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90 of 91 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real pleasure, both to read and to bake from...
Alice Medrich opened her first Cocolat shop when I was an impoverished undergraduate at Berkeley in the mid-1970s. I learned an important lesson from her: Since even the poorest student could buy a single Cocolat truffle, just that one truffle, made with care from superior ingredients, would delight, satiate, and inspire in a way that a bag of M&Ms never could...
Published on November 5, 2003 by L Goodman-Malamuth

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20 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Great read...disappointing taste
Alice Medrich writes with charm, passion and intelligence. Her descriptions of tempering chocolate or making ganache are thoughtful and encyclopedic. For the writing alone, this is a great book. But, oh, the recipes. Each one of the five or six I have tried has yieled uninspiring, bland results. The "Tiger Cake", a chocolate marble cake with olive oil and white...
Published on May 19, 2008 by Werdna


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90 of 91 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A real pleasure, both to read and to bake from..., November 5, 2003
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This review is from: Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate (Hardcover)
Alice Medrich opened her first Cocolat shop when I was an impoverished undergraduate at Berkeley in the mid-1970s. I learned an important lesson from her: Since even the poorest student could buy a single Cocolat truffle, just that one truffle, made with care from superior ingredients, would delight, satiate, and inspire in a way that a bag of M&Ms never could.
"Bittersweet" offers bakers (at any level of expertise) enticing new ingredients and technique that go into the creation of memorable chocolate desserts. She revisits old favorites, such as brownies, and offers variations; in my opinion, the Lacy Coconut-Topped Brownies alone are worth the price of the book. Mousse also gets the Medrich treatment, including a very successful variation that can be whipped up completely dairy-free, if desired.
Medrich also suggests some surprising ways to incorporate unsweetened chocolate into savory dishes, such as an astonishingly delicious Italian dolce-forte ("sweet and strong") meat sauce for pasta.
This is a fun book to read, which can't always be said of a cookbook, and the photographs are stunning. Memoirs are currently all the rage in the publishing industry, but here's one that doesn't leave the reader with a raging case of indigestion. Though many people consider Alice Medrich to be America's reigning chocolate queen, she isn't the one telling you so. In this unpretentious, informative book, her desire to share the joy of a bittersweet-chocolate moment shines through on every page.
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48 of 48 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars For chocolate lovers, simply the best cookbook in years., January 4, 2004
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This review is from: Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate (Hardcover)
I've made many of Alice Medrich's recipes from her previous books, and none of them has ever disappointed. But this book is a standout. It is not at all just a collection of recipes; it actually has the ability to change the way cooks look at and use chocolate.
The theme of the book is that, over the past decades, most American cookbooks dealing with chocolate have been written assuming that the home cook is using typical supermarket chocolate, which may be servicable, but which is undistinguished. In the past few years, though, superior chocolates have become very widely available, chocolates with complexity and sophistication.
Past recipes, with their heavy reliance on added sugar, fats, and flavorings, may work for less remarkable chocolates. But these recipes may overwhem and mask the unique characteristics of a finer chocolate. Assuming the home cook is using such a fine chocolate, Ms. Medrich analyzes and reconstructs many traditional recipes, and creates new ones as well, with an eye towards showcasing fine chocolate's personality rather than muting it.
The recipes are incredible just to read (the half-dozen I've made myself so far have been easy to construct and superb to eat). Ms. Medrich's attention to detail is, as always, excellent; most of the recipes even includes notes describing how to adjust for chocolates with varying percentages of chocolate liquor. (If you're baking with a 60% chocolate bar, for instance, you'd use different quantities of added sugar and fat than you'd use if baking with a 72% chocolate.)
Medrich also offers detailed explanations of the origins and philosophy behind certain dishes (mousse, for instance, or truffles). She devotes a large section of the book to the use of, and recipes for, roasted cocoa nibs. I've never before seen a book treat them as a serious ingredient in their own right.
There is also a wonderfully broad selection of recipes that utilize chocolate in savory dishes and entrees...miles beyond Chicken Mole.
Aesthetically, Bittersweet is elegantly designed and contains a decent number of color photographs (I crave more, though).
For chocoholics, this book really is an eye-opener. Unreseveredly recommended.
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40 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Chocolate, April 10, 2005
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This review is from: Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate (Hardcover)
Alice Medrich tells you everything you will ever need to know about cooking with chocolate: equipment, measuring, ingredients, types of chocolate, storing chocolate, melting chocolate-- it's all here. Now I know how to tell if baking powder is still good, why white chocolate should be cut into very small pieces before melting, how to substitute different kinds of chocolate in a recipe and why to avoid mixing water with chocolate at all costs.

