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Review: Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé

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Chocolate Desserts by Pierre Hermé
By Dorie Greenspan
ISBN: 0316357413
Publisher: Little, Brown
Publication date: Sept. 20, 2001
Format: Hardcover
List price: $40 (Canada, UK)
Type: Chocolate desserts
Sample recipe: Moist & Nutty Brownies
intended audience: novice advanced beginner good home cook gourmet professional
apparent goal: stocking stuffer sampler coffee-table comprehensive biblical stature
competition: outclassed also-ran midrange strong challenger leads the pack
# of recipes: <50 <100 <200 <300 >300
practical recipes: <20% <40% <60% <80% >80%
# of ingredients: <3 <6 <9 <12 >12
ingredient hunt: 7-11 pantry supermarket online airfare required
recipe complexity: baby steps simple medium intense professional
instructions: inadequate bare bones full figured educational verbose
time conscious: outright lies speed of light fairly quick takes time takes all day
photos/drawings: skimpy adequate generous instructive glorious
recipe results: dorm food casual food family meals fancy food fit for royalty
flavor quotient: disappointing fair good delicious exceptional
layout: ick cluttered clean a pleasure work of art
legibility: microscopic challenging adequate clear brilliant
production quality: cheesy questionable average years of service gift-quality
value: ouch! a little pricey worth splurging on the money excellent
Ease of Use
page numbers: invisible hard to find spotty adequate obvious
table of contents: missing pointless frustrating fine helpful
index quality: none tragic adequate good excellent
page flipping: infuriating tedious acceptable rare never
writer: hack committee cook turned writer writer turned cook celebrity/auteur
cooking heritage: unknown self-taught non-restaurant chef celebrity
overall rating: fair good above average excellent Ochef Top 100
Comments: We have made many truffles in our day and have not come upon anything better than the Caramel-Chocolate Truffles in this book. Yes, we burned the sugar on our first try (Hermé uses the pastry chef's method of heating a small amount of sugar on the bottom of a heavy pan, letting it start to color and then adding more and more sugar, rather than the home cook's method of dissolving sugar in a bit of water, evaporating away the water and then cooking more until the hot sugar reaches the right color), but the results were worth the false start. And we haven't even tried the Milk Chocolate & Passion Fruit Truffles or the Sichuan-Pepper Chocolate Truffles yet.

A follow-on to the very successful Desserts by Pierre Hermé (Canada, UK) by the same cooking-writing duo, chocolate seemed the logical next step for an ultimate-indulgence cookbook, and we're inclined to agree.

The book's chapters take in cakes; cookies; tarts; puddings, custards & mousses; truffles and other candies; frozen chocolate desserts; and hot & cold drinks. There is also a substantial glossary and a list of cookware and ingredients sources for those who don't live down the street from a Valrhona chocolate store.

Some of these desserts are well within the scope of an advanced-beginner cook, even a courageous beginner. Many are more challenging, though. And, as can be expected with this kind of book, many desserts require several separate recipes, all artfully executed and beautifully assembled near serving time — the Plasir Sucré, for example requires the Whipped Cream, the Dacquoise, the Praline, the Sauce, the Ganache, and the Chocolate Sheets all before getting to the assembly. The authors are conscientious, though, about noting which components may be made ahead and which whole desserts can be stored or frozen for days or weeks or months.

As expected in a book written by Dorie Greenspan, the instructions are crystal clear and extensive. The number of recipes that fit on one page can almost be counted on one finger, and some stretch beyond four pages, and have you flipping back and forth to the section on Base Recipes for fundamental building blocks. But the recipes are clear. If you can read and follow directions, you can make many of these desserts. And it goes almost without saying that you will want to make them.

The photos by Jean-Louis Bloch-Lainé are stunning, and will probably encourage more sales of the book than the recipes themselves. The great disappointment of this book, of course, is that mere human beings won't be able to recreate desserts that look like those in the photos. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.


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