CHOCOLATE FROM A HILL OF BEANS, A MOUNTAIN OF DELICIOUS DESSERTS.
Chocolate. We love it, dream about it, crave it and indulge in it - in all its glorious and luxurious forms. Some of us even obsess about it.
``I'd think twice about having someone as a friend who doesn't like chocolate,'' says New Yorker Dorie Greenspan, who wrote ``Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme'' (Little, Brown and Company; $40). ``It's hard to trust a person who doesn't like chocolate. I love the smell of a vanilla bean, and I like other flavors, but do you know anyone who wakes up in middle of night craving vanilla, a vanilla candy or vanilla ice cream? There is something about chocolate that is haunting - that really stays with you.''
Greenspan's book is one of a handful of recently released cookbooks that explore the attributes of the popular flavor. She loves its complexity.
``Chocolate changes with temperature and texture - and it has a depth that many other flavors don't have,'' she continues. ``Recipes with chocolate offer countless variations of taste, texture and temperature. Chocolate changes when it is in different states.''
Greenspan would know, since she tested the book's 100 recipes from the French chef over the course of two years. She used only American ingredients, with the exception of imported chocolate.
``Chocolate is a year-round passion for me, and I eat it every single day,'' writes Alice Medrich, the former founder and owner of Chocolat in Berkeley, in her recent book ``A Year in Chocolate: Four Seasons of Unforgettable Desserts'' (Warner Books; $25.95). ``I like chocolate more than ever.''
Medrich describes chocolate as the ultimate comfort food and opts for 50 simple recipes where the chocolate taste is predominant. To avoid the raw egg recipe controversy, she has reconfigured the process used to make her bittersweet chocolate truffles - and they are still some of the best truffles she has ever tasted.
``We love chocolate and chocolate seems to love us back,'' notes Anne Byrn in her new ``Chocolate From the Cake Mix Doctor,'' (Workman; $14.95) volume filled with 150 easy recipes using cake mixes. It's a follow-up to her best-selling ``The Cake Mix Doctor,'' cookbook.
``(Chocolate) lifts our spirits, signals celebration, looks elegant and brings to mind all sorts of pleasant taste memories,'' she writes.
Perhaps the most unique book is ``The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao With Recipes,'' (Ten Speed Press; $29.95) by Maricel E. Presilla, which is filled with the rich history and science of the cacao bean.
``I want as many chocolate lovers as possible to marvel at the pre- Columbian beginning and Spanish colonial flowering of chocolate. I want you to understand the many factors - genetic, chemical, environmental - that determine the quality of chocolate at all stages, from the fertilized flower to the foil-wrapped bar,'' writes Presilla, who has sprinkled interesting and captivating color photographs of farms, cacao pods, beans, maps and chocolate products throughout.
The Latin American author's first memories of chocolate date to the fruit. She delves into the exclusive-derivation and blended approaches used in chocolates today as well as how to taste chocolate and examine the color. ``Look for what appeals to you in the chocolate you taste.'' Chocolate can be nutty, winy, fruity, acid, bitter or astringent.
All the authors offer helpful advice for cooking with chocolate.
``When baking with chocolate, follow the recipe (a formula with proportions) the first time,'' advises Greenspan. Then feel free to improvise and make it your own. Greenspan recommends using a chocolate that fits your taste and pocketbook - but advises against substituting milk chocolate for dark chocolate.
``Use what you love to eat and can afford,'' adds Medrich, noting that there are lots of wonderful chocolate options available at upscale supermarkets, gourmet shops, restaurant supply stores or by mail order. Store chocolate well wrapped in a cool, dry place away from odors. Do not store in a spice cabinet, cautions Medrich. ``Milk and white chocolate don't keep more than two months, as they pick up odors quickly.'' You can keep them in the freezer, but be sure to completely thaw at room temp in a Ziploc plastic bag to avoid condensation. Dark chocolate will keep at least a year, adds Medrich.
