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« Speaking about Cookbooks... | Main | For The Sweet Love of Spud »
Monday
Jun132005

Cocolat, Chocolate and Cherries

chocolatecherrycake.jpg
Molten Chocolate Cherry Cakes with Roasted Cherry Compote

 
Many years ago, in the city of my birth, there was a small chocolate shop and bakery. It was located about six or seven blocks away from the very house in which I came into the world, and naturally enough it formed a part of the daily fabric of my life from my earliest moments. A friend of the family worked there and often dropped off leftovers for us to enjoy; weekend mornings often found us taking our place among the hungry crowds waiting at the counter for something sinfully rich to start the day. Birthdays and special occasions were marked by the presence of a pink cardboard box that even today I associate with the sound of astonished gasps. From the enormous display case I remember ordering truffles so large I had to devote a good ten minutes to finishing one, and slices of tarts, tortes and gâteaus so rich and chocolaty they set my hair standing on end. When I was old enough to roam the streets alone, I would often stop in to spend my hard-earned babysitting money on a treat, usually lingering for half an hour or more in front of the display trying to decide which of all those glossy, shimmery, jewel-like concoctions appealed most. For me it was the quintessential neighborhood hangout. It was also an education in chocolate, and I grew up believing this was how chocolate should be.

The city was Berkeley, the decade was the 1980s, and the chocolate shop was the now-legendary Cocolat. At that time, of course, we didn't realize we were sampling history in the making; we just went there because everything was so extraordinarily good. The woman behind Cocolat, Alice Medrich, is now often credited with single-handedly revolutionizing the way Americans eat chocolate, and thinking back, I believe it. Her creations were light-years ahead of what was available everywhere else; everything was dark, dense, elegant and seductively nodding towards Europe, at the same time that everyone else was trying to get their cakes as tall, and their icings as stiff and well-behaved as possible. Medrich is often referred to as the Alice Waters of chocolate, though considering my chocolate-tinged vision of the world I would rather say the opposite. Although she claims that she stumbled her way around her shop for its first few years, blindly concocting recipes and hoping for the best, no one seems to have any doubts now about her brilliance. Her original cookbook Cocolat, now out of print, sells for up to $100 on amazon.com.

Cocolat closed its doors for good in the mid 1990s, which freed up Medrich to concentrate on sharing her profound chocolate wisdom in the form of cookbooks. All her books are luscious, appetite-whetting feasts for the senses, full of unusual and imaginative recipes and breathtaking photographs. Her latest achievement, which I purchased recently in a fit of lustful reminiscence, is truly a thing of beauty. Titled Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate, it chronicles Medrich's lifelong passion for chocolate and the way in which her appreciation of it evolved over time from the days in which the height of chocolate indulgence for her was a Milky Way straight from the freezer. One of the most amusing anecdotes I ran across in this book is the way in which she invented her insanely-popular golf-ball sized truffles which remained Cocolat's signature item until the end: wanting to recreate some of the amazing chocolate truffles she experienced in France, she fiddled around with ganache and melted coverture until she had a size she could easily handle and a taste she thought would sell. What she didn't know was that chocolate had to be tempered, and that not tempering her truffle mixture would cause it to liquefy at room temperature. How did she cope? Why, by selling the truffles cold, of course. She says she cringes at the naivety that went into that recipe; I do anything but cringe as I vividly remember the feel of cold shards of paper-thin chocolate coverture shattering in my mouth and the deliciously cool, velvety-soft ganache I would suck out of the shell in mouthfuls, desperate to finish before everything melted into a gooey puddle. It was, undoubtedly, a stroke of genius. Anybody can make little chocolate truffles and wrap them up in fancy boxes, but only Alice Medrich could make truffle-eating an event requiring one's total concentration.

The last time I visited Cocolat was more than thirteen years ago, and when I later learned it had closed I felt a curious pang of sadness, despite the fact that I now lived hundreds of miles away. Luckily for all of us - those who were lucky enough to know the shop and those who weren't - Cocolat lives on in Alice's recipes, and all I need to do to be transported back to that display case is pick up one of her cookbooks. I never had the good fortune to meet Alice Medrich in person, but I can honestly say she has affected my entire food-based existence very profoundly -  after all, who could grow up down the street from Cocolat and not come away marked forever?


