I am a pastry chef, chocolatier, culinary school teacher, and Snickers Bar sneaker. My never-ending adoration of chocolate leads me to many cultures and to many fellow enthusiasts. I offer this book in celebration of all the ways chocolate–part health food, part soul food–brings us bliss.
Chocolate is more than a fruit, more than a candy, more than a drink, more than a sweet dessert. It is the third largest commodity on the global exchange after sugar and coffee, commanding over $40 billion in annual trading revenues. Fifty million people worldwide work hard to bring cacao plants to fruition and the fruit to our hands. Chocolate generates an estimated $80 billion per year for international companies such as Cargill, Nestlé, Hershey’s, Cadbury, and Mars. Its production has sustained the economies of Indonesia, Brazil, Venezuela, and numerous African nations. In addition to its commercial strength, chocolate’s history is full of drama. It nourished Mayan warriors, enriched Aztec kings, infuriated Spanish priests, enslaved the downtrodden, puzzled doctors, scandalized ladies, delighted soldiers, charmed children, and spawned huge corporate empires. Its power is miraculous; it is truly the food of the gods.
The recipes in this book celebrate chocolate’s flavors, history, and global appeal. They include traditional desserts, cakes, and candies, a few savory dishes, and some ideal approaches for the health-conscious chocolate lover. We’ll explore chocolate’s potential in the fight against deforestation and global warming and the many traditions for giving chocolate as a gift. We’ll see why giving the dark food of the gods brings such brightness to the world. a word about techniques and tools
If you can make a batch of chocolate chip cookies, you can make any recipe in this book. Baking and working with chocolate are not hard, just specific. Like most pastry chefs, my background comes from the French pâtisserie
tradition, which involves formal procedures, formulas, and many French terms. The recipes here are designed to bring some classic French techniques and a little fun to the home baker. Here are a few terms, tricks, and tools I’ll be using.Bonbons.
Candy has many names: confections, pralines, sweets, chocolates, and, my favorite, bonbons. Translated from the French, it means “good goods,” which always strikes me as the perfect name for chocolate candy.Butter.
European-style butter (such as Plugra) has a higher fat content than America’s standard. Fat conducts flavor over the palate, so in this case, fat is good. Although the recipes in this book will work with American-style butter, I recommend using unsalted, European style, preferably from a dairy in your state.Chocolate Choices.
In many recipes, I’ve included “Chocolate Choices”–tips on which brands to consider for those particular recipes. These are just suggestions–the important thing is to have fun choosing chocolate.Creaming Method for Cakes.
Whipping butter and sugar together in a mixer (or by hand with a whisk), then adding eggs, then dry ingredients is a technique called “the creaming method,” widely used in cake production. It makes for an airy, rich cake and is the basic technique for most of the cakes and cookies in this book. It’s easy, just like making chocolate chip cookies. I don’t mention it in the directions, but you’ll notice its frequent use.
Fresh, Local Dairy Products.
The best pastry chefs in the world insist on fresh ingredients for quality results, and you can insist on the same. Become a locavore
–buy local milk, cream, butter, and eggs whenever possible. Unless you live near the equator, your chocolate never will be considered a local product because of its tropical origins. But the milk, cream, and eggs you need to make great desserts are easy to find at farmers’ markets or health food shops. Also, organic dairy products are a good choice–they won’t contain residue of pesticides, hormones, or additives.Mise en Place.
The French term for things “put in place” is a good one for the dessert baker to know. In some ways, it means read through your recipe, gather all your ingredients, measure them all out, then
start mixing and baking. This saves you tons of trouble–you won’t be halfway through a cake batter only to discover that you don’t have any eggs. Mise en place
is a philosophy of careful prep work.Offset Spatula.
The “L” shape of this long spatula allows flexibility for scraping chocolate and smoothing icings on cakes. I have twelve of these, but never feel like I have enough. Need a few? See Shopping Sources Guide, page 137.Salt.
I use a lot of salt in my recipes because it enhances the flavor of chocolate. My measurements are based on coarse salts (like kosher and sea salt). If you are using table salt (like Morton’s Table Salt in the round paper container), use half of what is called for in my recipes. But I urge bakers to experiment with the different kinds of salt available in gourmet food stores because of the amazing range of subtle flavors. If you don’t have time for such things, just grab a big box of kosher salt (Morton’s also makes a good one) from the grocery store. If you have health issues like hypertension and have been advised to skip the salt, by all means do. The recipes will still hold up. Stainless Steel Bowls.
These rugged essentials are available at many large grocery stores and kitchen supply stores. You don’t need fancy or heavy bowls, just several medium ones that you can plop over a pan of simmering water to melt your chocolate, then rinse and toss unceremoniously in the dishwasher.Sugar and Alternative Sweeteners.
