Lebovitz Talks Tapenade but Sprinkles Chocolate Wisdom

1-David LebovitzChocolate is life serves as a useful mantra, but a life enjoyed chocolate-plus is just that much more tasty. It is just one reason why it is absolutely worth snatching the opportunity to hear baking and blogging maestro David Lebovitz talk of non-cacao-based foods during a recent New York City demo of a tapenade recipe from his 2015 James Beard Foundation nominated book, My Paris Kitchen.

Lebovitz, who left San Francisco for Paris, before learning to speak the fluent French he shares now in frequent asides with artist Romain Pellas who acts in both life partner and acting sous chef/in-kitchen critic capacities, explained that MPK was created to explain in part the Paris in which he lives, not the one that others visit or dream of. His goal was to, “present a different perspective, because I’ve lived there 14 years.” It is a perspective formed by life that is “not a part of the ‘left bank life’,” but lived in his branché neighborhood, “a whole different world” where he bonds with natives such as the râleur (complainer) of the local market from whom he acquired his tapenade until he retired, forcing Lebovitz to work through the steps to find the recipe he includes in the book, an all purpose, ingredients-everywhere, green olive basil and almond tapenade.

A key part of cooking in Lebovitz’s Paris is active engagement with the concept of au pif, which is [extremely] liberally translated as seasoning, baking, and following all recipes based on what you have on hand and to one’s own taste. Among other bits of personal wit and cooking wisdom Lebovitz proffered while making his tapenade (which he described “a poverty dish,” something that purposes every food scrap) is a belief that rosé wine is under-under-under appreciated and like all wine can always benefit from an ice cube splash; that a $25 bottle of quality olive oil is worth much more in the kitchen in general than a similarly priced bottle of wine on the table; that it is absolutely worth the effort to carry multiple liters of olive oil from Italy to his Brooklyn apartment and as many pounds as can possibly be carried of Costco pecans to his Paris flat; that one should be wary of storing things in the freezer because it is easy to lose them there; and that the flavor of capers shine best when rinsed and dried before using.

While chocolate was not the subject of the demo, there are recipes in the book such as his Bûche de Noël, a chocolate cake with salted butter and caramel sauce, and a chocolate terrine with fresh ginger crème. And Lebovitz, who famously made his bones creating desserts for Chez Panisse never leaves those roots behind. Describing a key part of French culinary philosophy to provide balance and consistency with dishes, he uses Valrhona Chocolate as an example of how diners in his adopted country are more taken with subtle herb flavors in their chocolates and other foods than those of his native land, who are more excited by the palate pop that comes with a spicier bite.

While signing books, Lebovitz, also author of The Big Book of Chocolate, shared a nostalgic note about his an early chocolate taste of inspiration — from a bit of Baker’s unsweetened chocolate he and his mother were using for a chocolate souffle recipe from the Settlement Cook Book. He did not, however, reveal the next masterful chocolate recipe he will be unveiling, preferring to save it for the book he suggested a couple times he was playing hooky from working on…

…which only whets the appetite for that book, tour, demo, and, of course, exploring  the recipes at home, au pif.

Don’t Hit Them, Eat the (Chocolate) Books

chocolate booksMuch can be said about chocolate as the hook upon which to hang a narrative. For non-fiction it might be the big bang for a review of issues arising from an incident of killing bears in New Hampshire, or destroying monkey habitats in the Cote d’Ivoire. The cacao pod can also germinate into a policy discussion on international trade as Canada and Mexico currently threaten a war using US chocolate as a hostage. It may also support an economics case study as in the case of how Venezuela’s President Maduro screws up Venezuela’s cocoa trade as he also dissolves the positives in the remainder of his country’s economy.

Or it could be the genesis for fiction. Recently, proving that powdered cocoa actually can expire, an Italian granny poisoned famiglia by serving from a package more than 30 years old. For novelists in search of ignition, there are also the tragic tales with comic elements of the Syrian refugee who on his eighteenth attempt to flee the country’s misery nearly drowned in a tank of British chocolate, and the Granite State hunter who killed the bears with dark chocolate but was so heartbroken he took the season off hunting them with bullets.

While the quality brown continues to intrigue authors and readers, changes in publishing provide less incentive to write those stories. However, as long as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory tops lists of favorite books at least a few cocoa-themed books to make it to shelves.

Among recent publications to seek are mystery writer Joanna Fluke’s latest in the Hannah Swensen series, Double Fudge Brownie Murder, as well as the paperback Hallmark Channel movie tie-in for The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder.