Molten Chocolate Cherry Cakes with Roasted Cherry Compote

Source: adapted from Bittersweet by Alice Medrich
Note: The original recipe calls for raspberry puree to flavor the ganache centers, but I was tempted by the first crop of cherries in the market, so I decided to improvise. If you want to stick to the original, just substitute 1/4 cup strained fresh raspberry puree and 1 tablespoon of sugar for the cherry preserves.
Serves: 6

For cakes:
Sugar for the ramekins

7 oz (200 grams) bittersweet chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)
6 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup cherry preserves, heated and strained (measured after straining)
1 tablespoon kirsch or brandy (optional)
5 tablespoons sugar
2 large eggs
1 egg white
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
pinch salt

For cherry compote:
1 lb. cherries, halved and pitted
juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup sugar
2 tablespoons kirsch or brandy (optional)

Put a pie plate in the freezer to chill. Liberally butter the insides of 6 small ramekins or custard cups, sprinkle with sugar, then tap out the excess.

Melt the chocolate and butter together in the microwave, heating on medium power in 20-second bursts until melted (or do this in a double boiler). Transfer 5 tablespoons of the chocolate mixture to a small bowl, and stir in the cherry preserves and liquor if using. Scrape this into the chilled pie pan and return it to the freezer for ten minutes to harden. When it has, use a small spoon to form the mixture into six round truffles (they don't need to be perfect). Return them to the freezer.

Stir the egg yolks into the remaining chocolate mixture. In a clean bowl beat the three egg whites with the cream of tartar and pinch of salt until they start to form soft peaks. Beat in the sugar a tablespoon at a time, until the peaks are shiny but not dry. Fold about one-quarter of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten, then fold in the rest. Using half the batter, fill each ramekin about half-full. Press one frozen chocolate-cherry truffle into the center of each cup. Cover with the remaining batter, leveling the tops. The truffles should be completely covered. Cover the cups with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 3 hours and up to 3 days.

Preheat the oven to 400F/200C. Combine the all the ingredients for the cherry compote in a baking dish and roast in the oven for about 20 minutes, or until the liquid is syrupy and bubbling thickly. Remove and set aside. Twenty minutes before you want to serve the cakes, remove the plastic wrap from the ramekins and place them on a baking sheet. Bake 10-14 minutes, or until puffed like little souffles and a toothpick inserted in the center meets no resistance. Let the cakes cool for about 3 minutes.

Run a knife around the inside of each cup. Holding with a potholder, invert the cakes onto serving plates. Serve with the roasted cherry compote and a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream or creme fraiche.

Note: When I inverted these, I found that I had inadvertently pressed all my truffles to the bottom, and they broke open as I unmolded the cakes, thus depriving us of the 'molten center' effect. To guard against this, I would reduce the amount of chocolate I used for the truffles to 4 tablespoons, to make sure I would have enough batter to cover them top and bottom. Of course, you could always serve them from the ramekins - then it's like discovering a fountain of liquid gold at the bottom of each cup!

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Reader Comments (29)

Wow that sounds so good! I want one now... and that cookbook!
June 14, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterclare eats
Hi Melissa,

This looks so good. I love chocolate and cherries, so this is a must try when I have the time! =)

Thank you for sharing!
June 14, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterReid
What an absolutely tempting photo! Your images have been especially impressive as of late :)
June 14, 2005 | Unregistered Commentertara
Hi Clare - The cookbook is great - I highly recommend it. It manages to strike that perfect balance between sophistication and 'do-ability'!

Hi Reid - I love chocolate and cherries as well, especially when the cherries actually taste like something! (I've had a few too many tasteless Black Forest Cakes, unfortunately...)

Hi Tara - Thank you :) It seems I'm on a constant learning curve!
June 14, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
Melissa,

I would love to see a post on how to properly temper chocolate for truffles -- whenever I have tried to make them, I have had to keep them cold. No recipe I've seen has mentioned how to combat that issue.
June 14, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Machanic
im speechless.. except for one big long sigh as Im imagining myself eating that chocolate right out of that picture.
June 14, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMichele
Dear Melissa,
beautiful photo composition! I experienced a broad variety of problems inverting/unmolding desserts in the past, but if one owns such nice ramekins - they're more than perfect :) Would have loooooved to try one!
June 14, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterNicky
hi mel, do u have any scrumptuous ideas for our wedding buffet? we need to impress matyldas bf who used to work in a michelin rated place... oh, n we need to impress u as well!
June 14, 2005 | Unregistered Commentergoogs
Hi Adam - I'm so sorry to tell you that I've never unlocked the secret of tempering either. It just sounds so scary, and to be honest I've never possessed the right equipment, namely an accurate thermometer! They actually sell specialized tempering machines that heat and cool the chocolate to the right temperatures, but I don't think I'm quite ready to make that kind of investment. Actually an interesting thing I learned from Alice is that untempered chocolate tastes more intense, since the cocoa crystals melt at a lower temperature in the mouth. So maybe serving cold truffles isn't so bad after all!

