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Book Review: Bittersweet – A Sweet, Seductive Way to Spend an Evening Alice Medrich

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The recipes in Alice Medrich's award-winning Bittersweet: A Sweet, Seductive Way to Spend an Evening range from savory to sweet and all spotlight fine chocolate, now more that ever available in local supermarkets. Medrich’s essays between the recipes are a delight and more instructional than the recipes themselves. She tells of opening her Berkeley bakery Cocolat in a time when most Americans’ chocolate tastes ranged from Fudgesicles to Hershey’s kisses. As a contemporary to Alice Waters, Medrich helped launch the renaissance of serious chocolate here in America.

Though her savory recipes deserve applause for the possibility of incorporating chocolate into every meal, her sweets are succulent and surprisingly easy. Her Bittersweet Decadence Cookies take no more than an hour from prep to completion. They are nutty and craggy with whole chocolate chunks barely held together by a tangy chocolate batter. I recommend using the highest percentage chocolate available for the chunks and the batter and eating them still hot, letting someone else lick the molten chocolate from your chin.

My favorite possibility in this book is tempering chocolate. The purpose of tempering chocolate is to melt it, maintaining the correct temperature (touch your lips for a clue), dip in a bit of ganache, and cool the chocolate so it hardens around the ganache creating a shell that cracks when bitten. Medrich’s explanation and instructions for tempering are geared toward the home cook. She gives a passing nod to a marble slab, preferring to melt the chocolate in a double boiler and seeding the chocolate from an already tempered hunk. She recommends using a tempering tool to dip your ganache, but I find fingers in warm, silky chocolate rolling around a bit of ganache and then rubbing the whole thing in a batch of nuts to be so much more appealing. Fingers become tempered themselves opening up a world of possible body parts to dipped; the bittersweet chocolate hardened and nibbled off by a willing partner. Or if you’re alone, so much the better. Open a bottle of wine and dim the lights. The recipes in this book are too seductive to share.

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