`The Great Book of Chocolate', David Lebovitz' third book, is much, much more than a book of chocolate recipes. It is a great resource, including recipes, lore, history, sources, anecdotes, manufacture, producers, and botany of cacao and chocolate.
Even if you have any other book on chocolate, you will find things in this book which do not appear in any others, as it has information I have not seen in about a half dozen books on chocolate and about 20 hours of Food Network shows on chocolate done by everyone from Alton Brown to Tyler Florence to Gordon Elliot.
One of the most interesting new facts I found in this book is that like coffee, there are two different naturally occurring varieties of the cacao plant, plus a manmade hybrid. One of the varieties is much more delicate and much less common than the other, accounting for about 5% of the world's chocolate, but it is a much richer product. Very few chocolate processors deal with this criollo variety. Most use the much more common forestero variety or the hybrid trinitario.
Like tea and coffee and olive oil, cacao is a highly complex product, much of whose more desirable and subtle properties are destroyed by too much heat during processing. Heat is also the enemy of chocolate when melting and tempering chocolate to be used for cooking. This brings up one of my very few complaints about this book in that it explains a very primitive method for heating and tempering chocolate. I would have devoted at least one page to explaining how professional chocolate tempering pots work, and in what way one could be improvised. The author gives some very brief suggestions using a heating pad, but a paragraph plus an illustration would have been dandy. Other explanations in the book would have been well served by an illustration or a caption to a picture, but these are small matters in light of the overall quality of the book.
While Lebovitz was already a highly talented and accomplished pastry chef when he started writing this book, he has gone to the extra effort of investigating first hand the workings of premium chocolatiers in San Francisco, Paris and Brussels. He has also recently completed a course in chocolate at Callebaut College in Belgium.
The chapters in this book, after the introduction which covers Lebovitz personal involvement with chocolate includes:
Chocolate Explained gives the history, botany, and processing of the cacao plant, plus some stories of two important American chocolate producers, Hershey and Sharfen Berger.
Sustainability of Cacao discusses the fragile place of cacao in jungle ecosystems and the production of organic chocolate.
A Chocolate Primer discusses the forms of chocolate, from pure chocolate liqueur to cocoa power, plus an explanation of tempering. While he points out that there is no difference between `semisweet' and `bittersweet' chocolate, he does not discuss the availability of chocolates with sweetening graded by percent, as done by Vahlrona. It is also surprising that while so many other chocolate companies are mentioned in the book, this very important French company is not. It is not even listed in the very good list of resources in the back of the book.
Chocolate and Wellness reveals that carefully processed chocolate has a lot more antioxidants in it than even health food stars prunes, raisins, and blueberries. Not only that, it has lots of other good stuff, including some compounds which work as an antidepressant.
Buying Chocolate gives a brief consumers guide to sources for good chocolate, including a detailed chronicle of seven days spend working at the shop of the best chocolatier in Brussels.
Chocolate of Paris continues the buying guide with a focus on sources in Paris that rivals Brussels as one of the leading chocolatier centers in the world.
The 34 recipes certainly do not cover the whole world of chocolate baking and candy making, but they give you a pretty good sampling of both conventional products such as hot chocolate, truffles, fudge, and cakes; to the slightly unusual such as chocolate and cherry scones, mint and chocolate crème anglaise, and bourbon mud pie; to the really unusual such as chocolate sauerkraut cake and chocolate pizza dough.
Lebovitz says many of the recipes are original and, as he is a much, much better baker than I will ever be, even in my dreams, I will accept these recipes for being the crème of the crop. As I said above, this book will not replace your books by Flo Braker, Nick Malgieri, or Alice Medrich or even Lebovitz' earlier books on desserts. It is much more of a supplement to resources for making the best use in recipes by all bakers and chocolatiers.
As the book is much more valuable for its websites, addresses, and information than it is for its recipes, the awkward tall and skinny format does not annoy me as much as it may in other cookbooks. I just wish Ten Speed Press would come out with an explanation for why they are so in love with this tall, skinny format.
Highly recommended enhancement to your enjoying chocolate.