Pros: Wow. Delightful, hard-working recipes that showcase the best of chocolate.
Cons: Sugar, calories, fat, calories…
Rating: 5 out of 5
Review copy courtesy of The Taunton Press.
Hi, my name is Heather, and I’m addicted to chocolate. I prefer dark to milk, although the new “deep milk” is good, and I’m picky about my whites (most brands taste chalky, but that’s why I stay stocked up on Green & Black’s). I love trying out new and wacky flavor combos like bacon-chocolate, or chocolate with almonds and sea salt (Vosges makes an awesome bar of the latter); or good old-fashioned pairings like chocolate and coconut. Above all, I like to cook with it. My husband and I always keep a few bars around to break up and whisk into a hot mixture of milk and half-and-half, maybe with a dash of liqueur, for hot chocolate, but it’s fun to go wild sometimes instead. And believe me, if you want to go wild with chocolate, this cookbook put together by the editors of Fine Cooking magazine, Absolutely Chocolate: Irresistible Excuses to Indulge, is perfect.
When reviewing cookbooks, I first look for a “standby” recipe that will be easy to judge. Something I’m used to making and know a fair amount about, that the cookbook authors really shouldn’t mess up if they know what they’re doing. In this case, that meant chocolate chip cookies! Specifically, mocha cinnamon chocolate chip cookies. And may I say—WOW. These were so good that I had to toss the extras into the freezer to keep for friends in order to keep my hands off of them. Oh my… it would be so easy to get one out now. No, no, I will resist. I CAN resist.
Next, I look for something fancier, trickier. Something that’ll show off whether or not the cookbook authors really know their stuff. In this case, a pots de creme recipe did the trick beautifully. These are delectable, intense custards that you can make the day before you intend to serve them to guests—and believe me, you will make an impression with these.
Finally, I like to look for something that’s specific to the cookbook—something you aren’t likely to find in its peers. This might or might not be the same as the tricky/fancy recipe; in this case it wasn’t. A recipe that had us fill wonton wrappers with chocolate-hazelnut spread and fry them was surprisingly easy, and it comes with a fantastic orange-cream sauce that’s also incredibly easy. This is one of those “it’ll look like you slaved for hours” recipes that’ll really impress guests, and unlike most fried foods it withstands cooling very well, so you don’t necessarily need to fry it at the very last minute.
Absolutely Chocolate is filled to the brim with cookies, brownies, cakes, pies, puddings, mousses, ice creams, candies, sauces, and more. There’s the usual section at the front about chocolate, but I have to say it’s better than most. For example, there’s an incredibly useful sidebar on the cocoa content of your chocolate, how it will affect your recipes, and how to alter your recipes if you’re going to use chocolates with unusually high cocoa contents. There’s also an extended section on the difference between using cocoa and chocolate in cooking.
I’ve tried a handful of chocolate cookbooks, and this is one of the ones I’d recommend most highly. While the “Death by Chocolate” series is great for folks who enjoy serious kitchen time and complicated recipes, Absolutely Chocolate has plenty of simpler recipes as well. The results are amazing and impressive, and there’s a fantastic array of recipes to choose from. There are a limited number of photographs (there certainly isn’t one for every recipe), but they’re gorgeous and evocative. Recipes are clear and well-ordered, and often include extended sections of tips and instructions to help you out (such as tips for a perfect pots de creme). The cookbook is large, hard-backed, with glossy pages, so it should stay open fairly easily and stand up to much use.
What more could you ask for?
Bonus recipe: When we were making the pots de creme, we wondered how they would be with a fruity/creamy sauce—largely because we happened to have some leftover ingredients from various other recipes the previous week that we thought would make an awesome raspberry sauce. So, here you go:
Empty most or all of a container of creme fraiche into a medium-sized bowl (this comes to a little less than a cup). Whisk in about a quarter cup of raspberry puree (one small container fresh raspberries rinsed, picked through, pureed and pushed through a fine seive). Stir in a handful or two of sliced strawberries, and maple syrup, agave nectar, or brown sugar to taste.
If you can’t find creme fraiche, mix equal parts sour cream and heavy cream.
It’s easy enough to substitute any other berry for the strawberry as you please.
Goes best with a dark, brooding chocolate dessert such as pots de creme or a rich mousse.