Reviewed by Bourbonnatrix of Bourbonnatrix Bakes
I was very excited to get Couture Chocolate, A Masterclass in Chocolate by William Curley to review. The book’s cover immediately grabbed my attention with it’s beautiful picture of a fancy looking chocolate dessert. I was happy to see that the book didn’t have a dust jacket, just a heavy stock soft cover with a satiny finish.
I quickly flipped through the pages, starting from the back, and was drawn in by the beautifully styled and photographs of various pastries.
The pictures in this book are absolutely gorgeous. You’d think one would get tired of looking at yet another chocolate or truffle, but the lighting and food styling makes everything pop right off the page. A picture of the final product of every single recipe is included in the book, and some of the recipes have pictures of the process guiding you along.
I was worried that the recipes would be hard for me to understand as I am used to North American cookbooks, but the recipes include both weight in metric, imperial, and volume for most ingredients. Oven temperatures are listed in C, F, and gas marks. Even in the directions, the author included precisions to account for different appellations in different countries (icing/powdered/pure sugar, or sillicone/baking paper and pastry/piping bag and nozzles/tips). Even with these additions to the text, I still found the recipes quite clear and easy to understand.
After a brief introduction and presentation of different aspects of chocolate, the author jumps right into the classic method of tempering chocolate, a process that is used in the majority of the recipes in the book.
Pictures of the process help comprehension, and included are pictures of correctly tempered chocolate, and incorrectly tempered chocolate.
The process for making ganache is also explained, and is referred to often in the recipes.
The first chapter is dedicated to truffles. After explaining what a truffle is, and a couple of basic methods to make truffles, recipes include range from basic dark and milk truffles, to the more interesting nutty dacquoise, framboise, cassis and hibiscus, and chestnut and praline truffles. An asian influence is very present right from the beginning of the book, with recipes for matcha and pistachio, yamazaki single malt whisky & dacquoise, and japanese sake & kinako truffles.
In the couture chocolates, methods for cutting and dipping chocolates, layering, making infused ganaches and decorating are explained with clear and inviting photographs.
The recipes include chocolates flavored with hazelnuts, pistachios, coffee and walnut, while spicier versions include lemongrass and ginger, szechuan pepper, cardamom and star anise. The use of sweet herbs is highlighted in recipes using rosemary and olive oil, honey, jasmine, lavender and thai basil. Chocolates with savory herbs such as tarragon and mustard, fresh mint, thyme and honey or shiso are also suggested. Again, Japanese influenced recipes are included: Green tea chocolates, Houji Cha, Japanese black vinegar, yuzu, matcha and apricot & wasabi. Recipes for raspberry chocolates, apple & bramble, juniper berry & black currant and passion fruit & mango are proposed before moving on to chocolate in moulds.
The pictures included in the explanation of the process of making chocolates in moulds are a big help. Recipes for caramel fillings range from sea salt caramel, salted butter & muscovado, orange & balsamic, ginger, to black olive and tomato caramel, a recipe that could have benefited from an intro to convince me that this was a recipe worth trying.
The bars and bites chapter highlights more interesting flavor combinations such as confit orange, apricot & cranberry and autumn fruits as toppings for chocolate bars. Recipes for infused bars include rosemary & sea salt, basil & black pepper and mint, while a filled bar recipe calls for feuillantine filing.
The chapter is rounded out with a recipe for walnut brittle, chocolate thins, chocolate lollipops, florentines and cerises au kirsch.
The Bouchées chapter of the book contains a mishmash of recipe for different confections. The millionaire’s shortbread is quite stunning, and the author makes the macaron recipes seem very easy. The chocolate & praline dacquoise immediately went on my to bake list while the architectural chocolate croquants make me wonder how one is supposed to eat these desserts.
But it is the blackcurrant teacakes I chose to test out, merely because the “cookie” reminds me of my childhood (although the version I ate as a child was nowhere as elegant and sophisticated), and I love chocolate covered marshmallows.
And this recipe really delivered. What the author calls teacakes is a sweet pastry topped with blackcurrant jam, then a dollop of marshmallows flavored with blackcurrant purée, then covered in tempered chocolate.
I chose to use raspberry purée in the marshmallow, since I couldn’t find blackcurrants and used store-bought blackcurrant jam. It was my first time using leaf gelatine to make marshmallows, and I was happy with the way they turned out. I was able to top the cookies, and have a small pan of marshmallows to eat as is.
Even though I failed at tempering the chocolate, the cookie was still one of the best treats I have made in a long time! So delicious!
In the next chapter, Cakes and Biscuits, chocolate is showcased in madeleines, with figs in littles cakes, with rum & raisins, in a chestnut and sesame brownie and in florentines.
I really wish a pictures of the molds used to make the chocolate financiers with yuzu ganache would have been provided, as it’s not a mold I have used before (or seen, I think). The chocolate bretons seem interesting, but again, I would have liked to see a picture of the tartlet rings recommended. A nicely detailed step by step picture for assembling hollandaise biscuits made the recipe less daunting and seem more accessible.
I decided to try the Molleaux au Chocolat, described as a moist and tender chocolate cake, baked in a muffin mould lined with parchment paper. I have to admit that I picked it because it was one of the easier recipes in the book, and I was short on time. The cakes came together quickly and easily, but unfortunately the texture didn’t quite appeal to us. I also gave the chocolate chip cookies a try, but that recipe didn’t work for us either. The cookies was heavy on chocolate and nuts, and there wasn’t much dough to them.
I also decided to try the Chocolate Rosettes with Cinnamon Ganache. The cookie was similar to a sablé, and the ganache was silky smooth. I really enjoyed those cookies.
Although the pictures are not as dramatic as the ones in the previous chapters, the desserts in the patisserie chapter are so beautiful and elaborate that you quickly disregard weird backgrounds to focus on the beautiful creations.
Classics like the mille feuille, the mont blanc, the sacher, the opera and the black forest are beautifully executed and are the picture of perfection. We also find out that the dessert picture on the cover is a completely edible chocolate tiramisu casket. There are also instruction on how to make elaborate chocolate decorations to finish off the pastries.
While the instructions for the recipes included in this book are pretty clear, the recipes themselves are quite complex, many of them requiring many components. It’s a lovely book to get inspired by when one feels like making an elaborate dessert and I was glad to get a chance to review it. I will surely revisit it when the urge to bake a fancy dessert arises!