Essence of Chocolate: Recipes for Baking and Cooking with Fine Chocolate
by Robert Steinberg, John Scharffenberger
Rich dual memoir and even richer recipes. Buy It.
The Essence of Chocolate by Scharffen Berger Chocolate founders, John Scharffenberger and Robert Steinberg is a `culinary memoir duet' where the principal authors take the roles more of `Executive Producer' than true writer or even editor. Most of the recipe writing chores are assumed by a fairly large stable of well-known chocolatier practitioners such as Alice Medrich and David Lebovitz plus a number of other culinary luminaries such as Rose Levy Beranbaum, Michael Chiraello, Michael Richard, Jacques Pepin, Thomas Keller, and Rick Bayless. Most of the yeoman's work on the book appears to have been done by Suzie Heller (a collaborator with Jacques Pepin and Thomas Keller), the recipe tester and (I suspect) editor, Ann Krueger Spivack (a collaborator with Cat Cora and Michael Chiarello), and `Bouchon' photographer, Deborah Jones.
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!
B. Marold, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (Amazon.com)