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The Essence of Chocolate

(article, Ashley Brodie)

In the mid-1990s Robert Steinberg, a Bay Area physician who had become enamored of chocolate-making, asked John Scharffenberger, a former patient and successful winemaker, to start a chocolate company with him. Scharffenberger agreed, lent his name to the company's venture, and the pair left their previous careers behind in favor of cacao. 
The Scharffen Berger chocolate company's first cookbook, The Essence of Chocolate, is a gateway to the luscious world of cocoa cooking. Broken down into three sections — two on desserts and one on savory dishes — the book feels nearly as rich as the treats it serves up.

The first section, “Intensely Chocolate,” includes such traditional desserts as chocolate mousse, fudgy brownies, and the ever-popular chocolate cake. The second section, “Essentially Chocolate,” is filled with more measured (if you will) recipes, including chocolate-chunk cheesecake, milk chocolate truffles, and the unusual, delicious orange-chocolate baklava.  

If you’re not salivating yet, delve into the third and final section, “A Hint of Chocolate,” dedicated to savory dishes with a sweet twist. Here chocolate spices up a pot of baked beans, serves as a rub for meats, and provides the perfect surprise in a loaf of challah. 

Scharffenberger and Steinberg stir plenty of history and lore into their book. Did you know that brownies are named after tiny elfin characters from Palmer Cox’s popular cartoons and poems? Or that we owe milk chocolate — the most widely consumed form of cacao today — to Henri Nestlé and his employee Daniel Peters, who discovered milk chocolate after Peters used Nestlé’s mixing techniques to combine chocolate with 20 percent milk solids?


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The Essence of Chocolate provides a smooth blend of chocolate legends and decadent desserts, but with its glossy photography, pristine pages, and dense heft (it weighs nearly four pounds), it seems more likely to wind up on the coffee table than the countertop. When you find yourself washing your hands between each ingredient for fear of smudging a page, you wonder whether this book is meant for the kitchen or the library.

Either way, The Essence of Chocolate is a worthy book for chocolate enthusiasts everywhere.

p(bio). Ashley Brodie is a writer based in Portland, Oregon.

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