When it comes to baking with mixes, Byrn advises against using a pudding cake mix in a recipe that uses a package of instant pudding or in a recipe that calls for a plain cake mix and lots of heavy ingredients like nuts, chocolate chips or sour cream because the pudding mix will make it even heavier.
Byrn heeds her mother's advice in the book, which she has followed over the years. ``You can get away with a cake mix cake, but you must make your frostings from scratch.'' She includes a chapter on easy from-scratch frostings, icings, glazes and fillings.
``Chocolate is a sophisticated food, but it doesn't intimidate us,'' says Medrich. ``There is no such thing as right and wrong chocolate.''
With Christmas and Hanukkah around the corner, try these creations from the newest chocolate cookbooks.
CHUNKY CHOCOLATE PEANUT BUTTER BARS
1 (18.25-ounce) package yellow cake mix
1 cup chunky peanut butter
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, melted, plus 2 tablespoons
2 large eggs
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup unsweetened OR sweetened grated OR flaked coconut
2 teaspoons vanilla
Place cake mix, peanut butter, 8 tablespoons melted butter and eggs in a large mixing bowl. Blend with electric mixer on low speed 1 minute. Stop machine and scrape down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula. Mixture will be satiny and thick. Reserve 1 1/2 cups mixture for topping.
Transfer remaining mixture to ungreased 9x13-inch baking pan. Using your fingertips, press mixture evenly over bottom of pan so that it reaches sides. Set aside.
For filling, place chocolate chips, condensed milk and remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a medium, heavy saucepan over low heat. Stir and cook until chocolate is melted and mixture is well combined, 3 to 4 minutes.
Remove pan from heat and stir in coconut and vanilla until well distributed. Pour chocolate mixture over crust and spread evenly with rubber spatula so it reaches sides of pan. Using your fingertips, crumble reserved crust mixture and scatter evenly over chocolate.
Bake on center rack in preheated 325-degree 25 to 30 minutes, until light brown. Remove pan from oven and place on a wire rack to cool, 30 minutes.
Cut into 48 bars. Remove bars from pan with a metal spatula and serve. Makes 48 bars.
NOTE: Store bars, covered in plastic wrap or foil, at room temperature up to 3 days or in refrigerator up to 1 week. Or freeze, wrapped in foil, up to 6 months. Thaw bars overnight on counter before serving.
From ``Chocolate From the Cake Mix Doctor,'' by Anne Byrn; Workman Publishing.
1 (18.25-ounce) package devil's food cake mix
2 large eggs
1 3/4 cups thawed frozen whipped topping
1/2 cup powdered sugar, sifted
Place cake mix, eggs and whipped topping in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed 30 seconds. Stop machine and scrape down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat 1 to 2 minutes more, or until dough is smooth and thick. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in refrigerator to chill 30 minutes.
Spoon powdered sugar in a shallow dish. Remove dough from refrigerator. Spoon out teaspoonfuls of batter and gently roll into balls between palms. Place balls in dish of powdered sugar and roll around with fingertips until coated with sugar. Coat only as many cookies as you'll bake at one time. Place balls about 2 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake on center rack in preheated 350-degree oven (if your oven cannot accommodate 2 cookie sheets on center rack, place one on top rack and one on center rack and rotate halfway through baking time) about 10 to 12 minutes, until cookies puff up and are firm around edges, but still soft in middle. Remove from oven. Let cookies rest on cookie sheets 2 minutes. Use a metal spatula to transfer to wire racks and allow to cool completely, 15 minutes. Repeat process with remaining cookie dough. Makes 5 dozen 2-inch cookies.
NOTE: Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week. Or freeze, wrapped in foil and placed in plastic freezer bag, up to 3 months. Thaw cookies overnight on counter before serving.
From ``Chocolate From the Cake Mix Doctor,'' by Anne Byrn; Workman Publishing.
