' by John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg

ISBN: 1401302386
Format: Hardcover, 384pp
Publisher: Hyperion
Price: $35.00

Susie Heller, producer of cookbooks and cooking shows including The French Laundry Cookbook, says in the introduction that when she began working on The Essence of Chocolate she wasn’t so sure it was the dream job that most people would think it would be. She worried that all the chocolate around her home would mean weight gain until she met Robert Steinberg and John Scharffenberger, "two very lean men," and she wondered what their secret could be. She soon learned that it wasn't about quantity but quality:

'Working with great chocolate has changed how I bake and eat chocolate. There is such a satisfying feeling when you taste a true artisanal chocolate. The question then became, how do we translate this experience into the recipes chosen for this book? We began by choosing recipes that focused on the flavor of the chocolate. This book doesn‘t call for a lot of fancy embellishments or difficult methods; it's about the ‘essence' of chocolate.'

Susie Heller states it beautifully. It’s all about the essence of the chocolate.

Susie Heller also says that when baking you need to trust your instincts. Use the baking times in the book as a guideline; don’t just follow it blindly because there are so many variables, which include altitude, humidity, type of chocolate, flour, butter, and the temperature of your oven. I liked that they didn’t believe that the recipes were set in stone.

Before you can dig into the decadent, delicious, deliriously delightful recipes they equip you with some of the basic techniques and tools that you will need to create them. Also Robert Steinberg talks about his journey to chocolate in "Before We Made Chocolate: From Medicine to Chocolate" and in John Scharffenberger's "From Winemaking to Chocolate" you learn how the partnership of America’s premier chocolate makers came about.

The recipes in the book are separated into Intensely Chocolate, Essentially Chocolate and A Hint of Chocolate and, depending on your mood, you can pick the perfect fit.

In chapter two, "Intensely Chocolate," the second recipe is the one off the cover, Chocolate Almond Cake. I have to say that this is the best chocolate cake I have ever eaten. I bought some really nice expensive chocolate — believe me, you don’t want to use the cheap stuff here — and attempted it in my tiny apartment kitchen. It got a little messy but the end result was beautiful as well as scrumptious.

Chapter four, "Essentially Chocolate," is filled with such wonders as Cocoa Chiffon Cake, Chocolate Pecan Tart, Black and White Crème Brulee, as well as Chocolate and Peanut Butter Panini. This last one is as easy as making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and, if you ask me, has definitely replaced the old standby.

Chapter six, "A Hint of Chocolate," has such delicate flavors as Banana Carmel Cake, Cacoa Nib Macaroons, and Mint-Basil Chocolate Chunk Ice Cream. Never again will you buy ice cream from the grocery store once you make this one. It is well worth the time and effort, not the mention the wait, before you can dip your spoon into this frozen heaven.

There are also recipes that use chocolate in more savory ways, such as the BBQ sauce and the Tortilla Soup recipes. There is no end in sight when using a good quality chocolate with the right recipes to guide you.

Full of legends, lore, and facts about the plant, as well as the delicious product, The Essence of Chocolate is perfect for a beginner or a pro working with chocolate.

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