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Customer Review

27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb, Well-Rounded Chocolate Book, December 9, 2006
This review is from: Essence of Chocolate: Recipes for Baking and Cooking with Fine Chocolate (Hardcover)
What's Good: There are many things to love about this book. Let's start with presentation - it is beautifully bound and nearly every recipe is accompanied by a gorgeous photograph. Though I understand that not every cookbook can include photos I still give them bonus points when they do. It's not just about seeing what the finished product will look like; I also love to sit and leaf through the recipes, enjoy a sort of visual feast. "The Essence of Chocolate" is entirely satisfying on this front.

The recipes are both unique and varied, ranging from favorites such as cakey brownies and chocolate drop cookies to more exotic things like cocoa chiffon cake, banana caramel cake and candied almonds. The recipes are not limited to desserts. This book also includes unexpected dishes that incorporate chocolate, for instance, chili-marinated flank steak and BBQ sauce. The Chocolate Pull-Apart Kuchen I made last month came from this book, as did my Apricot & Chocolate Challah, which was based upon this text's recipe for chocolate chunk challah. (See: Baking and Books dot com) Content is organized both by type (dessert vs. savory dish) and by the amount of chocolate required.

In addition to recipes, "The Essence of Chocolate" has incredibly helpful sections on chocolate techniques and types of chocolate. It also includes information about the history of chocolate and the Scharffen Berger chocolate company. I enjoyed the fact that I could cozy up with this book and indulge in a fascinating foray into the "legend and lore" of chocolate. Where else would you learn about the role it played in Mayan and Aztec rituals or about its part in Marie Theresa's marriage to King Louis XIV? I can honestly say that, until I read this book, I did not know that the term `devils food' comes from the Pilgrims. Apparently one of Amsterdam's biggest chocolate houses was located in a neighborhood populated by Pilgrims. Considering that they stoned people for adultery and shunned all things enjoyable, it's no surprise that, when they saw all the chocolate house patrons cavorting next door, they decided their behavior was the work of the devil. They soon began calling chocolate "devil's food," and even outlawed it in Plymouth Colony once it was established. Years after the Pilgrims left Amsterdam their influence remained and when bakers began making a cake made of chocolate they decided that the dark, obviously sinful, cake should be called Devil's Food.

Like I said - who knew? (My husband says he knew but he's a smarty pants.)

What's Bad: There is only one thing I did not like about this book and that's how so many of the recipes assume you have a high-quality stand mixer at home. This doesn't pose much of a problem when you're whipping up a batch of cookies since using a hand held mixer will achieve similar results. It does come into play, however, with the bread recipes. Here you will often be told to "switch to a paddle attachment... and continue to knead the dough for five minutes," which is all well and good if you have a stand mixer. But what about those of us who don't? Where are the alternate instructions for mixing and kneading by hand? Though my experience baking bread allowed me to compensate for this oversight I would have been pretty dissapointed if I were a novice baker. It's more than likely that someone without bread baking experience would simply skip over these recipes, perhaps figuring a stand mixer was required, and that's a shame since the finished products are so delicious.

Conclusion: If you are a chocolate lover looking for a book with a wide variety of delicious recipes "The Essence of Chocolate" would be an excellent addition to your collection. One small caveat for those interested in using the bread recipes: if you don't own a stand mixer (and can't afford to buy one, like me) you may want to also purchase a fabulous bread book. My recommendation would be "The Bread Bakers Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread." Or, you could look at the `by hand' instructions I included for Chocolate Pull-Apart Kuchen and Chocolate & Apricot Challah. (These instructions are listed on my blog.)
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Initial post: Apr 14, 2007 9:23:47 AM PDT
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