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The Essence of Chocolate: Recipes for Baking and Cooking with Fine Chocolate    by John Scharffenberger & Robert Steinberg order for
Essence of Chocolate
by John Scharffenberger
Order:  USA  Can
Hyperion, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Mary Ann Smyth

In the world of high-quality chocolate, the name of Scharffen Berger stands above the rest. Robert Steinberger and John Scharffenberger started their business in 1996 in the basement of Steinberger's home, making their own chocolate from cacao rather than buying ready-made. Steinberger, a physician, and Schaffenberger, an award-winning vintner, were drawn together by a shared love of food and all things chocolate. They have won accolades from professionals and home cooks alike. In The Essence of Chocolate, their first cookbook, they share over 100 wondrous chocolate recipes to delight and dazzle family and friends.

This easily read compendium leads you into a world of chocolate such as you have probably never encountered before. The easy to concoct recipes fall into three categories. The first, Intensely Chocolate, offers such delights as That Chocolate Cake in which 'the sumptuous flavor of chocolate is the star.' Essentially Chocolate entails lighter desserts. And A Hint of Chocolate will have you using chocolate in ways you never would have thought of by yourself. Not to mention that the photographs are spectacular.

The recipes range from Chocolate Covered Potato Chips and Pretzels to Chocolate Truffles. From a Chocolate Martini to Sophia's Almond, Fig and Chocolate-Shaving Sandwich. I'd opt for the Chocolate and Peanut Butter Panini any time. The Chocolate Chunk Cookies look good enough to eat off the page, while Cacao Nib Waffles would start my day just right. The suggestion of using a clean pepper mill and grinding tiny nibs of chocolate over, say, a slice of watermelon or a bowl of strawberries makes a believer out of me. Though Roasted Squash with Nib Vinaigrette sounds off the wall, I'm willing to taste it. I trust the authors. Or how about Three-Bean Chili with cocoa powder? Well worth a try.

The history of chocolate from its discovery up to today is extremely interesting. How it is harvested and processed enhances its use to my mind. The legends and lore of this wonderful beverage intrigues. I learned that 'Many ancient cultures considered the foam the essence of the drink' and 'it was used prior to planting corn, to celebrate the birth of a child, and on all feast days.' The phenomenon that occurs when biting a piece of chocolate and then taking a sip of a fine Scotch is hard to believe. (A good bourbon will achieve the same result.) The resulting burst of flavor comes from chemical compounds in both the Scotch and the chocolate. Amazing, isn't it?

Good foods. Good drinks. Conviviality. Share them all using this gorgeous new cookbook. The Essence of Chocolate would make a welcome holiday gift.

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