Most of my recipes call for old-fashioned, granulated white sugar or brown sugar, sometimes quite a lot of both. You can explore the sweet treasures of health food stores, such as agave and malt syrups, forest honeys, and raw sugar if you prefer less processed sugar when I call for a cup of white.Water Method.
This technique for melting chocolate is based on the French technique bain marie
, or water bath, which uses simmering water to heat a bowl of ingredients gently. Chefs often use the term to refer to all water-heating methods. For chocolate-melting purposes, place a heatproof bowl (a simple stainless steel one works best) of chocolate over a saucepan filled with about 3 inches of water. You want to keep the chocolate suspended above the water and keep the heat medium to low. The water becomes a gentle heat source. A double boiler will work for this job, too, but you don’t need to make a special purchase. Once the water simmers (about 5 minutes), turn off the heat because the chocolate can overheat if left over a boiling pan. Then stir the chocolate occasionally until it is melted. (For more on melting chocolate, see page 24.) Another common water-heating method, used to make custard desserts such as cheesecake (page 90), involves a cake pan with batter placed in a larger pan. Water is added to the larger pan so that it reaches about halfway up the cake pan. This traditional water bath keeps the cake or custard baking slowly, moistly, and evenly.Whipping Egg Whites.
This is a love-hate challenge all bakers must tackle. How do you know if the eggs whites are whipped enough? Do they hold a soft peak? Medium peak? Stiff peak? What’s a peak? Peaks indicate the structure achieved by whipping air into the protein molecules of egg whites at room temperature. If the whites are too cold or the mixer introduces foreign particles such as fats, the whites may not whip up at all (use a clean bowl and clean whisk). Soft peaks happen when you notice the egg whites transforming from yellow, stringy liquid to white foam. If you lift up your whisk from the bowl, you’ll see the foamy egg whites droop off the whisk in a mound. That mound is called a soft peak. Keep going another minute or two, lift up your whisk, and you’ll notice the egg whites form more of a defined, pointy peak and the whole batch looks thick and white. That’s a medium peak. In just another minute or two of whipping, you’ll reach stiff peaks, when the egg whites are at full volume, shiny, and decidedly hold a firm peak. If you beat them further, the protein that is holding the air breaks down and the egg whites become a puddle of lifeless goop. I like to take my egg whites off the mixer after they hit medium peak and beat them the rest of the way by hand. That prevents the danger of overbeating them. Always bake with extra eggs in the refrigerator so if you overbeat your egg whites, you can start over. Also, a dash of sugar at the beginning helps stabilize the egg whites. We use egg whites for meringues, icings, and cake batters.Artisan Caramel Bonbons
Handmade caramel is sophisticated and soothingly sweet, especially when combined with the bold flavors of artisan chocolate. You can also dip these bonbons in tempered chocolate before you dust them to create chocolate caramel truffles. Makes about 30 trufflesChocolate Choices
Green & Black’s or Michel Cluizel dark chocolate, Scharffen Berger milk chocolate
2 cups sugar
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup light corn syrup
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons kosher salt
8 ounces dark chocolate (70% cacao or higher), finely chopped
4 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped
2 ounces unsweetened
cocoa powder, for dusting
Prepare a bowl of ice water and set aside. Combine the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a heavy pan. Stir gently until all the sugar is wet, and make sure no sugar crystals are on the sides of the pan. Place over medium heat–no stirring–and allow the mixture to boil for about 10 minutes. You can cover the pan for a few minutes as it boils, which will wash away any unwanted sugar crystals on the sides. You’ll start to see a light amber color form around the edges of the sugar. Continue boiling until the mixture is the color of honey or maple syrup. This is now caramel, so be careful because it is very hot!
Turn off the heat and plunge the saucepan into the ice water to “shock” the sugar and stop it from cooking. Place the pot on a heatproof surface, add the butter, then the cream, vanilla, and salt. It will steam and bubble up. Stir it together, and once the mixture has cooled off (about 10 minutes), add the dark and milk chocolates and stir until mixed. If the caramel sticks to the bottom of the pan, return the pot to the burner and stir over very low heat.
Transfer this mixture to a bowl and allow it to cool and firm up in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes. With a melon baller or sturdy spoon, scoop out as many balls as you need (any unused portion can be reheated and used as a sauce over ice cream). Roll them between your palms to achieve a round shape. Refrigerate them for about 30 minutes, then dust them with cocoa powder and serve.
Excerpted from Chocolate Bliss by Susie Norris. Copyright © 2009 by Susie Norris. Excerpted by permission of Celestial Arts, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.