THE PERFECT CHOCOLATE CAKE
This is our family's Christmas cake, and it is truly perfect for special birthdays, too. It's a snap to prepare the day before Christmas, and you can make the filling a day ahead as well, so all that's left on Christmas afternoon is to make the satiny chocolate frosting and assemble the cake.
1 (18.25-ounce) package devil's food cake mix with pudding
1 cup dairy sour cream
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
Perfect Chocolate Frosting
Lightly grease 3 (9-inch) round cake pans with solid vegetable shortening, then dust with flour. Shake out excess flour. Set pans aside.
Place cake mix, sour cream, water, oil, eggs and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed 1 minute. Stop machine and scrape down sides of bowl with a rubber spatula. Increase mixer speed to medium and beat 2 minutes more, scraping down sides again if needed. Batter should look well combined.
Divide batter among prepared pans, spreading evenly. Place on rack in center of oven. If your oven is not large enough to hold on one rack, place 2 pans on center rack and third in center of highest rack.
Bake in preheated 350-degree oven 20 to 25 minutes, until cakes spring back when lightly pressed with finger. Be careful not to overcook layer on highest oven rack. Remove pans from oven and place on wire racks to cool 10 minutes. Run a sharp knife around edge of each layer and invert each onto a rack, then invert again onto another rack so that cakes are right side up. Allow to cool completely, 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare Sweetened Cream. To assemble, place one cake layer right side up on a serving platter. Spread top with 1/2 of whipped cream, spreading to within 1/2 inch of sides. Place second layer right side up on top of first layer and spread with remaining whipped cream, spreading to within 1/2 inch of sides. Place third layer on top, and cover the cake lightly with waxed paper. Chill in refrigerator.
Prepare Perfect Chocolate Frosting. To finish assembly, spread top and sides of cake with chocolate frosting, using clean, smooth strokes. Slice and serve. Makes 16 servings.
SWEETENED CREAM: Chill a large, clean mixing bowl and electric mixer beaters in freezer a few minutes. Pour 1 cup whipping cream into chilled bowl and beat with electric mixer on high speed until thickened, 1 1/2 minutes. Stop machine and add 1/4 cup sifted powdered sugar (OR to taste), and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Beat cream on high speed until stiff peaks form, 1 to 2 minutes more. Use as filling or frosting for cake. Makes 2 cups.
NOTE: Store cake in a cake saver or under a glass dome, in refrigerator up to 1 week.
From ``Chocolate from the Cake Mix Doctor,'' by Anne Byrn; Workman Publishing.
PERFECT CHOCOLATE FROSTING
As a newspaper food editor, I used to cringe when I saw words like ``perfect'' in a recipe because, after all, food is subjective. What is perfect to me might not be to you. But if you follow this recipe to the letter, you will make the most satiny, delicious chocolate frosting imaginable. And yes, it does call for a whole cup of butter. No wonder it tastes so good and spreads on so easily.
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup half-and-half
1 cup (2 sticks) butter cut into tablespoons
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
Place a large mixing bowl full of ice in kitchen sink. Place chocolate chips, half-and-half and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Stir mixture constantly until chips and butter melt and mixture thickens, 5 to 6 minutes. Do not let it boil. Remove pan from heat.
Whisk powdered sugar into mixture until it becomes smooth. Then place saucepan in bowl of ice, taking care not to let any ice water spill into saucepan. Beat mixture with an electric mixer set on low speed until frosting thickens and is satiny and fudge-like in appearance, 4 to 5 minutes. Spread on cake. Frosting will stiffen up as it sets. If it gets too hard to spread, simply place saucepan back over low heat and stir until frosting reaches spreading consistency. Makes 3 1/2 cups, enough to frost a 2- OR 3-layer cake.
