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.

For everyone

The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao With Recipes by Maricel Presilla

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

Chocolate Fortunes: The Battle For the Hearts, Minds, and Wallets of China’s Consumers by Lawrence Allen

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.

Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry Between the World’s Greatest Chocolate Makers by Deborah Cadbury

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.

Chocolate Nations: Living and Dying For Cocoa in West Africa by Órla Ryan

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

Cooking With Chocolate: Essential Recipes and Techniques by Frédéric Bau

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.

Adventures With Chocolate: 80 Sensational Recipes by Paul A. Young

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.

You can follow the charismatic Paul A. Young on Twitter and Facebook.

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams at Home by Jeni Britton Bauer

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.

You can follow the whimsical Jeni’s Ice Cream company on Twitter and Facebook.

Desserted: Recipes and Tales from an Island Chocolatier by Kate Shaffer

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

Chocolate by Ramon Morató

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.

The Art of the Chocolatier: From Classic Confections To Sensational Showpieces by Ewald Notter

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.

Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage edited by Louis Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro

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.

Chocolate Science and Technology by Emmanuel Afoakwa

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

Chocolate Chocolate by Frances Park and Ginger Park

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.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

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?

Chocolate, Chocolate, Chocolate by Jean-Pierre Wybauw

Couture Chocolate: A Masterclass in Chocolate by William Curley
You can follow William Curley on Twitter and Facebook.

Melt: A Book of Chocolate by Louise Nason and Chikako Watanabe

Check out a detailed review here. Available now via Amazon UK.
You can follow Melt Chocolates via Twitter and Facebook.

Chocolat Chaud by Jean-Paul Hévin
Text in French. Check out a detailed review here. Available now via Amazon France.
You can follow Jean-Paul Hévin on 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.

With gratitude to Cesária Évora (August 27, 1941 – December 17, 2011)

Cesária Évora and Carla Martin in Mindelo, São Vicente, 2004

Cesária Évora and Carla Martin in Mindelo, São Vicente, 2004

Today the world says goodbye to Cesária Évora, also known as “The Barefoot Diva,” “the queen of morna,” and the “unofficial ambassador of Cape Verde to the world.”

What readers of this blog may or may not know is that, in my non-chocolate life, I have devoted nearly a decade to the study of Cape Verdean language and music, the focus of my undergraduate thesis and now my doctoral dissertation. The passion for this topic began quite simply, with the purchase of one life-changing album, Cesária Évora’s 1999 release “Café Atlântico.” Over the course of my research, I had the honor and privilege to work with Cesária on multiple occasions. One outcome of that work is the article that I wrote for Transition Magazine, a semi biographical piece entitled Cesária Évora: “The Barefoot Diva” and Other Stories [pdf], which traces her career from its humble beginnings to a Grammy award, a Légion d’honneur, and worldwide fame.

While I played just a small role in Cesária’s remarkable life, she was a monumental figure in mine. She had a voice like none other, an unforgettable, wry sense of humor, a seemingly tireless work ethic, and a generosity that touched many. We once joked that she was even gracious enough to share her birthday with me; we were born exactly forty years apart. Cesária’s experiences as a performer from a developing country who conquered the genre of world music raised many questions about racial and socioeconomic injustice, gender and sexuality, the politics of representation, honesty in production and marketing, hierarchies of quality, and myths of purity. These are the very questions she encouraged me to ask about Cape Verde and the West, and that I continue to ask about chocolate in my current research.

When Cesária announced her retirement in September of this year, she told Véronique Mortaigne, the author of one of her biographies: “I have no strength, no energy. I want you to tell my fans: I’m sorry, but now I must rest. I deeply regret having to take time off due to illness, I wanted to still give pleasure to those who followed me for so long.”

I join a chorus heard round the world in offering sincere condolences to Cesária’s family, friends, and loving community of fans. May we take comfort in fond remembrances and her incredible legacy of sound. And may she rest in peace.

Thank you, Cize, for the extraordinary gift that you have shared with us.

