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Essence of Chocolate: Recipes for Baking and Cooking with Fine Chocolate Hardcover – October 25, 2006
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Established in 1996, Scharffen Berger has become America's preeminent maker of cooking chocolate. Essence of Chocolate, by the firm's founders and food writer Susie Heller, offers more than 100 recipes for a broad selection of delights like Chocolate Pudding Cakes, Chocolate Marbled Gingerbread, Cocoa Caramel Panna Cotta, and Chocolate Chunk Cheesecake, as well as savory edibles made with chocolate like Tortilla Soup and Chile-Marinated Flank Steak. Unusual recipes also include the likes of Chocolate Chunk Challah and TKOs, a homemade version of Oreos that leaves those favorites on the supermarket shelf.
Arranged by chocolate intensity, the recipes come from the company's files and from chefs including Flo Braker, Jim Dodge, Thomas Keller, and Stephanie Hersh. Although the formulas vary in difficulty, most are within the range of all cooks interested in making something terrific. Readers should note, however, that the recipes require chocolate with specific cocoa-solids contents--62% semisweet, for example--that may be difficult to find. Most cooks will know, however, that one high-quality chocolate of similar cocoa content can usually replace another. With narrative sections in which Steinberg and Scharffenberger trace (at perhaps excessive length) their career trajectories, interesting asides such as "Bread and Chocolate," lots of chocolate lore, and a good primer on how chocolate is manufactured--plus color photos--the book makes a happy addition to the chocolate lovers' kitchen library. --Arthur Boehm
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In their first cookbook, the founders of Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker are clear from the start: chocolate is their passion. Every section of their book reflects that, from the recipes drawn from the Scharffen Berger Company and various pastry chefs to the detailed sections on how chocolate is made and where its future lies. The first of three sections, "Intensely Chocolate," features divine classics like That Chocolate Cake, Chocolate Chocolate Cupcakes, and Chocolate Mousse. The "Essentially Chocolate" part takes a lighter approach with Soufflé, Chocolate Ginger Pots de Crème, and Chocolate Biscotti. In "A Hint of Chocolate," the most interesting section, chocolate is added to basics such as breads, muffins and waffles, as well as savory dishes like Chile Marinated Flank Steak (made with cocoa powder) and Tortilla Soup (with bittersweet chocolate). Throughout the book are "Legends & Lore," delightful one-page chocolate trivia facts (such as how Devil's Food got its name), and "Quick Fix" pages, with instructions on fast and easy chocolate treats like chocolate-dipped potato chips and pretzels. Beautifully simple photographs complement the elegant recipes. (Nov.)
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Scharffenberger and Steinberg are former vintner physician respectively, who joined up in the early 1990s to create what has become the only native American producer of very high end chocolate. Scharffenberger contributed a knowledge of the food business and Steinberg primarily contributed the scientific background which enabled these two chocolatier newbies to make a go of it in a small space with a small budget and with practically no experience in the chocolate business. Their most substantial contributions to this book are memoirs on how they got together and got into this business, plus essays on the future of cacao agriculture in the primary cacao sources in Central America.
I was just a bit surprised that the more technical culinary content of this book is as light as it is. There is discussion of the more difficult subjects such as tempering chocolate, but other books, such as Alice Medrich's excellent `Bittersweet' book on chocolate is actually a better source of both understanding and technique for the really serious chocolate baker.
What this book provides is a great collection of recipes specifically designed to work with the kind of high end chocolate you can get from Scharffen Berger and the big European sources such as Vahlrona. Even better is the fact that the book doesn't go off on a tangent and deal only with fancy recipes. Rather, it provides a great source for a wide range of sentimental favorites based on really relatively easy recipes. The book includes great recipes for a simple chocolate cake, S'mores, fudge, egg cream, brownies, chocolate ice cream, chocolate mousse, and the humble chocolate syrup. What's better, these recipes are divided up in a rather unique manner, in three (3) great chapters covering, intense, basic, and `hint' levels of chocolate. Samples of the `intense' recipes are fudge, brownies, and truffles. Samples of the `basic' recipes are S'mores, egg creams, and biscotti. Samples of the `hint of chocolate' are gingerbread, white velvet cake with chocolate icing, and chocolate chunk muffins.
In fact, the authors make a point to say that when you are dealing with really good chocolate, you don't want to muck things up with a lot of ingredients and thereby detract from the virtues of the complex chocolate flavor. This is quite understandable, in that chocolate is easily one of the most complex `raw' ingredients. I suspect it is even more complex than most wines and very old balsamic vinegar.
I invariably give a good rating to books that come up with at least one surprising and surprisingly good idea. The `signature' idea in this book is the pairing of fine chocolate with single malt scotch, taken together. This notion is so good, I'm surprised the authors didn't give a recipe to pair the two, as with a scotch filled bon-bon. I guess they left that to the imagination of the reader.
All the little things I like about culinary books are on the mark here. The book begins with an excellent table of contents, including an entry for every recipe. The price is `standard' at $35 list, for a culinary book. And, the book includes not one but two bibliographies, which are just one more way of showing that the book is as much about the economics and `culture' of chocolate as the recipes. I'm just a bit surprised that the book contains no history of chocolate, but then, several other good books, especially the chocolate book from David Lebovitz already covers this territory.
This is not an `essential' book for all foodies, unless you happen to be a chocaholic and like to bake with chocolate often. This will give you more than enough reasons to do this even more!
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.)