WARM CHOCOLATE AND RASPBERRY TART
1 fully baked 8 3/4-inch tart shell made from Sweet Tart Dough (recipe follows), cooled to room temperature
3/4 cup fresh red raspberries
5 ounces bittersweet chocolate, preferably Valrhona Noir Gastronomie, finely chopped
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
1 large egg, at room temperature, stirred with a fork
3 large egg yolks, at room temperature, stirred with a fork
2 tablespoons sugar
Keep cooled Sweet Tart Dough shell with the tart ring still in place, on parchment lined baking sheet. (The crust can be baked up to 8 hours ahead and kept at room temperature.) < Fill Sweet Tart Dough shell with 1/2 cup raspberries.
Melt chocolate and butter in separate bowls either over - but not touching - simmering water or in a microwave. Allow to cool until only just warm to touch (104 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer).
Using a small whisk or rubber spatula, stir whole egg into chocolate gently in ever-widening circles and taking care not agitate mixture - you don't want to beat air into ganache. Little by little, stir in egg yolks, then sugar. Finally, still working gently, stir in warm melted butter. Pour ganache over raspberries in tart shell.
Bake on center rack in preheated 375-degree oven 11 minutes - that should be just enough time to turn the top of the tart dull, like the top of a cake. Center of tart will shimmy if jiggled. Remove tart from oven, slide onto a rack (or serving platter) and allow to cool about 10 minutes before serving. Scatter remaining 1/4 cup fresh red berries over top of tart and serve with creme anglaise, if desired. Makes 6 to 8 servings.
From ``Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme,'' written by Dorie Greenspan.
SWEET TART DOUGH
2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 cup (lightly packed) finely ground blanched almonds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Place butter in work bowl of a food processor fitted with metal blade and pulse and process, scraping down sides of bowl as needed, until creamy. Add powdered sugar and process to blend well. Add almond powder, salt and vanilla and continue to process until smooth, scraping bowl as necessary, then add eggs and process to blend. Add flour and pulse until mixture just starts to come together. When dough forms moist curds and clumps and starts to gather into a ball, stop - don't overwork dough. Dough will be very soft and pliable - more like your favorite butter cookie dough than traditional pie dough.
Gather dough into a ball and divide into 4 pieces for 4 (9-inch) tarts. Gently press each piece into a disc and wrap each disc in plastic. Allow dough to rest in refrigerator at least 4 hours, or up to 2 days, before rolling and baking. (Dough can be wrapped airtight and frozen up to a month.)
For each tart, place a buttered 8 3/4- or 9-inch tart ring on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Work with one piece of dough at a time; keep remaining dough in refrigerator.
Working on a lightly floured surface (marble is ideal), roll dough to a thickness of between 1/16- and 1/8-inch, lifting dough often and making certain work surface and dough are amply floured at all times.
Roll dough up around rolling pin and unroll it onto tart ring. Fit dough into bottom and up sides of ring, then run rolling pin across top of ring to cut off excess. If dough cracks or splits as you work, patch with scraps (moisten edges with water to ``glue'' in place) and just make certain not to stretch dough in pan. Chill at least 30 minutes in refrigerator.
When ready to to bake the crust(s), fit a circle of parchment paper or foil into crust and fill with dried beans or rice. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven 18 to 20 minutes, until very lightly colored. If crust needs to be fully baked, remove parchment and beans and bake crust another 3 to 5 minutes, or until golden. Transfer crust to a rack to cool. Makes enough for 4 (8 3/4- or 9-inch) tart shells.
HONEY WALNUT TART
Usher in a rich, sweet New Year with this divine double-crust (and conveniently do-ahead) Swiss classic. Thin slices are perfect finger food for a holiday sweet table or any occasion from Hanukkah straight through New Year's Day. Without the glaze, the tart is delicious too, though less dressy - just serve it right-side up, rather than inverted.
