I had some friends coming over last night for drinks and dinner. And then, one by one, each cancelled because their kids had gotten the flu that’s going around. So I was forced to eat all the lemons bars I’d made for dessert, which I didn’t think would keep until the rescheduled night. (Actually, they probably would. But I knew it would be hard to keep looking at that pan of untouched lemon bars for a full three days.)
Recently in Chocolate category
When I took pastry courses a number of years ago here in France and in Belgium, I tended to want to focus on the chocolate classes because – well…gosh darn it, I love it so much. We’ve become the best of friends over the years and I am never far from my bin of chocolate that I buy in bulk. (Although at some point, someone is going to have to do an intervention.) But I like cooking and creating with chocolate just as much as I do eating it and homemade chocolate bars are simple and wonderful gifts. And if entertaining at home, it nice to bring out a homemade tablet that you’ve made yourself to serve with after-dinner coffee or glasses of Armagnac or Cognac.
The good thing is that you don’t need fancy – or expensive – chocolate molds to make chocolate bars at home. I have a stack of polycarbonate ones from my professional days of yore. But anything made of plastic will do. Since I can’t bring myself to throw away anything that might be reused, I pulled out a stack of cream cheese containers that are neat little rectangles and I used those this time around.
I had some friends over for dinner recently who were moving away, which is always sad, and they were in the full-on stress of moving; packing up boxes, dealing with logistics, selling most of their things, and taking care of the details of deménagement.
I had been leafing through Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts by chocolate expert (and comrade in chocolate) Alice Medrich, who I was introduced to in the 80s, not personally, but though her spectacular chocolate cakes and confections. Her chocolate shop in Berkeley was changing the way we thought about chocolate in America, and I’d like to think my (near-daily) allegiance to the store, called Cocolat, had something to do with it.
Alice had learned techniques for making French cakes and truffles, and was getting national acclaim for her extraordinary treats sold in the shop. I was such as fan that when I was baking just down the street, at Chez Panisse, I used to stop in on my way to work for a truffle or a slice of cake. And I finally had the chance to meet Alice, and she became one of my dessert heroes, coming out with some of the best books on baking you can get your hands on. And if you’re anything like me, before long, those hands are likely to be smeared with a little bit of chocolate.
People often ask me, after taking a bite of a caramel in Paris: Why can’t they can’t get caramels that taste like that in America? Like bread – those kinds of wonderful foods are, indeed, available, but you need to know where to look. A while back I was in Los Angeles and a magazine had mentioned Little Flower Candy Company’s caramels. So I ran to a store in Silverlake that sold them, and they were really excellent. They could rival anything in Paris, In fact, they were better than quite a few caramels I’ve had around here. And I’ve had quite a few.
I first met Jacques Genin a number of years ago when he was (somewhat famously) working out of a battered storefront, on an uninteresting street deep in the 15th arrondissement of Paris.
I say “famously” because as he became quite a bit better known, many folks learning about him through Mort Rosenblum’s book, Chocolate: A Bittersweet Saga of Light and Dark. And subsequently, people started gathering outside his workshop door with the one-way mirror, which allowed him to decide whether he wanted to open the door or not. I think I was too timid to give it a try on my first go-around and after pacing at the end of the block for a while, I ended up leaving.
If nothing else, longevity has its rewards and eventually I made it past that mirrored door and into his workshop. It was rather tight in there, to say the least. In order for someone to walk past you, you had to back up and get out of the way while someone held a tray of just-dipped chocolates high in the air, sidestepping someone else walking the other way with a tray of hot nougat.
I probably shouldn’t admit this, but I rarely go over to the Saint Germain des Près area much. I know, it’s a popular destination for many, but if I head over there, it’s usually for one thing, and one thing only: Chocolate.
Most of the chocolatiers are clustered over there because, well, if you can afford to live over there, that’s where most of the folks are who buy boxes of chocolate. Well, except me. So I make the trek over there to get my licks in, and say hi to the folks who haven’t seen me in a while.
One such person is Jean-Charles Rochoux, whose chocolates are at the top of my list in Paris. He has just one shop, not an enterprise, and is one of the few people who makes his chocolates in Paris; real estate prices make it hard for people to set up candymaking operations. So every day, Monsieur Rochoux gets started in his basement workshop, and every few months, I go over there and see what’s new.
A while back, there was a spate of books about how to ‘sneak’ ingredients that are ‘healthy’ into food for your kids, to trick them into eating better. (Raymond Sokolov wrote an excellent rebuttal to that.) And recently there have been a few books written about how kids in France eat, and behave, better than their counterparts elsewhere. I can’t really comment on them in-depth because I haven’t read the books, but I do know two things from my own observations.
When I lived in San Francisco, the baking community was a very friendly group and we all mingled easily. One of the people who I particularly admired and liked was Emily Luchetti, who was also a pastry chef and cookbook author. Her desserts were known for their stunning simplicity, which highlighted bold flavors as well as local ingredients, and whose recipes walked a balance between home-style and sophisticated. And even more importantly, she tends to like two of my favorite things – chocolate and caramel – and she uses them frequently.
Emily’s newest book is The Fearless Baker, a book of 175 easy-to-make desserts that won’t intimidate anyone. I asked her if she would be interested in doing a guest post, and when she suggested something combining…you guessed it, caramel and chocolate brownies, I couldn’t wait to share the recipe with you. Please welcome this guest post by Emily Luchetti. -david
A common dilemma for chefs who participate in out-of-town events is what mise en place to take and what to prepare on site. Making dessert for 500-1000 people at a walk-around tasting away from your familiar work place takes logistical and advanced planning. If I have a couple of events within a month of each other, prepping the same dish is easier the second time around. I have a much better idea of how to pack it all. Since different audiences are at each event, it’s not like I am serving identical desserts to the same people. (It only took me 20 years in the business to figure this out!)
My dessert for offsite events this winter/spring was Brownie Brown Sugar Parfait. Originally I created it for the opening menu at Waterbar in San Francisco. It is perfect road trip dessert. There are 4 components brownies, caramel sauce, toasted pecans and a brown sugar pastry cream that’s lightened with whipped cream. Most of it can be made ahead of time and put together later in Connecticut at The Mohegan Sun Casino, or in Miami at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival.