82 COOKBOOK CRITIC
The comprehensive Encyclopedia of Chocolate: Essential Recipes and Techniques pays homage to the temperamental and complex character of chocolate. By Priyanka Elhence
Encyclopedia of Chocolate: Essential Recipes and Techniques
At a glance
Thick slabs of dark Valrhona lusciously drizzled over with chocolate sauce make an arresting front cover. With a foreword from Pierre Hermé, and the content edited by Frédéric Bau, (founder, executive chef and creative director at École du Grand Chocolat Valrhona), Encyclopedia of Chocolate: Essential Recipes and Techniques is one comprehensive tome of knowledge. Bau established the legendary culinary school dedicated to chocolate in New Yowk in 1989, and it has since grown to encompass four elite institutions, each devoted to helping self-taught chocolate connoisseurs master the art of chocolate making.
Despite the elite credentials, Bau shares easily comprehensible techniques for home bakers. Likewise, Pierre Hermé praises the must-have volume, saying, “Bau has an astounding way of taming and understanding chocolate, his favourite ingredient. When he makes his pastries, he goes right to the heart of the matter – the taste – and this book allows you to begin making desserts, from the simplest to the most sophisticated, that are normally the reserves of professionals.”
Basic techniques cover the first part of the tome, with visual guides to key ingredients, tips on how to choose and store chocolate and detailed explanations on decorations, glazes, and debunking chocolate myths.
The second section offers over 100 Valrhona recipes of differing complexities and pastry secrets that are contributed and tested by Bau and eight of his colleagues, complete with chef’s notes and specific techniques. The recipes are organised into different chapters: The Great Classics, Tarts and Tartlets, Shared Delights, Teatime Treats, Special Occasions, Iced Desserts, Candies and Confections, or New Trends. The latter covers innovative savoury dishes with chocolate. Expect everything from éclairs, soufflés and Sacher Torte, to Mont Blanc Revisited, Soy Milk Nama Choco, and Cod Fillet with Green Tea Béarnaise, Smoked Chocolate Sauce.
The road test
I’ve spent many enjoyable evenings trying out favourite recipes like the Molten Chocolate Cakes, and more enticing and challenging recipes such as Chocolate Granita; Coffee, Chocolate, and Vanilla Creams with Breton Shortbread; Cocoa Jaconde Sponge; and even the elegant Opéra cake.
The recipes from the New Trends chapter are really interesting due to the varied bitter, spicy and smoked flavours. The whimsical sounding Lobster Jus under a Light Cloud of Bittersweet Chocolate calls for a light-asair dollop of whipped chocolate mousse atop a lobster reduction and sweet lobster meat. The striking contrast between the hot lobster components and the cold chocolate cream is unexpected, and surprisingly the spiced heat from the Esplette pepper ties the different flavours together with each bite. While the recipe is not complicated, you do need to ensure the lobster jus is adequately reduced so that the depth of flavours is not lost, and that the lobster isn’t overcooked either.
With a recipe name like Filet Mignon, East Meets West, I expected beef accompanied by some rendition of a chocolate sauce. To my amazement, I found a chocolate-lemongrass sauce drizzled over pork medallions, accompanied by lemongrassscented rice and an arugula salad. The pork calls for overnight resting in a herby lemongrass-cilantro-chocolate-ginger marinade, together with soy sauce, lemon juice and white wine.
It’s not a typical recipe you’d find in a chocolate-oriented recipe book. The leftover marinade is added to the sauce to impart stronger hints of lemongrass and chocolate in the final dish. The uncommon pairing works well together, with the bittersweet chocolate sauce complementing the spicy ginger and the tangy lemongrass notes, ideal for mopping up with the rice.
I took on the classic Warm Chocolate Tart because I couldn’t resist its accompanying image. The two-pronged recipe features an almond shortcrust pastry tart shell simply filled with 70 percent bittersweet chocolate ganache, and lightly dusted with cocoa powder. It is virtually impossible to get this recipe wrong.
No matter which recipe you try, Bau is able to seamlessly marry flavour with technique. And unlike some cookbooks where one tends to flip the pages directly to the recipes, Encyclopedia of Chocolate: Essential Recipes and Techniques offers easy-to-read, interesting chapters on theory and techniques, so you’re likely to spend as much time reading about chocolate as you are testing the indulgent creations.
Encyclopedia of Chocolate: Essential Recipes and Techniques retails for S$46.20 on amazon.com.