Appetite for Books
Chocolate Holidays
Unforgettable Desserts for
Every Season

by Alice Medrich
Artisan, 2005
paper, 132 pages

HOW CAN YOU not like Alice Medrich? She's an award winning cookbook author, who works in the beloved medium of chocolate. But here's what clinched it for me - she eats dessert for breakfast.

Okay maybe not the truffles (but who knows), but why not Chocolate Cranberry Bread Pudding or Chocolate Banana Blintzes?

Even though Medrich eats chocolate everyday, she understands that sometimes restraint is the key to success, especially in seasonal recipes. Spring is heralded with Apricot Orange Wedding Cakes, golden cupcakes with a sheen of white chocolate glaze. In summer, hot waffle ice cream sandwiches, cocoa waffles and coffee ice cream are a fun, backyard treat.

Other seasons warrant a bit less restraint. Autumn adapts with chocolate filled Day of the Dead cookies or caramel apples with a chocolate scarf draped on top of their caramel overcoats.  Winter warrants Very Rich Hot Chocolate with three chunks of bittersweet chocolate melted into warm milk, or a Chocolate Cranberry Babka.

In the babka Medrich does another taste balancing act, with a filling of chocolate chips, tart dried cranberries, brown sugar, cocoa, and coffee powder laced through a a chewy sweet yeast bread. The bread is enriched with - are you sitting down? - five eggs and two and half sticks of butter, jelly-rolled around the filling, and cut into slabs. The dough is sticky, so Medrich sensibly suggests putting the cake together in piled slices that mix and tumble in the tube pan. Kind of like an incredibly rich, chocolatey, and unruly monkey bread, this babka is one to be made again and again for brunches, holiday breakfasts, or a rainy Sunday.

I'm not a tremendous chocolate lover, but can you read my enthusiasm for these recipes? Medrich knows when to go full-cacao with killing recipes like Hot Chocolate Soufflés or a Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake topped with shards of caramel peanut brittle, but she fully appreciates the value of contrast.

Medrich makes Black-and-White Apricot Pecan Cake easy with her excellent directions, prepping your ingredients so there's no last minute scurrying when it's time to make the batter. And what a batter it is, a tang of buttermilk, the earthy roundness of bourbon, tart shards of dried apricot, and that's just the white side. A cup of the white batter is mixed with a dense mocha paste of cocoa, espresso powder and sugar. The long slow bake yields a moist cake spiked with bites of tart apricot slivers laced through delicate white and smoky deep chocolate swirls.
Along with clear directions, Medrich begins the book with guidance on techniques and ingredients. She advocates paying attention to details, but balances the payoff of a pastry chef's meticulousness, with the ease for the home kitchen.

Medrich's guidance will help you to be a better cook, more sensitive to textures, colors, and ultimately, flavor. But it's her recipes that might get you eating chocolate for breakfast.

© 2005 Claudia Kousoulas
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