For readers whose interests head in the direction of gay-themed steampunk romance there is H.B. Kurtzwilde’s Chocolatiers of the High Winds, while those with a preference for the more evangelical Christian of themes may find succor in the pages of Deb Burma’s Living a Chocolate Life.

Providing middle-schoolers interested in health (or needing to write a report on something interesting), something to chew on there is Chocolate: Sweet Science & Dark Secrets of the World’s Favorite Treat by Kay Frydenborg. Finally, there is the most traditional of looks at chocolate: the methods and recipes book of a noted chocoaltiere, in this case choco-genius Fritz Knipschildt’s (and co-author Mary Goodbody’s) Chocopologie

If after reading all this you find yourself too tired to red, there is also Book, The Baking of courtesy of Ann Reardon.

#chocolate #videos #books

Funeral Cakes, Death, Chocolate & More

chocolate skull cakeOctober is National Dessert Month, and also in its build up to Halloween, a celebration of death in various but still appetizing forms. What could be a better time than to talk about the choice between cake and death, as Eddie Izzard does,

or a touch more soberly to discuss (Chocolate) Funeral Cakes?

Not yet completely soberly. We note that serving a chocolate skull cake might work for some, but is for most people a goober of bad taste at funerals.

Funeral cakes are traditional, and traditionally quick and easy to construct: death is not something for which one is supposed to prepare. Generally, they also aren’t the most sophisticated taste fusions, as there should not be that much time to make them, and, presumably, the baker has more imposing thoughts hanging above his or head. That said, they do come in a multitude of varieties, ranging from the out-of-the-box ordinary to the out-of-the-bottle versions such as Coca-Cola chocolate funeral cake with Coca-Cola icing.

None of this should be confused with Day of the Dead cakes — often, surprisingly enough, baked for weddings. That holiday, blooming from Mexican roots is celebrated post-Halloween, over November’s first two days.

Back to funeral cakes, which also (in hopefully the final tangent) are also not to be confused with the popular restaurant dessert, “death by chocolate,” which is usually an excuse for a junior, so-called,”patissier” at a chain restaurant to see how much chocolate s/he can cram into a dessert at an appropriate for the owner price point.

While death by chocolate is not related, food studies Ph.D. candidates will surely be able to trace the links between funeral cakes, funeral biscuits, funeral cookies and journal cakes. All of which is apparently within the domain of knowledge required of your average funeral director.

For most non-funeral directors, however, all the knowledge of funeral cakes usually required is that it be relatively easy to make and that it mostly arrives as a sheet (or half sheet) cake in the spirit of what The Pioneer Woman calls The Best Chocolate Sheet Cake. Ever.

One last (promise!) side note, while name-brand chefs have recipes for almost everything, none seems to have put their name on a funeral cake concoction. It’s not clear at all why. Would it really be that bad for their brand? It’s not like they would likely be dragged into a bit of funeral cake and workplace noir (as envisioned by Team Action Seal for the 2014 Austin 48-hour film project), featuring stolen break room swag and the may-it-live-forever-online quote, “My [funeral] cake was gone and my life was over. Things couldn’t get any worse. Then things got worse …”

#chocolate #halloween #dayofthedead #foodhistory

Beginning with Charlie and Chocolate

chocolate booksA new Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory book cover appears gratuitous, not least because the book biz is hurting enough without shooting itself in the face with artwork.

But maybe it is genius?

Perhaps it’s a diabolical plan to spend a bit for a new, outrageous cover in the British market that is so off-putting as to inspire worldwide publicity and drive book buyers to pony up for other copies of Charlie? It may be the fiftieth anniversary of the title, but that doesn’t mean it can’t use a bit of push to get off the shelves. (Maybe instead of the ugly cover they should have made more of the lost chapter?)

In that spirit, our rose-colored-glasses, glass-half-full selves are inspired to note a few more books about chocolate that deserve their own push as holiday buying season opens up. Having started with Charlie, we’ll note that piggybacking on the anniversary celebration is Inside Charlie’s Chocolate Factory, a miscellanea of information on how the book came about.

On the subject of books for kids, there is a new picture book for young (to be) reader, The Cookie Catastrophe, and a new title for libraries and schools, Chocolate (Explore!), as well as a young readers’ mystery, Secrets at the Chocolate Mansion .