In her introduction, Ms. Medrich says she is attempting to write simple recipes for "busy home cooks." For the most part, she accomplishes what she set out to do. The recipes in general appear to be straight forward and with plenty of instructions for the most wary of beginners-- where to place the rack in the oven, exactly how long to beat a mixture, whether a creation tastes better the first or second day, for instance.

Although there are several other recipes I want to try, I bought this cookbook for one recipe alone, the Tiger Cake (page 269). It has everything going for it. It is absolutely stunning in appearance-- a five-year-old named it because of the stripes-- it is simple to make, and tastes divine. The twist here is that the cake substitutes extra virgin olive oil for the usual butter and has a half teaspoon of white pepper in it. And as the author says, it really is better the second day-- should you have any left.

In addition to the recipes, as the title indicates, Ms. Medrich has many stories about her experiences in chocolate. She could have called the book "My Journey from Milky Ways to Chocolate Truffles." There is much to be gleaned from this book. You will come back to it again and again, both for her stories and for guidance on baking with chocolate.

Finally, a word about the layout and design of this book: the desserts are beautifully photographed and the recipes for the most part are done with brown type on either a white or pale blue background so the volume is as pretty as it is helpful.
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29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars chocolate delights, June 4, 2004
By A Customer
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This review is from: Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate (Hardcover)
On the whole, this is a lovely, reliable book with many truly excellent recipes for chocolate and its associates. I have found the 'lightened' desserts (especially chocolate pound cake and 'deception' which i prefer with milk instead of water) and cacao nib recipes (especially ice cream, nibby pecan cookies and cocoa bean cream) to be particularly good. The light recipes do not taste like they are light, which is very unusual and impressive. My only significant disappointments so far have been the various mousses. Also, the author and I just seem to have different preferences when it comes to some things-- e.g. she seems to favor drier, eggier sponge and genoise type cakes which I don't care for (but this is a matter of taste). There are enough photographs to be useful and wet the appetite, though the photo-greedy among us will always want more, especially in comparison with her earlier, glossier books.
This book is billed as a memoir in addition to cookbook, but i find it to be lacking on this score. The anecdotes are relatively truncated and scattered, not well suited to sustained armchair reading. Also, I often find the tone irritating-- a combination of patronizing and self-congratulatory embedded in faux modesty. However, there is a lot of very useful information in this book, gleaned from a lifetime of practice and testing. Some of it is embedded in recipe notes, however (e.g. cold eggs can make a (not creamed) cake more tender). The organization of the book is not ideal either for learning or finding recipes, but there is a good index. I find I use the book most for its generally reliable and frequently exceptional recipes, and appreciate the tips and skills I acquire in the process of baking from it.
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46 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First Rate Explanation of Chocolate Mysteries and Recipes, February 12, 2004
This review is from: Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate (Hardcover)
No one should try to do any serious work with chocolate without reading this book or another equally good book on the subject. One of the first things you learn in this book is that there are as many, if not more subtleties and ambiguities in the marketing of chocolate as there are in just about any other basic food product such as flour or olive oil.
On this matter, I am slightly concerned that Ms. Medrich, in an otherwise superb book, does not simply drop all vagueness in chocolate labeling and go with products which are boldly labeled by percentage of chocolate liqueur to sugar. My guess is that while very high-end (expensive) product lines such as Vahlrona do this kind of labeling, more commonly available product lines do not do it. But then, we still wouldn't have leeks and shallots or organic products in our grocery stores if people such as Julia Child and Alice Waters hadn't started making a fuss about it. But I digress.
Another regret I get from reading this book has nothing to do with the quality of Ms. Medrich work. It is the fact that the great American chocolate producer Hershey has so little to contribute to those of us who wish to bake with high quality chocolate.
The significance of the book's title is that bittersweet chocolate is the most commonly used form of chocolate for baking. This brings up another issue with chocolate cooking. Unlike white wheat flour, a relatively simple product, chocolate used for baking, that is, bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, is a rather complex product, being an emulsion of solids in an oil, cocoa butter. This means that the general warning about following procedures exactly becomes even more important. Another subtlety in chocolate products is the formulation of chocolate chips used in Toll House cookies. It would seem so easy to zip open a bag of chocolate chips and melt them instead of chopping down a block of semisweet with a knife. The problem is that those little chocolate chips are specially formulated to not melt like normal chocolate so they hold their shape in cookies. Melting them like conventional chocolate will just give you a mess.
The most important warning one can take away from this book about chocolate products is the difference between conventional cocoa powder and Dutch Process cocoa powder. On the face of it, removing some bitterness from cocoa through the Dutch Process may seem like a good thing. But, the author points out that the process acts like a filter on music which removes all the high notes, so you end up with a less interesting flavor. Also, since there is a big difference in pH between conventional and Dutch Process, you cannot substitute one for the other safely if your recipe includes baking soda or baking powder.
