Favorite chocolate books of 2011 (and 2010… oh, and two from 2009)
I am an avid reader, bookworm, bibliophile, wordnerd…. I enjoy reading pretty much anything — fiction, nonfiction, cookbooks, cheesy young adult urban fantasy — you name it, I’ve been getting reprimanded for reading it at the dinner table since I was a kid. In fact, my main goals for the holiday season are pretty simple: 1) relax with family and friends (possibly while reading), 2) taste a hefty portion of my chocolate stash (definitely while reading), and 3) organize my books, which have now overflowed onto the floor of my office, leapt up onto my desk, crawled into the kitchen, and occupied the dinner table. Given the severity of the book situation, how can I not read during dinner?
This year saw a number of excellent books published on chocolate, which I hold partially responsible for the chaotic growth in my apartment library. I’ve listed several of my favorites below. But since this blog didn’t exist in 2010, it just felt wrong not to recommend a few of my favorites from that year, and then I remembered that two of the best chocolate books out there were published in 2009, so, really, how could I justify a list without them?, and, well, here is the result.
If there are other recently published books that you don’t see listed here, I would love to hear your recommendations.
If there is only one book that every chocolate lover should own, a strong argument could be made for culinary historian and chef Maricel Presilla’s 2009 revised masterpiece. This book introduces readers to more or less everything chocolate, including the long history of cacao cultivation in the Americas, chocolate’s adoption by European colonial powers, our still burgeoning scientific understanding of cacao genetics, the growth of the fine chocolate industry, and the art of tasting chocolate. The writing is clear and concise; the photographs and other visual aids are artfully presented. And the recipes? They’re fantastic — they will teach you about the changing tastes of chocolate from past, present, and future and challenge more traditional sensibilities about how to use chocolate in your own cooking. Presilla has even taken the time to recommend specific chocolates to be used with each recipe, a boon for those working to train their palates.
Follow the ever exploring, ever learning, ever cooking Presilla on Twitter.
For the history buff
Lawrence Allen, a former senior executive from both Hershey and Nestlé who was deeply involved in the companies’ expansion into China, has written a fascinating tale of international business intrigue. This book details the battle by five companies — Ferrero, Cadbury, Hershey, Nestlé, and Mars — to infiltrate the massive Chinese market, one that until recently remained relatively unexploited due to chocolate’s scarcity in the country. While the companies’ branding itself operated on a series of uncomfortable cultural stereotypes and generalizations (e.g. “the hedonistic West” bringing sweets to “xenophobic China”), the history detailed in the book is essential for those interested in cultural differences in chocolate appreciation and the corporate influence on chocolate consumption.
Another battle themed narrative, this book follows “the 150-year rivalry between the world’s greatest chocolate makers.” Written by a relative of the famous Cadbury chocolate family, it is a thoroughly researched and well written historical work and example of family biography. Readers will learn about the history of the slave trade in chocolate production as well as Bournville, the model village that Cadbury built around its factory. Also illuminated is the history of technological innovations in chocolate production, from milk chocolate to caramels and more. A must read for big chocolate brand lovers (Cadbury, Hershey, Nestlé) and those interested in the development of large chocolate companies.
Journalist Órla Ryan’s book traces chocolate from bean (in Africa, specifically Ghana) to bar (primarily in the hands of multinational corporations). The book covers history and present day politics, while also detailing individual struggles among the mostly small holding cacao farmers in West Africa. It is a quick read and a good one for those interested in better understanding the international politics, trade apparatus, and ethics surrounding cacao cultivation and chocolate production. Ryan explains how it is that so little of the money that we pay for chocolate actually makes its way into the hands of cacao growers, even when chocolate is Fairtrade. The book would benefit from more recommendations (if qualified researchers who have evidence and experience don’t take a stand on reform, it will continue to falter) as to how to improve the existing situation in the cacao industry.
For the aspiring home chocolatier and pastry chef
This book is an incredible reference of 100 techniques for cooking with chocolate, written by Frédéric Bau of Valrhona’s École du Grand Chocolat. There are abundant textual and photographic explanations, glossary and index entries, and a very useful DVD with demonstrations. The recipes are categorized according to difficulty level, and range from every day sweets to special occasion desserts. It is an important text for those who aspire to make excellent chocolate treats at home.
UK based chocolatier and patissier Paul A. Young, famous for his chocolates and brownies, provides an entertaining and accessible guide to chocolate tasting and truffle and pastry making. From the start, his book is gorgeous — the photos are atmospheric and inspiring. The text is particularly helpful for those new to tasting, as he recommends chocolate from single origins and brands to go with each recipe. He combines chocolate with spices, sweeteners, fruits and nuts, and even savory foods. I brought the mulled cider truffles to my family Thanksgiving celebration this year. Simply divine.
