Encyclopédie du Chocolat

18 04 2011

Way back at the beginning of the year, upon learning of it on Fiona’s blog, I signed myself up for the Foodie’s Reading Challenge.  I have since posted about zero (0) books.  It’s downright shameful.  I mean, reading and cooking are two of my very favorite pastimes.  So here goes nothing.

Foodie's Reading Challenge

My very thoughtful husband bought me this absolutely fantastic book for Christmas, and I’ve been wanting to write a little bit about it but haven’t really known where to start.  It is, after all, an encyclopedia.  An Encyclopedia of Chocolate, to be more precise, edited by Frédéric Bau, the director of the chocolate school for Valrhona.

Encyclopédie du Chocolat

It is a sumptuously photographed book, which make it a delight to flip through, licking my lips at the mouthwatering pictures.  But it’s full of useful information, too.  The first part of the book is dedicated to techniques and basic recipes.  As a professional, this is probably my favorite part, because if I’m wondering, for example, why my praliné isn’t setting up properly at work, I can find the answer here.  (the mixture is probably too warm, in case you’re wondering.)  Or how to substitute dark chocolate for milk chocolate, and vice versa – the cacao percentage in a chocolate can have drastic effects on a recipe if you’re not careful.  Or say I just want to make Nutella from scratch.

I also love having such a great set of base recipes such as ganaches, pâte à choux, cream fillings, mousses, and caramels.  That way I can play around with the individual components and let my creativity run free.  Knowing that I have a good recipe as a jumping-off point is always a good start.

There’s an excellent illustrated section towards the back which shows the equipment used in professional pastry and chocolate shops.  Since it’s in French, this section is invaluable for my working  vocabulary.

In the middle are the recipes, grouped by category (Grands Classiques, tartes, and so on) with one recipe per chapter presented by a French celebrity chef.  Gilles Marchal of La Maison du Chocolat, Jean-Paul Hévin of best chocolat chaud in Paris fame, and Cyril Lignac of just about everything are among the participants.

Encyclopédie du Chocolat even won the award for best chocolate cookbook at this year’s cookbook festival in Paris.

When I finally decided to see what this book could do, I looked to the classic ganache tart.

note the lovely book in the background...

Of course, it came out beautifully.  For a photo of the finished product, as well as the resulting recipe, click on over to the Recipe of the Month at Girls’ Guide to Paris.

If you’re interested in buying the book yourself, and you can read French (the English version is due in October of this year), I’ve assembled a few links that might help you do so.  It’s up to you to figure out which one is geographically appropriate for you.

Encyclopédie du Chocolat at Valrhona Chocolate (US)

Encyclopédie du Chocolat at Amazon (Canada)

Encyclopédie du Chocolat at Amazon (France)

On this day in 2009: Kicking it Old School

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

The Great Cupcake Extravaganza, Part Frosting

27 06 2010

This post is going to a bit of a tease, I’m afraid.*  You see, in the last minutes before the tasters arrived, I was frantically trying to get everything in place – juggling three different flavors of buttercream, a ganache, and a cream cheese icing disaster with the fact that I have only one star tip and was trying not to use up my entire stash of mini disposable pastry bags.  It didn’t leave a lot of time or clean hands for picture-taking.  That said, you do get to see the insane amounts of butter that go into these things.  If you’d rather not know, I suggest you stop reading now.

Still there?  Good.  I guess I should back up a little, and explain that there are, in fact, more than two flavors of cake, but the butter cake and devil’s food cake recipes are old standbys of mine and presented very little in the way of problems or testing issues.  (It turns out my arm is as good as a stand mixer – but more on that later.)

The buttercream is another old standby of mine, but it requires a Significant Amount of whipping of egg whites.

mise en place for Swiss buttercream

I make a Swiss buttercream, which is based on a Swiss meringue.  (Italian buttercream is based on Italian meringue, but French buttercream is not based on French meringue – it’s based on pâte à bombe, made with egg yolks, and is ridiculously rich.)  Swiss meringue is the one where you heat the egg whites and sugar (2 parts sugar to 1 part whites)together until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture feels hot to the touch.  Then you take it off the heat and whip the hell out of it until it is fluffed up and glossy.  (By hand, this took two or three Killers songs and I worked up a sweat.)  If you’re just making meringue, you stop there.  If you’re continuing on to make buttercream, you then whip in softened butter (4 parts, or twice the amount of sugar) in several stages.  I also add vanilla and salt at this point, to make sure they’re evenly distributed.

I once read an absolutely terrifying recipe for béchamel sauce.  It insisted you had to whisk over a bain marie until your arm fell off.  This is not the case.  It made me angry, because it was such an off-putting recipe that anyone who read it would probably swear off the idea of ever making it, thus depriving themselves of the joy of one of the most useful sauces out there.  I mention it now because I don’t want to make buttercream sound scary or intimidating.  It’s only difficult if you’re trying to do it by hand – a stand mixer makes it a breeze.  You can obviously do it by hand, but it is not for the weak of will or tricep.  You have to take a bit of care that the meringue isn’t too hot when you whip in the butter, which must not be too cold.  Generally, when you’re making the stuff, there comes a moment where it looks like it’s going to fall apart into a soupy mess.  Don’t panic.  Just keep going – the whipping action will smooth it out in the end, I promise.

Of the flavors I concocted for the buttercream, the only one that took any advance prep work was the pralinéPraliné is the French word for caramelized almonds and hazelnuts, usually crushed to a powder or ground to a paste.

Whole Praliné, Crushing Praliné, Praliné Powder
1. Praliné, 2. Smashy Smashy, 3. Praliné Powder

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Around Paris: 8th: La Maison Du Chocolat

5 03 2010

It’s tough to come by cheap eats in an arrondissement where shops like this are the norm:

View from La Maison du Chocolat...

