For most people chocolate is a treat, and for some it becomes a passion. But it's rare that a person entirely escapes its allure.
Wherever you fall on the spectrum, Marcel Desaulniers can teach you something about chocolate.
Best known as the "Death by Chocolate" guy since the 1992 publication of his award-winning first book of chocolate recipes, Desaulniers runs the Trellis Restaurant in Williamsburg, Va., where his Death by Chocolate Cake and other concoctions can in themselves make the drive worthwhile, never mind all the history nearby.
Desaulniers' latest book, Celebrate With Chocolate (HarperCollins Publishers, 2002, $24.95), features a range of chocolate fantasies, all of them in some way over the top. If you're a chocoholic or cook for someone who is, you'll no doubt find something in this book worth trying.
The 45 recipes range from relatively simple and straightforward, such as Chocolate-in-Paradise Toasted Almond Bark, to elaborate and time-consuming. Instructions for the Chocolate Grasshopper Ice Cream Sandwich run a full four pages, while many others are almost that long. But these detail-rich recipes can walk a novice through a preparation process that would otherwise be overwhelmingly complex.
Even better, the recipes are preceded by a chapter devoted to equipment, ingredients and techniques -- with each of these sections containing the kind of inside information that can make the difference between a book you'll merely drool over for a while then put away and one that can earn its place as a well-thumbed kitchen companion.
Chocolate-in-Paradise Toasted Almond Bark
Makes 1 3/4 pounds
1/3 cup dried apricots, cut into 1/4 -inch pieces (see note)
1/3 cup dried mangoes, cut into 1/4 -inch pieces
1/3 cup dried papayas, cut into 1/4 -inch pieces
1/3 cup dried pineapples, cut into 1/4 -inch pieces
1 1/2 cups whole toasted almonds
12 ounces semisweet baking chocolate, coarsely chopped
Line a baking sheet with sides with parchment paper. Combine the dried fruit in a small bowl. Place the almonds in a large bowl. Melt coarsely chopped chocolate in a glass bowl in a microwave oven. Use a spatula to stir the melted chocolate until it is smooth. Pour the melted chocolate over the almonds and use a rubber spatula to combine.
Transfer the chocolate-and-almond mixture to the lined baking sheet. Use a rubber spatula (or an offset spatula) to spread the mixture as evenly as possible into a rectangle approximately 8 inches by 12 inches. Sprinkle the dried fruit uniformly over the entire surface of the chocolate-and-almond mixture. Use the palms of your hands to gently press the fruit into the chocolate.
Cover the baking sheet with plastic wrap and refrigerate until the bark is hard, about 30 minutes. Remove the baking sheet from the refrigerator and transfer the bark to a cutting board. Use a cook's knife to cut the bark into pieces the size you want. Refrigerate in a tightly sealed plastic container.
Because the chocolate for this bark is not tempered, it is a messy, albeit delectable, affair if you attempt to eat it out of hand. You can eat it alone or chop the 1/2 inch or so pieces and sprinkle it over your favorite ice cream.
Note: For a clean cut and properly diced pieces of dried fruit, use a serrated stainless-steel cook's knife. Or, if you prefer, you can substitute Sun-Maid Tropical Medley, available at most supermarkets. Each 7-ounce package contains a mix of the above fruit, along with two or three others.