With any luck for embattled publishers, readers of that Secrets will age into exploring further the niche chocolate has in the mystery genre. Current queen of the genre, Johanna Carl (who kindly answered questions here) is newly represented in her Chocoholic Mystery series by The Chocolate Clown Corpse. Also new is the initial “Chocolate Covery Mystery,” Death Is Like a Box of Chocolates], which situates bad happenings in a small chocolate shop in Maryland.

Regarding small and unexpected things, there is a recently released chapbook of well reviewed poetry built around a rhapsody on chocolate, This Is Belgian Chocolate: Manifestations of Poetry.

Not last. Never least. There are words to be read about chocolate as food. Consider sharing Chocolate: 90 Sinful and Sumptuous Indulgences, which includes a particular coffee-chocolate cake celebration. Recipients will also be grateful for The Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie Book, which includes background on the Toll House Cookie creation myth; a print adaptation of lessons from the Ecole Grand Chocolat Valrhona in Chocolate Master Class: Essential Recipes and Techniques; a recap in pictures, notes, chef profiles and recipes of the 2011 World Chocolate Masters Competition in A World of Chocolate; and a revelry of mini-masterpieces to bring to life at home that comes with its #foodporn…

as trailer for celebrichef Will Torrent‘s new book, Chocolate at Home.

From controversy to food porn via chocolate-inspired poetry. Honestly, publishing has seen worse days.

#chocolate #books #foodporn

ChocoMas Bells Ringing Soon

White Chocolate Xmas Tree - Jacques TorresOnly 14 shopping days left until ChocoMas. What to do?

Should we prepare for the big day by making batches of triple chocolate granola our breakfast every day? Would it be better to channel the spirit of so many overwhelmed shoppers and kvetch? In this case lamenting the traditional way of counting down with whinging about chocolate Advent calendars being a sham as thechocolate is usually crap? And in that spirit of desultory countdown, should we fwo wup frm eating too many (any?) “limited edition” White Chocolate Pringles or await the promise of the more sophisticated Japanese French Fries dipped in chocolate scheduled to debut 9 January?

On a much happier note, how many hours of practice (10,000?) until we can build a white chocolate Christmas Tree as gorgeous as chocomaestro Jacques Torres’ table delight?

Speaking of people making things in “the spirit of the season” nobody previously thought they needed, we seem to have missed out on the potential to contribute via Kickstarter to Las Vegas performance of the chocolate “Jesus Melts for You”:

As well as investing in a company with a business plan to bring one’s own personal chocolate Jesus to life

There is still pre-Chocomas time, however, to claim our chocolate paint; invest via IndieGogo in chocolate diet sticks with guaranteed pre-1 January delivery or via Kickstarter in a new chocolate stores Apropo Chocolates in New York City or The Chocolatier in Wellington, New Zealand; or just download ChocoMap a free app promising directions for any smart phone user to the nearest chocolatiere?

So many choices and work to do. Only 14 days to go …

The Outside Is Chocolate; the Inside …?

chocolate shreds balls sticksWhat goes into chocolate? Looking around we’ve recently seen inspiration … and, fortunately not as often, sometimes sadness.

Starting at the happy end of the scale, reading about the glories of Yerba mate led us to a couple yerbamateplanet.com bros chilling in a seemingly slightly dystopic bachelor pad and talking cocoa nib/shredded coconut yerba mate brew

And that got us thinking about and then moving down the path of nutritious, if unexpected, pairings. Recent news highlighted the new Exo protein-saturated, ground-cricket chocolate bar (with tweeted updates from @exo_protein) and the entrepreneurial, Kickstarted “dream” to mainstream insect consumption. [See also, the earlier Q&A with “Bug Chef” David George Gordon.

Following that trail dropped us on top of other news items and recipes, including chocolate beet ice cream, Jack Daniels whisky-filled chocolate bars and celeb chef Marcus Samuelson’s (more from @MarcusCooks) concoction of chocolate bark with quinoa and a dash of cayenne.

Toward the less-happy edge of the scale there is the virus causing frost pod rot that, theoretically, threatens the world’s chocolate supply at some point in the future if not dealt with, and in a bit of how evil can overshadow ecstasy, smugglers encased elephants tusks inside chocolate to sneak them past the law.

But to take the mind back to a happier place and the goodness that should be inherent and infused in chocolate, we also stumbled across chocolate-slathered jerky from Portland’s Shurky Jurky:

Anyway, time to stop thinking about what’s inside the chocolate, start baking and get back to the fun of nibbling at the outside.