In the block or two that I walked between the FDR Métro stop and La Maison du Chocolat, I passed Dior, Gucci, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel, Jimmy Choo, Chloé, and a number of other shops with security guards and salespeople better dressed than I was.  Fortunately, all this scenery makes chocolate look like a positively affordable luxury, and paying 5 euros for an éclair seems like a bargain.  (Really, though, when it’s hands-down the best éclair I’ve had in Paris, 5 euros IS a bargain.  Caramel éclair fans, get yourselves to La Maison du Chocolat ASAP.)

I have a picture of the storefront, as viewed from the Cartier shop in the previous photo, but for some reason WordPress doesn’t like it, so I’ll have to send you over to Flickr if you want to see it.  Or the unopened box of chocolates.

Since I’m on their mailing list, I had a good reason to go over there.  (Ok, there are several locations throughout the city, but there are two in the 8th, and when else do I have such a good excuse to go window-licking* on the Avenue Montaigne?)  I had a certificate for a free box of birthday chocolates!  Yay!


Of which I seem to have greedily eaten one before remembering to take a picture.  But let me tell you, that coconut praliné (lower right in the photo) is out of this world.  That comes as no surprise though, as La Maison du Chocolate delivers consistent high-quality, whether it’s ganaches, pastries, or service.  It’s vexing, then, that they don’t allow photography within the shop, which is always beautiful and clean, with neat stacks of chocolates and other goodies lining the case and even a few seats for enjoying a coffee or treat on the spot.

Attention to detail

Even the bottoms of the chocolates show their exquisite attention to detail.  So if you happen to find yourself hungry in the 8th arrondissement, I highly recommend stopping by a La Maison du Chocolate for sustenance, and then heading off to cheaper climes for lunch or dinner.

* faire de la lèche-vitrine – literally, “window licking,” this is the French expression for “window shopping,” which I totally love.

On this day in 2008: Reubenesque

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

Two of a Pear

21 09 2009

Last week I teased you a bit with the mention of a tarte Belle-Hélène.  Of course it isn’t much of a tease if you don’t know what a tarte Belle-Hélène is.  Just to get everyone up to speed, Belle-Hélène on a French menu signifies pears and chocolate, be it a simple sundae or a fancy entremet.  A tarte Belle-Hélène is basically a variation on the classic pear-frangipane (almond cream) tart, with thick chocolate ganache spread over the pears on the baked tart.  It is one of those great desserts that manages to be both rustic and elegant at the same time.  So that’s what I wanted to make with my first batch of CSA pears.

Docking the dough

It turned out that we had a last-minute dinner invite that weekend, and, as usual, I volunteered to bring dessert.  (Nobody ever seems to mind being a dessert guinea pig.)  I started with a sweet version of the whole wheat pastry crust I raved about earlier this summer.  I parbaked it while poaching some pears in a mixture of white wine, water, sugar, lemon, and vanilla bean.

This smelled absolutely divine!

Prior to the pear prep, I was wishing I had a melon baller (ironic other name: Parisian scoop) for coring the pear halves.  After a few days searching came up fruitless, I realized that with pears as juicy and ripe as these, I could probably get away with using my teaspoon to core them.  And I was right.  Yay for multitasking kitchen tools!  The peeled and cored pear halves were then gently simmered for about 5 minutes, until they were completely tender.  I carefully removed them to a rack to drain.  (I saved the poaching liquid to use again.)

Poached pears all in a row.

Then I set about making the filling for the tart.  Traditionally, it is made with almond frangipane, but I thought that hazelnuts would be a delicious twist on the classic.  So I made hazelnut cream – a straightforward ratio of equal parts butter, sugar, hazelnut meal, and egg – instead.  I spread it into my baked, cooled tart shell, and sliced up the pears in order to fan them out in an attractive manner over the tart.  Like so: Read the rest of this entry »

Tea for Two Tarts, the Second

17 08 2009

Mise en place for tea ganache

When we last left off, I was hoping for more opportunities to combine tea and fruit for unusually delicious Summer desserts.  As luck would have it, the downstairs neighbors invited us to dinner less than a week later.  I was informed that the pregnant wife had largely lost her sweet tooth, but I like a challenge.  I figured something featuring dark chocolate and fresh seasonal fruit would fit the bill nicely. 

A fan of white nectarine slices

Flipping through Pierre Hermé’s Larousse du Chocolat for inspiration, I found a recipe for an intriguing-sounding chocolate tart with jasmine tea and peaches.  Hmmm…I do like a good ganache tart.  Nick had come home from the market with a bag of assorted stone fruits that morning, so we tasted one of each and determined that the white nectarines were really something special.  Besides the gorgeous blush color of the flesh, they had a unique aroma and delicate flavor that I thought would play nicely off the bittersweet chocolate.  Scrapping Hermé’s overly complicated tart dough in favor of a simple almond sablé (because we all know that almonds and stone fruit are like chocolate and peanut butter – they just go) and subbing in a more robust tea in the (now milk chocolate-free) ganache, I was pretty sure I had a winner on my hands.

Just Glazed White Nectarine and Tea Ganache Tart

For the final touch, I topped the über-shiny ganache with another circle of pretty nectarine slices, which I then glazed with a nappage fashioned from some handmade jam.  The neighbors were duly impressed with the tart’s beauty when I arrived at their door, and not a crumb remained at the end of the night, so I assume it tasted acceptable.  (Ok, it tasted great.  The tea subtly perfumed the intense chocolate, and the nectarines provided a juicy counterpoint.  It may be one of the best desserts I’ve ever made, and it wasn’t the slightest bit difficult.  Look! I did it while drinking a mojito!)  Even the sweet tooth-lacking pregnant woman had seconds.

Want the recipe?  Here it is:

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