10 tablespoons melted unsalted butter (1 1/4 sticks)
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Grated peel of 1/2 small lemon (optional)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 3/4 cups broken OR very coarsely chopped walnuts
6 ounces bittersweet OR semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 tablespoon honey
16 plain OR caramel-glazed walnut halves and/or gold leaf
To make tart pastry Crust and line pan, in a medium bowl whisk melted butter with sugar, salt, 1 1/2 teaspoons water, vanilla, lemon peel and egg. Stir in flour just until it is completely moistened. The dough should not be smooth. Divide dough into 2 unequal pieces (about 60/40). Roll smaller piece between 2 pieces of wax paper to a circle about 10 inches in diameter and 1/8-inch thick. Without removing wax paper, slide circle onto a cookie sheet and refrigerate. Press remaining dough evenly across bottom and up sides of a 9 1/2-inch tart pan with removable bottom, pinching it to extend 1/2-inch above rim of pan. Refrigerate until needed.
To make Filling, combine sugar, honey, corn syrup, lemon juice and salt in a 1 1/2- to 2-quart heavy-bottomed saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring gently with a silicone spatula or wooden spoon, until mixture is liquefied and begins to simmer around edges. Wash sugar and syrup from sides of pot with a wet pastry brush or wad of paper towels. Cover and continue to cook about 3 minutes. Meanwhile, rinse sugar crystals from spatula or spoon before using it again later. Uncover pot and wash sides again. Insert a candy thermometer without letting it touch bottom of pot. Cook, uncovered without stirring, until mixture reaches 305 degrees F. Meanwhile, heat cream to a simmer. Turn off heat and keep hot cream handy.
As soon as sugar mixture reaches 305 degrees, turn heat off. Immediately stir in butter chunks. Gradually stir in hot cream; it will bubble up and steam dramatically, so be careful. Turn heat on and adjust it so that mixture boils energetically but not violently. Stir until any thickened syrup at bottom of pot is dissolved and mixture is smooth. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until thermometer registers 240 degrees F. When syrup is done, remove pot from heat. Stir in vanilla and walnuts.
To bake tart, remove tart pan from refrigerator. Pour in warm filling and spread evenly. Wait 1 or 2 minutes for pastry to soften so you can fold it, without cracking, over filling around edge of tart. Moisten folded pastry with water. Remove pastry circle from refrigerator and peel off top sheet of paper. Cut 2 (5-inch) gashes in center of pastry to form an X. Lift edges of paper and invert pastry over tart. Press well to seal pastry at edges and trim excess against rim of pan. Remove paper and trimmings.
Set pan on a baking sheet. Bake on rack in lower third of preheated 425- degree oven 20 minutes. If pastry is beginning to brown, lay a sheet of foil on top. Bake 10 to 15 minutes more to be sure bottom crust is cooked and top is deep golden brown. Cool tart in pan on a rack. If filling has leaked at edges, remove rim of pan while tart is still hot, to avoid sticking. Cool at least 4 hours or overnight.
Invert cooled tart on a plate and remove rim and pan bottom. Leave tart upside-down. Slide pan bottom beneath tart for support.
To Glaze tart, in top of a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl set in a pan of barely simmer water, melt chocolate with butter and honey, stirring frequently until smooth. Cool glaze to 90 degrees F. Pour glaze over tart and spread with a metal spatula. Let glaze harden at room temperature. Decorate with walnut halves and/or flecks of gold leaf. Store and serve at room temperature. The tart keeps well (some say it improves with age) for at least 1 week at room temperature. Makes 16 thin or 24 extra-thin slices.
From ``A Year in Chocolate: Four Seasons of Unforgettable Desserts,'' by Alice Medrich.
BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE TRUFFLES
These are still my favorite chocolate truffles, but the original recipe from Chocolat, included raw egg. Here the egg is adequately heated to prevent salmonella. The truffles are as good as ever. A dozen or so nestled into a gold foil bag tied with a pretty ribbon is an excellent gift for Christmas.