Hi Michele - Don't worry - I'm working on perfecting a digital taste transfer system, so soon you'll be able to just lick my posts on your screen, kind of like scratch n' sniff! ;)

Hi Nicky - Thanks for your compliments! I actually bought these ramekins because I always have disasters unmolding, and my others were too ugly to bring to the table... Funny how it's often the easiest things that create the most headaches!

Hiya googs - Oh my, wedding buffet ideas! What about a selection of chocolate desserts? Nobody needs real food at a wedding, do they? ;) Then again maybe you'd better ask me again after my chocolate withdrawl has worn off - I finished the last of these cakes yesterday and I've been drooling over the sight of this picture all day...
June 15, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
further evidence of my heathenry: my high school days were spent in palo alto, and i probably only went into cocolat in the stanford shopping center maybe twice. once that i remember. i could use the defense that i've never had a predilection for chocolate, but i do know i had a vehement reaction against the logo. i believe my undying devotion to the face magazine, i-D, and neville brody turned me against cocolat at a formative age. although i own several alice medrich cookbooks, none of them had made much of an impression, but it has been years since i've opened them up. perhaps, with the death of the face (RIP), my own rather sluttish design aesthetic, and the grudging admittance that i currently have ten pounds of couverture chocolate in my pantry, it's time to revisit her.
June 15, 2005 | Unregistered Commentersantos.
Hi Melissa, Always am entertained by your copy and photos! I have two of Alice's books and agree they are great.
I am sending you an email asking you to participate in the new MEME from Oliver of Delicious Days.
June 15, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterChefdoc
Oh Santos, can you believe I didn't even realize Cocolat morphed into a chain? I mean, I think I remember that there was a second location in Berkeley, but you make it sound...well, like Starbucks! Seeing as my only experience was with the original, and I was pretty young and impressionable at the time, if you don't mind I'll just keep my picture-perfect memories and forget you ever said anything about the Stanford shopping center... ;)

Hi Chefdoc - Glad you agree about Alice Medrich - I was starting to doubt myself here! And I'm honored to continue Nicky and Oliver's meme. There's going to be a lot of meme action going on here over the next few days...watch this space!
June 15, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
Cherry fever must be in the air because I've also been playing with recipe ideas. I spotted the brandy in the compote right away and immediately began salivating...chocolate and cherries=YUMMY!

Regarding your comment about the duck/pear recipe--ha!--wouldn't you know, I picked up one of those $5 spanish recipe books at Borders and based the dish on that and another version I found online. I believe the recipe was taken from the Basque area, although at this moment, I would not know where in Spain that would be. Heck, I just wanna go there and eat!
June 16, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterrowena
Hi Rowena - I thought I recognized the dish from Barcelona, though I must say I didn't know they ate anything like that in the Basque Country as well - and I used to live there! I do consider those two regions of Spain to be the best gastronomically - make sure to visit both when you go there!
June 16, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
Ah, yes, Cocolat. I walked by the Berkeley store daily in college yet it took my mom to get me inside. I still remember those truffles . . . and the cakes! The cakes! Your post reminds me of my own chocolate history and Cocolat was key. :-) Now I have Scharffen Berger . . .where do I go next?
June 16, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAmyBee
hi again, r u over the chocolate craze? i wanna point u in the direction of smoked salmon...! u see i just cannot give up asking u for some advice, n as u know we have our own self-fished wild salmon. we r thinking of smoking a little off it for the buffet. what can we serve it with? eggs seem a bit boring? ps. ur blog is going marvellously well! its buzzing isnt it!
June 16, 2005 | Unregistered Commentergoogs
Hi AmyBee - Looks like we've got some shared history! I want to attempt those truffles, but I'm strangely reluctant - on one hand, I'm afraid to find they won't live up to memory (is that possible?) and on the other I'm afraid I'll just sit down and polish off a whole batch! Btw, I saw my first ever mention of Sharffen Berger chocolate in a British food magazine - they were raving about it as 'one of the top artisan chocolates in the world'. Don't know if you can beat that - sounds pretty tops to me :)

