"The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Chocolate," by McFadden and France

Pros: Neat history; one good icing recipe
Cons: It seems that the recipes weren’t kitchen-tested
Rating: 2 out of 5

First posted 8/7/2000

It’s called “The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Chocolate.” How could you not want a copy? We certainly did.

This book has a full 24 pages on the history of chocolate, followed by 6 on cultivation and processing, 6 on chocolates from around the world, and 10 on physiology and psychology. This is followed by a few pages on types of chocolate and techniques. It’s fascinating and lots of fun; I certainly enjoyed reading it. It’s pretty much the only reason why this book isn’t getting only one star.

I want to know whether the authors of this book (Christine McFadden and Christine France) ever kitchen-tested these recipes. I want to know how much experience they had writing cookbooks at the time that they wrote this cookbook. My fiancee and I have an awful lot of cookbooks (approximately two large bookcases full), and a lot of experience cooking. We like to think we’re pretty good in a kitchen, and we’ve had enough independent verification of this to feel comfortable thinking that. We occasionally find a cookbook that doesn’t inspire us, which we don’t often use. This, however, is one of the first cookbooks that looked good but turned out to be a real dud (for the most part).

I’ll take three recipes as examples.

First, White Chocolate Frosting. This recipe is an example of our finding that for simple recipes, this is a reasonable cookbook. This frosting is quite delicious, and we’ve enjoyed it a number of times.

Second, the White Chocolate Cappuccino Cake. The recipe calls for 7-inch cake pans (the one before it, I’ll note, calls for 7 1/2-inch cake pans). These aren’t particularly standard-sized in the United States; I don’t know about other countries. I looked around and didn’t find any. Then the finished product – the taste was okay, but the cake was dense and hard. In fact, I’ve never had or made a cake (before or since) that came close to the hockey puck that was this cake.

Third, the Raspberry, Mascarpone and White Chocolate Cheesecake. Now, we love cheesecake. More than that, raspberry is my fiancee’s favorite fruit, and we both adore white chocolate. So it should have been very difficult for this recipe to disappoint. Yet it did. The cooking temperature and/or time were off, and the cheesecake came out rather underdone at first. Now our oven does run a little slow, but it’s never run that slow before. Next, the directions are confusing. When you see directions like “using a wooden spoon, beat the mascarpone,” then you never know from then on whether the direction “beat” means stir, whisk, beat with electric mixer, or anything else (unless stated), and it isn’t stated in many places. (And in recipes like this, it’s often important to texture which you do.) Finally, the cheesecake wasn’t at all sweet enough, and the flavor was…well, it tasted mostly like ricotta with a few raspberries in it. If we wanted fruit with ricotta, we wouldn’t have gone to all the trouble of making a cheesecake out of it.

In addition, the index isn’t particularly useful. Recipes are sorted only by recipe name. This means that most recipes will be found under “chocolate”. You certainly can’t look up “cake” and find yourself a cake.

If you’re desperately looking for a book of information on chocolate and are willing to pay for a huge hardbound book in order to get those 60 pages or so, then sure, get this book. If you really want a few good simple chocolate recipes and can’t find them in a book that has good complicated recipes too – get this book. But really, you should be able to find any of that in either a cookbook that’s smaller and cheaper, or a cookbook that has more than just a few good recipes.

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