Handmade holiday gift guide for chocolate lovers

Chocolate Christmas decorations by Hellebardius

The holiday season is upon us and every chocolate lover knows that means it’s time for presents!

The tricky part of buying for a chocolate lover has to do with the nature of chocolate itself. Chocolate is an inherently experiential gift. It is often beautiful to behold, artistically presented, and even more wonderful to eat. Still, I believe that part of what draws us to chocolate is its ephemeral quality. What is a gift giver, seeker of long term memory approval, to do once that chocolate has, umm, like… ephemerized?

Another challenge presents itself when choosing chocolate to gift to a hopeless chocoholic. We can be an opinionated bunch, snobbish to a fault, and the last thing a gifter wants to do is disappoint us with a sub-par bar. “Yucky bar and pathetic gifter of such, get thee out of our hearts and homes!” we have been known to shout.

For those who would like to gift something unique but a bit more physically permanent, or for those who fear the ire of a disapproving chocoholic, not to worry. I’ve curated two Etsy treasury lists inspired by chocolate, but not actually made up of chocolate. (OK, there is one chocolate item below, and yes, it is an edible chocolate space invader, from fresh as a newborn baby bean-to-bar maker Fruition Chocolate, and it is awesome, and the chocolate loving geek in your life needs it.)

These treasury lists include something for lots of different style profiles and interests. They are just the tip of the iceberg, too — Etsy has over 80,000 chocolate-specific listings to choose from. The majority of the items on these lists are affordable for a variety of price ranges, so if you’re on a budget, like most of us are, you don’t need to break the bank. For the darling 1%er reader(s?), the lists even include something for you. That’s right, if you’re looking to spend $32,500 on a non-functional sculptural chocolate pot, then by all means, click away!

Of course, the real bonus in shopping this way comes from partaking of the joy that is Etsy. Most often that means communicating directly with the seller, purchasing a one of a kind, handmade work of art, and supporting an independent, creative maker. And that, chocolate lovers and lovers of chocolate lovers, is memory making.

List 1:

List 2:

If these lists don’t satisfy your gifting needs, stay tuned for more over the next week!

In Defense of White Chocolate, by Jennifer Doody

white chocolate bar by chotda

The world of chocolate is one sharply divided by hierarchies of cocoa content. I must solemnly confess that I have long harbored a prejudice against white chocolate and, by extension, consumers of white chocolate. Perhaps this distaste developed in response to the cloyingly sweet white chocolate Easter confections of my youth, or as a natural extension of a passion for dark chocolate. Why sully such perfection by removing cocoa content? However, when author Jennifer Doody told me — at our first face-to-face meeting, while she sipped on a white hot chocolate (gasp!) — that she was a fan of the ivory colored stuff, I was first shocked and dismayed, then deeply fascinated. Please teach me more about your kind, I implored! Her response is below.

And I ask you, fellow lovers of chocolate, what do you think?


In Defense of White Chocolate, by Jennifer Doody

Several years ago, a close friend and I were musing about one of our favorite things.

“What type of chocolate do you like best?” she asked warmly.

I didn’t hesitate. “White chocolate, definitely,” I said.

She stared at me in disbelief and then uttered a sentence I’ve heard many times since.

“That’s not chocolate,” she huffed.

I was taken aback. Of course it was chocolate: it said so on the bar! But alas, no amount of marketing citations or arguments would sway my friend. The fact that white chocolate contains cocoa butter, but not cocoa solids, was irrefutable evidence against white chocolate’s inclusion in the world of Real, Actual Chocolate.

Ever since that exchange, I have had to come to a brutal realization. Despite my love of the German chocolate of my youth, I simply am not a cocoa snob.

That’s not to say that I don’t appreciate fine chocolate. I do. But when friends discuss the eloquence of cacao nibs, wax rhapsodically over a newly discovered delicacy with an enormously high cocoa content, or rave about semisweet, bittersweet, or super dark chocolate… my eyes glaze over. Just the tiniest bit, mind you. But enough for me to know, deep down in my bones, that I’m afraid of being found out; I fear that my love for the sweet, creamy texture of white chocolate will render me an outcast among my fellow chocoholic friends.