German Didn’t Invent “His” Chocolate Cake and Was an Englishman

German's Sweet Chocolate pkg.Sam German got swallowed by his cake. A southern belle lost her name altogether. And a cake was given origins not its own. Happy National German Chocolate Cake Day!

History (with editiorializing) and recipes.

Sam German is credited for a sweet chocolate unveiled 1852 for the company of mid-18th century chocolatiere John Hannon and financier James Baker (and, yes, we notice whose name stuck). An Englishman who worked first holding Walker Baker’s horses, he rose to “senior chocolate maker,” and German’s Chocolate became a hit first with younger kids and then women of (most often) Southern kitchens using it in a particular style of chocolate cake. One such lady of the kitchen (now known to culinary history only as “a homemaker in Dallas, Texas” … honestly: google around if you don’t believe it) submitted her recipe version of “German’s Chocolate Cake” to the local paper … and General Foods (owner then of Baker’s, currently Kraft has the honor) took the cake viral, providing pics and the recipe for papers nationwide.

Naturally, since punctuation is hard (?), the apostrophe was soon as lost as the name of the Texas baker. That has led to the general assumption that the cake has Teutonic origins, making it a perfect dessert complement for Oktoberfests. It is all quite the odd deconstruction of sweet history.

Anyway, recipes in case that this is how you wish to honor the day. There’s Kraft’s posting of the original buttermilk-based recipe. However, as much as we honor kitchen innovator German and an anonymous Bluebonnet Belle, we have to admit being a bit more inspired in our own kitchen by the slightly baroque take of Brown Eyed Baker (@browneyedbaker), who recommends the cake for Father’s Day (Sunday) in case you’re looking for a “ ‘man’s man’ cake”; an “Inside-Out” version highlighted in a March 2000 Gourmet from Waitsfield, Vermont’s Mary Laulis’Bridge Street Bakery and Mary Laulis; and a mini version, layered and with a chocolate ganache courtesy of A Farm Girl’s Dabbles (note the apostrophes).

Genießen sie die Deutsch schokoladenkuchen!

Out of Office, Out of Mind ChocoTravels

heart on chocolateWhen the forecast calls for rain  foretelling fractionalized foot traffic, our forebrains focus on the foreign. In other words — and without f’ing around anymore — maybe it’s time to take a choco-themed trip? An imaginary one (in case it doesn’t rain or there’ll be more business tomorrow) to Europe.

Let’s start with a quick stop in the land of blarney. Famed Irish potato chip creator Tayto has gone where no one would ever previously considered to dare. They introduced a limited edition, crispy chocolate bar, a flavor with odd appeal worldwide described as “an unusual taste — crunchy chocolate and then a lingering taste of cheese of onion,” consumed faster and by larger quantities of people than common sense would ever suggest. Could there be an odd — and, yes, we do mean, odd — bar left for us to pick up and consider?

Next, it’s southeast to France. There, we’re torn about how to approach Paris. Should we go the ChocoParis walking tour route and head in a pre-planned direction? Or would it be better to wander rue to rue searching for that one chocolatiere that could actually serve as a real life setting for the love stories of Jenny Colgan’s Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris?

Perhaps we should forego Paris and hie to the country’s “chocolate capitol,” Bayonne. The city fathers just begun a two-day festival celebrating cacao creations and paying particular tribute to the traveling Jews who spent some time in the city laying the foundation for today’s acclaim, before getting kicked out because … well just because.

Upon return from this trip of the mind we’re thinking right now to go Italian. End the faux travels with chocolate lasagna, a meat dish courtesy of French-Swiss Francis-Xavier and then follow with dessert courtesy of a post of San Diego’s Vanessa (@cleandirtyeats) who put up a chocolate lasagna recipe at her Clean Eating With a Dirty Mind site.

Back to hoping for work. Delicious travels all.

National Chocolate Custard Month, Believe It or Not

chocolate cookingIf for whatever personal perversity you wanted to test the chances of being able to grow tired of chocolate custard then today is the first day of the rest of your life (well, month really). They — again, who gave these proclaimers such power — deem May National Chocolate Custard Month (although there is a minority opinion that with some merit suggests celebrating not the whole month, but just the third day).

It’s not clear why “they” didn’t declare this (at least in America) as Nat’l Puddin’ Mont’ since most of our countrymen can’t explain or even tell the difference. (It has to do with ingredients and a preference for eggs in the big C and cornstarch or similar thickener in the little P.) But “they” didn’t so we get 31 days to play with the ideas inspired by eggs mixed with milk or cream, sweetened with honey, flavored with chocolate and maybe vanilla and then heated with a low flame until stiff.

