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Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate Hardcover – November, 2003

4.4 out of 5 stars 40 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In Bittersweet, Alice Medrich continues her mouthwatering crusade to educate chocoholics everywhere about her passion. With 30 years experience, first at her famous Berkeley bakery, Cocolat, and then as an award-winning cookbook author, there is little Medrich doesn't know about chocolate. And what sets this book apart from all others is her willingness to share what's she's learned.

As the American palate has changed, and we've learned to appreciate better quality chocolate, more and more of it is has become available to us. These premium chocolates come labeled with their percentage of cocoa solids. This delectable book is made practically foolproof thanks to the "chocolate notes" that follow any recipe where the percentage would affect the outcome. In them, Medrich provides equivalencies which allow you to use your favorite chocolate, and tweak the recipe to make it work. She's brutally honest, too, so when she says you can't mess up the rich and magnificent Queen of Sheba cake, or the Cold Creamy Truffles that started her love affair with chocolate, believe her. And when she warns that there are possible pitfalls for novices when attempting Extra Bittersweet Ganache Truffles, read carefully. The vast majority of her recipes, mostly sweet, some savory, are quite simple; her instructions are painstaking and reassuring; and the tales with which she introduces each chapter are enchanting. So dive into Warm Bittersweet Mousse, White Chocolate Ice Cream, Raspberry-Laced Chocolate Cake, or Chocolate-Flecked Cocoa Soufflés, because doing the dirty work has never been so delicious! --Leora Y. Bloom

From Publishers Weekly

Medrich founded the dessert shop Cocolat in Berkeley in 1976 and authored Cocolat and Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts, which offered new, more "adult" flavors than the super-sweet tastes in vogue until that time. Today, as Medrich points out in an interestingly market-savvy introduction, the popularity of high-quality brands of chocolate is on the rise, and each of these recipes includes notes about how to alter it using chocolates with a higher percentage of "chocolate liquor," or cocoa bean content. This all sounds highly cerebral, but once Medrich puts her theory into practice in the form of Macadamia Shortbread Brownies, and Grappa, Currants, and Pine Nut Torte, it becomes deliciously clear. Hers are highly inventive creations, grouped in chapters loosely defined more by feel than by strict adherence to categories, such as a group of fluffy confections that includes Intensely Bittersweet Souffles and Melting Chocolate Meringue. Medrich provides a recipe for her signature Queen of Sheba torte, along with detailed notes about how it has evolved over the years. She even uses chocolate in a handful of savory recipes, such as Roasted Squash Soup with Cocoa Bean Cream. Clearly, this author's curiosity is her defining characteristic; her ability to convey the fruits of that curiosity is the readers' good fortune.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Artisan; First Edition edition (November 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1579651607
  • ISBN-13: 978-1579651602
  • Product Dimensions: 7.8 x 1.2 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #568,685 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By L Goodman-Malamuth VINE VOICE on November 5, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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.
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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.
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