Hi googs - You should know as well as anybody the chocolate craze is never really over ;) What about a smoked salmon paté? Or something we had at my wedding was small endive leaves with cream cheese, thin slices of smoked salmon and capers, and it was fantastic! I'll think some more and write you an email, okay?
June 16, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
hi from another alice medrich fan. i never went to cocolat but i got medrich's book at booksamillion for around $35. just thankful that now there are serious chocolate purveyors all over, online and off. your pic is absolutely mouthwatering!
June 17, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterstef
Hi! Looks great. I would like to try it but don't think I can get hold of Cream of Tartar! Is there anything I could use as substitution? Thanx!
June 17, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterce
Hi Stef - I agree, good chocolate is certainly easier to find now than it used to be. Sometimes I'm even overwhelmed by the the choice - single origin or blend, multiple bean varieties, levels of roasting, different vintages... More difficult than choosing wine! ;)

Hi Ce - Cream of tartar is an acid salt, apparently, and from what I've read you can substitute another neutral-tasting acid (like white vinegar) in the same quantity. It simply helps to stabilize the egg whites a bit, but to be honest I've made plenty of beaten egg white confections without it and never had any problem. Just treat them gently so you don't lose too much air as you're folding in and you should be fine :)
June 17, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
You are evil!! I am meant to be on a diet, and then I chance on these! How am I meant to lose weight if you continue posting things like this. I guess the diet will have to start tomorrow.....again :)
June 17, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterCashzilla
Oh dear Cashzilla - that was honestly not my intention. If I had known you were meant to be starting your diet I would have posted a salad instead. Well, now that the deed's done you might as well enjoy yourself! ;)
June 17, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
Hi Melissa,
Alice Medrich is one of my favorite cookbook authors too! Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Baking inspired my baking philosophy: low-fat can equal luscious desserts! Last summer, I bought Cocolat at Strand's (a legendary used book store in NYC) for about $15. It's even AUTOGRAPHED! I originally planned on reselling it on Amazon.com to make some extra bucks, but when I read the book, I couldn't bear to part with it. I think it's very similar to Bittersweet, so you aren't missing out on anything.
Hi Jessica - Lucky you - even autographed! I also have a couple of cookbooks I could make a little money on, but some things are just too sacred, aren't they?
July 1, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
Ah, Scharffen Berger. I haven't tasted too many other artisan chocolates. S-B is housed in a historic brick building in semi-industrial Berkeley (Emeryville?). They give a very informative if tortuous (the smell! the smell!) tour of the whole facility, ending, of course, in the store. I bought just this morning a bar of bittersweet intended as a gift. It's in the trunk of my car right now. Do I go get it and hoard it in my desk drawer, savoring small bites here and there or do I hold out and virtuously save it for The Gift? (Of course, I can always get another one . . .)
July 12, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAmyBee
Cherries are most probably the sexiest fruit ever in terms of color, shape, etc. Even more than strawberries, or even mango!
In terms of symolism; strawberries are more heart shaped = romance. cherries look more like a certain part of the human body = making love.
Which leads me to this:
This recipe sounds absolutely orgasmic. This is aphrodesiac material. Seriously powerful stuff.
July 29, 2005 | Unregistered Commentermalka lev adom
Yes! I’ve lost count of how many times various reviews and blogs have made note of the value we chocophiles place on Alice Medrich’s first two books “Cocolat” and “Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts”. Those classics have been out of print for years. When you can find them at all, they sell second-hand for triple or more their original price. While Alice’s later books do add tips about high-percentage chocolates, most of the later recipes are tweaks on the repertoire birthed to the world in those first two books (by far the best photographed too).

Here’s an idea: Why not collect the acclaim of loyal fans to lobby for getting those classics reprinted? I volunteer to collect ‘virtual signatures’ on a ‘virtual petition’. Email me -- cocaomama@yahoo.com -- with your moniker and email address -- I’ll send them on in batches of 10, and report back periodically on our cumulative numbers.

Dear Alice Medrich,
Please update and reprint your classic books “Cocolat” and “Chocolate and the Art of the Low-Fat Desserts”! I want them and I’ll buy them! Signed ____________________.
October 5, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterElisa
What a great post about Alice Medrich. I too, am a fan of her cookbooks, and am blogging about a couple of her recipes. I just made her intensely bittersweet souffles.

October 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterVeron

Wow! This was trully an amazing, educating post! Thank you soo much for posting! :)

September 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSeenHooneRany

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