The stories about the problems with melting chocolate probably outnumber all other calls for culinary advice. The stuff is finicky in the extreme. The irony is that the properties which make it finicky around heat are the same things which give it such a lush and rich mouth feel. That is, since cocoa butter melts at human body temperature, it will melt and be on its way to being scorched long before other products such as butter or olive oil even start to be ready to cook. Ms. Medrich gives excellent guidance for this most basic operation on chocolate by describing the three most successful methods for melting chocolate, the water bath, the double boiler, and the microwave oven. Medrich even succeeds in describing the difference between a water bath and a double boiler and the advantages of the former in a manner much clearer and more illuminating than the great Jeremiah Tower, who seemed to become especially tongue tied over the matter.
Ms. Medrich covers a wide range of chocolate preparations including Ice Cream and Brownies, Tortes, Truffles and Mousses, Souffles, Cakes and Glazes, Cookies, and selected savory dishes.
The book ends with several useful appendices on recognizing the various types of chocolate and their use. It is probably a virtue that this book often repeats the same information in two or three different contexts. This can only be to the good, especially for the spelunker who dips into selected chapters rather than reading the whole book. I definitely recommend that if you are really interested in working with chocolate, you read the whole book. Ms. Medrich's biographical anecdotes are both entertain and inform us about how she came about some of her successes with chocolate.
Highly recommended.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Chocolate Perfection, March 9, 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate (Hardcover)
What a book this is - I've made several recipes (cookies, brownies, a cake, and easy, do-ahead individual chocolate souffles), none difficult, all stand-out fabulous. The key is access to high quality chocolate - my local grocery store now carries Scharffen Berger - because these recipes are designed to let it shine through. Obviously carefully researched and written, this book has high quality recipes (most important!) as well as detailed background information. Great fun - I'm very pleased with this purchase.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Finally!: percentage-specific recipes, December 2, 2006
By 
I. Bake (Bloomington, IN USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate (Hardcover)
I've been buying Alice Medrich's books since the first Cocolat book came out, and have never been disappointed in the quality of her recipes or the clarity of her explanations. They have been the standard to which I bake and the basis of much of my knowledge of chocolate and baking techniques. The added bonus in this book is that here she has given specific recommendations for using chocolates with varying percentages of cocoa solids. Each recipe uses a specific chocolate, but then her notes at the end of the recipe gives directions for altering the recipe when substituting a different chocolate. I'ved been wanting a book like this for several years and recommend it highly to anyone who wants to use and understand the variety of chocolates available to bakers today.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Three Recipes I Use The Most Come From This Book, July 17, 2007
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S.C. Fiennes "umafiennes" (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate (Hardcover)
It's one thing to collect cookbooks-I own hundreds and use most for inspiration only. Some simply are entertaining with gorgeously appetizing photos-as one of my friends refers to as "Food Porn"!
However, I have surprisingly discovered in this cookbook some recipes that I rely on frequently. Alice Medrich's recipes have become a part of my everyday 'go-to' repetoire.
I get consistent results and find her directions clear, her suggestions helpful and sound. The recipes for brownies, cheesecake and formula for ganache are excellent.
As someone who definitely prefers darker chocolate, I find this book to be a tremendous asset in my culinary library!
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing -even for a novice, November 5, 2008
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J. Heller (Longmont, CO United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate (Hardcover)
In another life I will be a pastry chef but for the time being I fulfull this fantasy with this book. I have read and baked my way through approximately half the receipes in each section. I love reading through Alice's life as it relates to baking, creating, and experimenting with chocolate. If you love chocolate and are willing to put the time and energy into these creations you won't be disappointed. Some of the skills, like making the fans, I'm still working on but I can't say I've been disappointed in anything I've made. It has been a fabulous journey and I look forward to the creations I've yet to make.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars greatest chocolate book, May 12, 2007
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This review is from: Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate (Hardcover)
I am a professional pastry chef and this book is the one I use when it comes to the basics of chocolate. I have only made a few actual recipes from the book; they both came out perfect (the chocolate grappa/current/pine nut cake & the chocolate wafers). I like this book mainly because she explains everything I need to know about the intricacies of chocolate itself. I read a ton of dessert cookbooks and I was very impressed by this one.
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Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate
Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate by Alice Medrich (Hardcover - Nov. 2003)
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