Jeni Britton Bauer’s bright and colorful debut cookbook isn’t a book about chocolate per se; rather it is a beautifully presented ode to butterfat. It is an absolutely delightful book with some of the best ice cream recipes that I have ever come upon. Using the excellent instructions, home cooks can make delicious, rave-worthy ice cream (you simply can’t buy anything this good in stores). Jeni’s Ice Creams have an ongoing collaborative relationship with Askinosie Chocolate, one of the most established craft chocolate companies in the United States. Jeni writes “We are a true cow-to-cone ice cream company. When Shawn [the owner of Askinosie] and his team say that they are bean-to-bar chocolate makers, they mean it, too.” I’m hard pressed to choose a favorite recipe, but “The Darkest Chocolate Ice Cream in the World” just might be the one.
Regular readers of the blog will recognize Kate Shaffer’s name — she is the artisan behind Black Dinah Chocolatiers of Isle au Haut, Maine, where I spent a magical day this past summer. Her new cookbook captures the warmth and beauty of her chocolates and baked goods as well as her chosen home and community. The recipes include chocolate bonbons, truffles, breakfast pastries, tarts, pies, cakes, cookies, ice creams, sorbets, puddings, and savories. The writing is moving and inspirational, and makes this book an excellent option for aspiring home chocolatiers who are equally invested in personal growth and emotional satisfaction.
You can follow the lovely Black Dinah Chocolatiers on Facebook.
For the serious chocolate geek
Ramon Morató’s impressive book brings together recipes for breakfasts, snacks, drinking chocolate, jams and creams, bonbons, turrons, cakes, plate desserts, petit fours, and more. The techniques range from basic to very advanced. Many of the recipes would be beyond even skilled home chocolatiers because they require special equipment. This book is bilingual in Spanish and English, though the English translations would have benefited from more editing. While they are entirely readable, you might find that you want to pop a term or two into Google Translate as you work through the recipes. Regardless, the advanced recipes and techniques are wild — sure to wow pastry chefs and chocolatiers alike.
This book includes a wide range of chocolate, pastry, and confectionery skills best suited to industry professionals or serious home chocolatiers. Designed as a textbook but presented artistically enough to adorn your coffee table, it covers chocolate composition and basic techniques, equipment needs, advanced methods and recipes, decorating techniques, and chocolate showpiece creation. The author, Ewald Notter, is a renowned master of sugar and chocolate work. If you’ve always wondered how those fragile looking chocolate showpieces manage to stand up, then this is the book for you.
Rosemarie Lewis of Broward City Public Schools, Fort Lauderdale, FL, provides an excellent description of this scholarly tome:
“Grivetti (nutrition, emeritus, Univ. of California, Davis; Food: The Gift of Osiris) and Shapiro (global director of plant science & external research, Mars, Inc.) compile 57 essays by 100 experts—all members of the Chocolate History Group, a UC Davis-Mars collective—in fields ranging from art history to molecular biology; despite these connections to a major U.S. candy producer, branding does not taint this scholarly text on the evolution of chocolate. Antiques aficionados will find four separate studies of chocolate pots engrossing, while crime buffs may be surprised to learn that 13 people were once executed in England for chocolate-related crimes. Ancient chocolate recipes, the role of chocolate in the Inquisition, and an analysis of early chocolate advertising are of particular use to historians. The chapters are arranged in rough chronological, geographical, and topical order, as dictated by the subject matter, and are backed by extensive references. Eleven appendixes, including a comprehensive chocolate time line and a guide to library research etiquette; an index (not seen); and 64 pages of color plates complete this impressive textbook. Recommended for academic libraries and large public libraries.”
This is a canonical text for the serious scholar of chocolate. The book was also an International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) 2010 Award Finalist in the Culinary History category.
Another scholarly work, this is an important text for those interested in the science and technology behind chocolate. It covers cocoa production (cacao bean composition, genotype, fermentation and drying processes, etc), the manufacturing process (mixing, refining, conching, and tempering), and sensory, nutrition, and health aspects of chocolate consumption. This book is best suited for industry professionals, scholars, and serious enthusiasts. I have come to use it as a desk reference.
For the story lover
This memoir, dubbed “The True Story of Two Sisters, Tons of Treats, and the Little Shop That Could,” is a lyrically written, charming tale of the relationship between chocolate and life. The book details the adventures and challenges that two sisters faced starting their own chocolate shop in their twenties (in the 1980s), the many regular customers who became cherished characters, and their work in the writing world. I was especially moved by the sisters’ stories of grief and struggle, from their parents’ experiences as immigrants from Korea to their own life challenges, and how their family repeatedly turned to chocolate for comfort. This book has romance, family drama, loyalty, and courage to spare.
Roald Dahl’s classic likely needs no introduction. This 2011 reprint edition includes whimsical illustrations by Quentin Blake. It’s one of my favorite gifts to share with the kiddos (and youthful grown-ups) in my life.
What’s next on my reading list?
Couture Chocolate: A Masterclass in Chocolate by William Curley
You can follow William Curley on Twitter and Facebook.
Chocolate: Histórias Para Ler e Chorar Por Mais by various authors
Text in Portuguese. Check out a detailed review here. Available now via FNAC Portugal.