Friday, January 8, 2010

Essence of Chocolate with Scharffen Berger

Ah, another chocolate cookbook review on The Chocolate Cult, except "The Essence of Chocolate" from John Scharfeenberger and Robert Steinberg is not just a cookbook.  I will focus on it's ability to be a good or poor cookbook in a bit but first let me discuss what else this book offers.  If what I write today sounds interesting to you, your purchasing it through the above link will help us continue to bring you good posts as well as a surprising price for this hefty book that I received as a birthday gift from my in-laws back in September 2009.

This is a huge book, 383 pages and full of color photographs, drawings, and information.  Your Chocolate Priestess classifies this information into four categories: Recipes, History of Chocolate, Science of Chocolate, Biography of Scharffen Berger chocolate.  The layout of the these categories is interesting with recipe chapters between the History and Science chapters until the final chapters that deal directly with the modern chocolatier and business.   While that's interesting reading it makes for a very big and difficult to use book if you are interested in the recipes chapters.  With a standard hardcover structure, the book can be a challenge to use in the kitchen unless you have a large book stand.  I'll say it again, Sisters and Brothers, I prefer my cookbooks to lay flat for my use.

As with all cookbooks I review either here on The Chocolate Cult or online bookstores, I try at least three recipes before writing my review.   For this book I made one type of candy, one type of cookie and one type of bread.  None of these recipes were for treats I had any previous experience with so this was a true test of writers and editors ability to communicate clearly with me as well as my ability to follow directions.  Without exception each of these recipes resulted in wonderfully tasty treats though each required an adjustment or two from me based on what I had access to in my hometown.

First I tried the "Chocolate Shortbread with Cacao Nibs and Sea Salt" (pp 86-87).   Having reviewed a cookbook about salt and sweet foods, I had the sea salt on hand but attempts to find cacao nibs proved difficult as our annual holiday party approached so I gave up after a while.  But so many people in my family and among my friends love shortbread and I'd never made it before that I wanted to try this recipe so I simply left out the nibs and hope it didn't matter.  The directions were very clear, including telling me what the finished cookies should feel like on the bottoms when they are done.  They were relatively quick to make and I used the suggestion to cut them into shapes, stars in this case.  I topped with a few grinds of sea salt and the result was excellent.  The greatest challenge was the fact that being in the first 1/3 of the book, it was a problem to get it to stand up or lay down so I could easily use it.

The next recipe was more centralized in the book on pages 194-196, "Chocolate Caramels" which I've enjoyed from chocolatiers but never attempted to make.  Until Christmas I lacked a candy thermometer and this proved a challenge as I held my food thermometer with a pair of tongs as I boiled the ingredients.   Thanks goodness my mother taught me what different boils look like and my stove is easy to turn off quickly.  Again I had to leave the cacao nibs dusting off the top but the caramels turned out perfectly, both soft and solid at the same time.  Tasty like caramel and like semi-sweet chocolate in delightful balance.   My only criticism of this recipe is that for those who lack a candy thermometer a better description of what this boil looks like would be excellent.

The last recipe I tried was over the winter holiday break when I had the time required to make bread from scratch.  "Chocolate Chunk Challah" bread is something I've never heard of before and immediately I was concerned by the amount of chocolate in it for two full loafs.  Being The Chocolate Priestess I had to make a call and increase that amount from 4 to 10oz and the final product was amazing.  The directions for this recipe were very clear though a bit hopeful about what the temperature conditions are in my kitchen in the winter but I know enough about baking and bread that I was able to adjust things to provide the warmth needed to let it rise.  The entire project took just over three hours so this is not a quick recipe but one you should start in the early afternoon to have for dinner.  I can't claim these are the world's best looking challah loaves but I'm very pleased with my first attempt at this type of bread.

Over all I think this is a great general book on chocolate with wonderful recipes. Now if it would only lay flat, it would be nearly perfect.  Remember if you are interested in this book or others I've reviewed, you can find links to them on the left hand column after the networking connections.

Sisters and Brothers, may you too take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate.


mavido79 said...

The Chocolate Chunk Challah looks amazing! I've never done any kind of Challah bread but this might break that trend.

TheChocolatePriestess said...

Next time you are at Cult headquarters you can check out the recipe.