Custard’s history goes back at least to ancient roman Marcus Gavius Apicius, often credited with being the first cookbook author, provides written history’s first pudding (tirpatinam) — no doubt lacking chocolate only because this particular gift of the gods hadn’t worked it’s way so far east or west.

His ingredients are (more or less) 2 ¼ cups milk, 6 eggs, 3 tbsp. honey and a dash of black pepper to sprinkle on top after the eggs, milk and honey have been mixed and heated over a low flame until stiff.

To update this for celebration 3 May (shoutout to @foodimentary) we’re trying to create a vegan modern Roman chocolate pudding with a few less calories (real, marketing name to-be-determined), in case somehow someone walks in the door asking for that? So far:


    • 2 cups almond milk
    • ¼ cup agave
    • 1 ½ cups silken tofu
    • 4 tbsp stevia
    • ½ cup cocoa powder
    • Dash of sea salt


Whisk milk and agave together, food process all ingredients together for a few beats then everything food processed and poured into an 11″x7″ pan. Pan sits in water bath to bake at 325º for 30 minutes or until tester can be inserted and then removed cleanly. (For stovetop cooking pot sits over a low to medium flame and with limited stirring the custard is never allowed to do more than simmer.) A light sprinkle of sea salt to replace Apicius’ pepper garnish.

Admittedly, with only a few hours left we’re not quite there yet. So, also in mind are inspirations for a variety of medium, such as:

Chocolate Cherry Trifle — a Nigella Lawson 12-hour, 45-minute creation (of which 30 minutes is prep and 15 of cooking) that is a chocolate custard over cherry jam pound cake (the recipe does separate out her chocolate custard recipe)

Chocolate Custard Muffins

Chocolate Magic Custard Cake — from “white couple on rice” Todd Porter and Diane Cu

Banana Tartlets with Chocolate Custard (the custard to be made a day ahead) that continues the ongoing theme of bananas and chocolate. [See earlier: Chocolate Bananas Dinner Menu Fantasy]

Anyway, enough about history and the work of others. Time to play with chocolate custard … and maybe sell something in the front of the store.

No Chocolate Mousse Droppings Today

chocolate cookingTo celebrate the serious and silly, make sure to take part in today’s celebration of National Chocolate Mousse Day, while not quite letting go of Easter — or for extreme frivolity, 6 March’s National White Chocolate Cheesecake celebration. Voila! From the hallowed halls of the Smithsonian, or at least its magazine’s blog comes a recipe for Chocolate Mousse Peeps, with their truly faint echoes of Easter (available as cats, reindeer,or teddy bears): Directions

  1. Melt Peeps with heavy whipping cream in a saucepan.
  2. Pour into serving glasses.
  3. Zest some sugar from still-intact peeps (alternatively, grind a bit of cacao, espresso, sugar mixture) over the top.
  4. Chill.

While we can’t see a day when chocolate mousse will be highlighted in the store, that doesn’t mean we don’t think you shouldn’t whip some up at home when the mood strikes … and not just on its “national” holiday. When you do, you can class up the presentation by mentioning that your version probably traces its history back at least to French chefs of the late 17th or early 18th century (“mousse” is French for “foam”)and that in America, the popularity of the dessert probably began as far back as the 1890s gilded age, but that the electric mixers of the 1930s — allowing for a more thoroughly whipped egg — expanded its horizons. And, if by chance you participated in this year’s 6 March National White Chocolate Cheesecake Day gala, you might even be able to throw bits of that into the blender, while paying homage to Chef Michel Fitoussi and his 1977 creation of the white chocolate mousse. Or you can do it right by following/adapting proper chocolate mousse recipes from Epicurious, David Lebovitz channeling Julia Child’s “perfect chocolate mousse recipe”, the five easy ingredient chocolate mousse, or the more adventurous Tofu52’s  There’s No Way It’s Tofu Chocolate Mousse that’s also vegan and gluten free, or Shiska in the Kitchen’s Greek Yogurt Chocolate Mousse. The thing to remember is that today’s a national celebration. Enjoy. It may seem daunting to get perfect, but a basic chocolate mousse is easy enough that even your average (well, above average in cuteness) 5- and 7-year-olds can do it. (Courtesy of The Black Sheep Cooking Club)