Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Expert Chocolate Cookbook Fails
Let me start with some good things about the book. It is 224 pages long and the majority of that are recipes all with lovely photographs. There is a section on the history and evolution of using cacao worldwide as well as a section with all the various techniques and reused cream, frosting and sauces several recipes share. This technique section had very good photographs showing you how things were done, a trait I wished the recipes themselves had had.
The book is a hardcover though you might be able to find a soft cover version but wasn't so big it couldn't lay flat with some help. At 11" bu 9.75" though it doesn't fit well in most cookbook holders I've seen. The recipes include both American and what I think of as European measurements mostly based on weight. That's both good and bad because I found it distracting until I got used to looking at the recipes myself. The book has five general sections organized by type of recipe including "small bakes and cakes," "large cakes and loaves," "hot desserts," "cold and frozen desserts," and "sweets and drinks". That made it fairly easy to chose three recipes from.
The first recipe I tackled was for "Chocolate crackle-tops" on page 21 for our holiday party back in December 2009. It turned out that this type of cookie, which I'd never heard of let alone made, was one of our guests favorites but he took one look at these and wrinkled up his nose. Let me show you way with a side by side comparison below. On the left is what the cookbook showed, the right is what happened when I followed the directions:
Following the directions, whose only moisture was some butter, three eggs, and a tsp of vanilla, the cookies didn't flatten out at all. They tasted dry but otherwise I was told they were very chocolaty. I burst out crying when I saw them come out of the oven. Later I went looking for other versions of this recipe and they all said to either flatten out the cookies a bit or they had more moisture in the recipe.
Guittard very generously sent us four different types of their baking chocolate and I used the 38% Cacao variety for the final recipe -- that's the upper right hand 20 square bar that you see in the photo to the left. I'll review the other three cocoa content baking chocolates in the future as I use them. I compared a squares of this to Baker's Chocolate squares and determined they were approximately the same amount, one ounce if that 's correct then there are 20 ounces of each of these. As you can imagine I felt truly blessed to receive these offerings. The feeling increased when I used the 38%. It melted quickly, smoothly and evenly in the microwave or a sauce pan. It melted just as well alone or with added ingredients. It tasted great by itself and in recipes as well. I had a lot of this so I experimented beyond the recipe I'll now critique.
That was the common experience with all three of these recipes. While they might have tasted fairly good, at least to some of those who ate them, they looked very off, were dry, or frankly just didn't match my expectations. The result is that I have to be harsh at the end of this review. Greatest-Ever Chocolate Cookbook does not fulfill the first part of the title. Chocolate yes indeed, but to use this well I think you need a lot of experience with chocolate and all these types of recipes to compensate for missing instructions, lack of ingredients and just odd things about each treat it is supposed to teach you how to make. I bought this with some birthday money but on close-out at our local Borders bookstore. If you see it, pass it up, that is really my best advice unless you think you can overcome the difficulties in this book.
Sisters and Brothers, may you, too, take the time to slowly appreciate what the Divine and human ingenuity have offered you in chocolate.