So what is at the center of the controversy? How can such a sweet, ivory treat generate such division among friends? For those opposed to white chocolate, it primarily has to do with how the composition and creation of white chocolate differs from that of other chocolates.

HowStuffWorks provides a clear, layperson’s explanation of the chocolate production process. In a nutshell, cacao nibs are separated from the shells of roasted cacao beans, and then ground into a brown paste called cocoa mass. Cocoa mass is then heated and melted to become chocolate liquor – a slight misnomer, as the liquor is not alcoholic.

Here’s where it gets interesting, because one of two things can be done with chocolate liquor. First, it can be molded and cooled into hardened blocks. This process results in unsweetened chocolate, which most of us know as unsweetened baking chocolate. Chocolate liquor alone can be quite bitter tasting, so chocolate makers often combine it with a variety of delicious products, such as sugar, powdered dairy, vanilla, or other flavors.

Another option for chocolate liquor, however, is to “press it in a hydraulic press to squeeze out the fat. When you do that, what you are left with is a dry cake of the ground cocoa bean solids and cocoa butter.” Cocoa solids go on to become what we know as cocoa powder. It is the latter product, the cocoa butter, the fat of the cacao bean, which goes into white chocolate.

Cocoa butter is a rather magical substance. Renowned for its stability and texture, it possesses natural antioxidants, which help maintain its storage life for multiple years. Its luxurious feel, mild chocolate fragrance, and emollient properties make it a popular ingredient in cosmetic products, including skin creams, soaps, and makeup. Because it is nontoxic and melts at body temperature, it is also used in the pharmaceutical industry as an ingredient in suppositories and oral medications.

For our purposes, however, cocoa butter plays a crucial role in the making of white chocolate. White chocolate makers combine cocoa butter, a sweetener – usually sugar, though other sweeteners are increasingly common – as well as powdered dairy or a nondairy alternative, and vanilla. Various other ingredients can also be added, such as fruits, nuts, or herbs.

(Unfortunately, not all white chocolate is created equal. Some manufacturers add hydrogenated vegetable oils or animal fats in place of cocoa butter in addition to less desirable sweeteners and preservatives. If you are a white chocolate lover, it’s possible that the white chocolate you’re consuming possesses no cocoa butter whatsoever. Read the ingredients list of any product that you consider buying to be sure that you are getting white chocolate instead of a mock white chocolate confectionery product.)

To better regulate the industry, in 2002, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared that white chocolate must contain “a minimum of 20% cocoa butter, a minimum of 15% of total milk solids, a minimum of 3.5% milk fat, and a maximum of 55% nutritive carbohydrate sweeteners.” By contrast, milk chocolate, sweet chocolate and semisweet/dark chocolate must contain no less than 10%, 15% and 35% chocolate liquor, respectively. (This is in addition to the cocoa butter that chocolate makers add to these types of chocolate.)

So for those opposed to white chocolate, much of their argument relies on the fact that white chocolate does not contain cocoa solids. But do not milk and dark chocolate possess the cocoa butter that gives white chocolate its creamy, velvety texture? Is milk or dark chocolate rendered any less divine because it contains the controversial cocoa butter ingredient? As a fellow white chocolate aficionado insists, “Isn’t it all chocolate?”

Purists and nibs connoisseurs will cry foul. Nay, they will proclaim, only the almighty cocoa solids can bestow the glorious title of chocolate upon a product! The bitterness of dark chocolate only further affirms me as a chocolate fanatic! My zeal for the meat of the cocoa bean cannot be undermined or besmirched! And to those fine, passionate people – many of them dear friends of mine – I can only nod and say, of course. As you will. Carry on.

It just means there’s more of my beloved white chocolate for me.


Jennifer Doody is a writer with 20 years experience in university news, communications, and academic editing, based in Boston, Massachusetts. Visit her professional site here to read more of her work.

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    Bittersweet Notes is an open source research project on chocolate, culture, and the politics of food. I invite you to join me as I explore the story of chocolate and the life stories of those involved with chocolate at its many stages of production and consumption.

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