"Death by Chocolate Cakes," by Marcel Desaulniers

Pros: The most luscious cakes you’ll ever taste; my favorite icing ever; detailed, precise directions; gorgeous photos
Cons: A couple of the icings are those high-butter concoctions I loathe, but that’s about it!
Rating: 5 out of 5

First published 2/26/2001

I’m a longtime fan of chef Marcel Desaulniers’ cookbook work. I’ve already reviewed Death by Chocolate and Salad Days, and I hope to eventually get around to “Death by Chocolate Cookies” and “Desserts to Die For,” among others. This man truly knows how to make a luscious, decadent, to-die-for dessert.

I’m nearing my 30s, and I can’t handle chocolate the way I once could. I used to love fudgy chocolate cakes with chocolate icing. Now I’m more likely to go for a white chocolate whisper cake with maple frosting, or something else equally not-quite-as-rich. So, even as familiar as I am with Marcel’s work, I delayed in purchasing this cookbook.

I should have remembered the lessons from his other chocolate-based cookbooks: He understands that sometimes we want moderation, too. So, while you will find decadent chocolate-on-chocolate desserts in here (Aunt Cecil’s Cocoa Walnut Crunch Cake!), you’ll also find desserts that use chocolate in small and subtle ways.

Take, for example, Martha’s Chocolate Freckles Fresh Blueberry Ice Cream Cake. It’s based in a “Chocolate Freckles Cake,” which is a non-chocolate cake with finely-chopped or grated chocolate mixed into the batter. A homemade blueberry ice cream fills the space between the layers – this is one of the best ice creams I’ve ever had, with a tart flavor created by the sour cream, cream cheese, and lemon juice. The topping is sweetened, vanilla-flavored whipped cream, and further fresh blueberries are ringed around the top (if you’re lazy you can just scatter them on the whipped cream).

Next we made Marcel’s First Birthday Chocolate High and Fluffy-on-Top Cake. This is a chocolate cake with a vanilla frosting. It sounds so simple, but it’s so delightful! This is truly the ultimate icing: sweet, not too buttery, and remarkably fluffy. I have never had such a fantastic icing before, and intend to use it on cake after cake in the future. I’ve had slightly better chocolate cake before, but it was still a very good cake.

Finally we trotted out the Golden Anniversary Chocolate Chip Brownie Cake. This should really be renamed “diabetic shock!” The icing is overly buttery in my opinion, but you can fix that by replacing about 1/4 to 1/6 of the whipped butter with a tablespoon or two of milk and enough confectioner’s sugar to make a suitably sweet, wonderful icing. This cake has a layer of caramel on top, and the frosting is caramel buttercream!

The recipes

You’ll find everything in here from Chocolate Rocky Road, to Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Ice Cream Cake, to Chocolate Caraway On-the-Rocks Trifles, Chocolate-Dipped Orange Fry Cakes with Coffee and Cream, Uncle Sam’s in the Black Cake (with a toasted oatmeal raising topping), Chocolate Tender Passion, and much more! Each recipe comes with a gorgeous picture.

The recipes are inventive and of consistently excellent quality. The directions are thorough without being labyrinthine. They’re clear without being complex. They’re several pages long, but I never feel lost. Marcel repeats the amounts of the ingredients in the instructions, so you don’t have to flip back and forth to the ingredient amounts. As usual, the length of the recipes more reflects Marcel’s desire to make sure everything is properly detailed and explained than it does the complexity of the recipe.

You’ll probably not want to get this book unless you have a stand mixer – the key to many of these delights is loooong mixing times, sometimes of stiff batters. Other than that, however, Marcel tries to limit himself to common household equipment and time-scales. You won’t even find any instructions to bring things to room temperature for hours. He found much more practical ways to do things (cut butter small enough and whip it long enough, and you don’t need to have softened it up!).

If you like to bake cakes then get this cookbook. It’s hard to imagine a better cake cookbook!

Posted in Cooking, Reviews
One comment on “"Death by Chocolate Cakes," by Marcel Desaulniers
  1. Thanks so much for the review, I have been thinking about buying this book for my daughter’s upcoming birthday, she loves baking and has a massive sweet tooth! It sounds like it won’t be too complex for her, maybe right up her alley.

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