8 ounces bittersweet OR semisweet chocolate, chopped fine
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 egg yolk, at room temperature
1/4 cup boiling water
1/3 cup unsweetened Dutch process cocoa powder
To make truffles, place chocolate and butter in a 4- to 6-cup heatproof bowl set in a wide skillet of barely simmering water over low heat. Stir frequently until chocolate and butter are completely melted and smooth. Remove bowl and set aside. Leave skillet on low heat.
Place egg yolk in a small bowl. Gradually whisk in boiling water. Place bowl in skillet and stir constantly until yolk mixture thickens slightly to consistency of light cream and registers between 160 and 165 degrees F on an instant-read thermometer. Remove from skillet and scrape yolk mixture immediately over melted chocolate.
Stir gently, without whisking or beating, just until egg is completely incorporated and mixture is smooth. Pour through a fine strainer into a clean bowl. Cover and chill until firm, 2 hours or more.
To form truffles, remove truffle mixture from refrigerator and allow to soften about 30 minutes if mixture is very hard. Pour cocoa into a pie plate. Dip a melon baller or small spoon into a glass of hot water, wipe off excess water and scrape across surface of the chilled truffle mixture to form a rough 1-inch ball. Pinch truffle into shape with fingers if necessary; it should not be perfectly round. Deposit truffle into cocoa. Repeat with remaining truffle mixture. Gently shake pie plate to coat truffles with cocoa. Store truffles, tightly covered and refrigerated, up to 2 weeks or freeze up to 3 months. Makes about 30 bite-size truffles.
BITTERSWEET MINT TRUFFLES: Add 1 teaspoon peppermint extract to melted chocolate with egg mixture.
From ``A Year in Chocolate: Four Seasons of Unforgettable Desserts,'' by Alice Medrich.
FRAN BIGELOW'S DEEP CHOCOLATE TORTE
Fran Bigelow is the grand dame of American chocolate confection and her shop in Seattle is a mecca for chocolate aficionados. She is famous for deluxe versions of popular standbys, like candy bars. This rich torte is a cross between an eggy pudding and a nonpuffy souffle.
1 pound dark chocolate, preferably Cacao Barry Equateur (60 percent cacao) OR Callebaut (56 percent cacao), finely chopped
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier OR other liqueur
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Cocoa for dusting
Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl or top of a double boiler over barely simmering water and allow to melt completely.
Generously butter a 9-inch round regular or springform cake pan. Cut a 9-inch round of waxed paper and press it over bottom of pan.
Beat eggs, sugar and liqueur in a large heatproof mixing bowl. Place bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, stirring with a wooden spoon, until warm but not hot. Remove from heat and transfer to bowl of an electric mixer. Beat with whisk attachment 5 minutes. Slowly stir in melted chocolate.
Whip cream to soft peaks and gently fold into chocolate mixture. Carefully transfer batter to pan.
Bake in preheated 350-degree oven 40 minutes, or until a straw or cake tester inserted into torte at least 2 to 4 inches from side comes out clean. The center should be just set: do not overbake.
Let cool to room temperature, remove from pan and peel off liner. It is best served with a simple dusting of cocoa; accompaniments like unsweetened whipped cream or raspberry sauce are optional. If necessary, you can refrigerate torte up to 1 day, covering with plastic wrap, but bring to room temperature before serving. Makes 1 (9-inch) torte - about 8 servings.
From ``The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao With Recipes,'' by Maricel E. Presilla.
(1 -- cover -- color) Chocolate dreams
Irresistible creations for holiday festivities
From `Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Herme'; Little, Brown and Company
(2 -- color) no caption (a stack of chocolate)
From ``The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacoa With Recipes''
(3 -- color) Fudge Snowtops
(4 -- color) Honey Walnut Tart is a fabulous finale for holiday festivities.
From ``A Year in Chocolate: Four Seasons of Unforgettable Desserts''
(5 -- color) Perfect Chocolate Cake