There’s chocolate and then there’s that stuff you find in shiny wrappers at the grocery store checkout counter. “That’s not chocolate, that’s just candy,” says John Scharffenberger, co-founder of Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker.
Real chocolate, as it turns out, has the power to transcend the quick fix found in these counterfeit confections. With 70-, 80-, even 90-percent pure cacao content, it can provide a richer, more meaningful experience. Sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s true. High-quality chocolate, the kind John speaks of, is the subject of the Hyperion book The Essence of Chocolate, and is capable of creating a seductive, delectable, tongue-to-toes tingling moment.
“At first, chocolate should be a little tart,” John explains. “That tartness turns into fruity flavors. As your mouth gets bathed in fat and sugar, you should feel a smoothness in the middle of your palate. Then your mouth starts to dry out a little from the tannins; and the finish should never be harsh.”
Tempted? Just flip through The Essence of Chocolate written by John, Scharffen Berger co-founder Robert Steinberg, and culinary writer Ann Krueger Spivack. Featuring mouthwatering images from award-winning cookbook photographer Deborah Jones, this chocoholic’s page-turner contains recipes drawn from the Scharffen Berger files and two dozen top pastry chefs. The chocolatiers separate these recipes into three categories—”Intensely Chocolate,” “Essentially Chocolate,” and “A Hint of Chocolate”—designed to please the discriminating taste buds of foodies and amateur chefs alike.
With image after beautiful image, the book tells the story of how John, an award-winning vintner, and Robert, a former physician, started their business in Robert’s home kitchen, and details their passionate search for the world’s best cocoa beans. From the Chocolate Martini to the Chile-Marinated Flank Steak, The Essence of Chocolate tells us there are many ways to use chocolate in the kitchen. According to John, you don’t even need to have a knack for baking or grilling to enjoy the “fruits” of the cocoa bean. “If you get a high-quality, 70-percent chocolate, you can just serve it in chunks with nuts and fruits,” he says.
Some of the recipes, however, beg you to look at this palatable ingredient in a whole new way. “Cocoa powder makes the perfect rub for meats,” John says. “I’ve been doing rubs for a long time with 50-percent cocoa powder and 50-percent kosher salt. You can also add a little bit of chili for some kick. I use it a lot on flank steak and lamb.”
Chocolate on meat? Really? Aren’t there, say, boundaries we shouldn’t cross? Apparently not. “What happens is the cocoa powder starts to expand and forms a really nice crust,” he says. “So you won’t have a chocolate flavor. It mutates into something else, and it keeps the meat juicy.”
It gets better. Besides claims of dark chocolate being a great antioxidant, helping maintain a robust immune system, and a fabulous skin softener (“It absolutely does not cause zits!” John says), these recipes are simple and easy to follow. With more than 100 richly illustrated treats that will remind you to take time to stop and smell the cocoa, the only hard part is knowing just where to start.
9 ounces 62-percent semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 teaspoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
4 large eggs
1/4 cup granulated sugar
Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Arrange four ovenproof coffee mugs in a baking or roasting pan. Place the chocolate and butter in the top of a double broiler set over gently simmering water and whisk occasionally until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and set aside. Stir the eggs and sugar together in the bowl of a stand mixer, then set over the simmering water and stir until warm to the touch.
Place the bowl on the stand mixer and, using the whisk attachment, beat for 3 to 5 minutes until light and fluffy. Remove from the mixer, and fold the eggs into the chocolate mixture until it is light and smooth. Spoon the batter into the cups. Add enough very hot water to the baking pan to come halfway up the sides of the cups. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. The baked hot chocolates will be done when the tops lose their glossy finish.
A wooden skewer inserted in the top will emerge clean but batter toward the bottom of the cup will still be very moist. Carefully remove the cups from the pan. The cakes can be served warm, at room temperature, or covered and refrigerated for up to one day. To reheat, bring to room temperature and place in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 5 minutes, or until warm. Serve topped with a dollop of whipped cream. Serves 4.
This recipe has been converted from a larger quantity in the restaurant kitchens. The flavor profile may vary from the restaurant’s version.