Chocolate Epiphany: Exceptional Cookies, Cakes, and Confections for Everyone
by François Payard, Anne E. McBride
Publisher: Clarkson Potter, Country: US
ISBN: 9780307393463, Year: 2008
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.

Overview

François Payard’s chocolate-flavored follow-up to his award-winning Simply Sensational Desserts is also a winner, packed with 99 new recipes that explore the massive potential of chocolate in an amazing variety of desserts. Payard’s French roots are definitely evident in this book, though there are a few American, Italian, and Spanish influences. Chocolate Epiphany is the perfect book for the adventurous home baker with a love for all things chocolate.

Full review

Structure of the book

The book has 99 new recipes in 7 chapters:
Breads and Brunch Dishes (7 recipes)
Cookies and petits fours (18 recipes)
Candies and chocolate (16 recipes)
Custards, mousses, meringues, and ice cream (18 recipes)
Tarts (9 recipes)
Cakes (22 recipes)
Plated desserts (9 recipes)
He begins the book by discussing the qualities of good chocolate and sharing a few baking tips. After the recipes he has an additional chapter for the basics, such as browned butter, praline paste, Sacher cake, and sweet tart dough.

About the author

François Payard is a third-generation French pâtissier and James Beard award winner for his previous book on pastry, Simply Sensational Desserts. He owns Payard Pâtisserie and Bistro in New York. There are a few contributions by his brother Charlie and Eric Estrella (Payard’s former corporate pastry chef).

How is this book interesting/special/new/useful?

Since the highly celebrated book Simply Sensational Desserts had gone out of print, I thought I had missed my chance to try the recipes of one of New York’s most famous pastry chefs. I was a little disappointed to hear that Payard’s new book would focus on chocolate, since I already had Pierre Hermé’s Chocolate Desserts book and thought I would be getting more or less the same kinds of recipes. However, even though Chocolate Desserts is the closest comparison you may draw with this book in terms of the scope in which it explores the various forms of chocolate in pastry (cakes, tarts, custards, mousses, cookies), Payard’s book is much wider in scope and there is greater variety in the types of recipes you’ll find. For instance, Payard includes a few recipes for bread (chocolate cherry bread with cocoa nibs and chocolate brioche). You’ll also notice that his book has a slight bias towards cakes, and with good reason. This book isn’t about different ways to dress up one basic cake. Payard includes recipes for cheesecake, pudding cake, crepe cake, flourless cake, angel food cake; classics like Gâteau Basque, Saint-Honoré, Paris-Brest, and Savarin; unusual creations such as creme catalane cake and turron cake; and majestic creations such as an American Opera cake and Black Forest. At the very start of the custards chapter you’ll already find a recipe for panna cotta, pots de creme, crême brulée, mousse, and parfait. Those looking for an adventure in working with chocolate will not find a dull moment in this book.

The instructions are remarkably detailed but still concise. Measurements are provided in both gram weights (used to test the recipes) and volume equivalents. Like most chocolate books released in recent times, Payard gives a few tips on decorating with chocolate and shares his unusual technique of using a paint roller.

What problems/flaws are there?

While the book is geared towards home bakers of varying proficiencies, many might find that a search for the usual cravings will come up a little confused. You won’t find recipes for brownies or triple chocolate cookies, or even muffins in here. Even as Payard has adjusted the tastes in his pâtisserie to suit the American palate, the recipes in this book are still heavily French in character, which is hardly a fault but it’s still difficult to become enthusiastic about “muscadines” or “chardons” with no photographs to accompany some of them. It will take a bit of reading (each recipe has a bit of a background) and an open mind to try some of the recipes. Fortunately, there are only a few recipes that don’t have photographs.

The book takes a few adventurous steps in flavor (pairing chocolate with sweet potatoes, yuzu, apples, star anise, or saffron, especially in the Tarts chapter), but mostly the book stays within tried-and-tested combinations such as peanuts, caramel, coffee, and berries.

Who might enjoy/use this book most?

The adventurous home baker with a love for all things chocolate will thoroughly enjoy its many magical transformations in this book. The recipes range from very easy (cookies, afternoon cake, pudding cake) to highly advanced (such as the Fontainebleau: layered chocolate mousse, raspberries, and sacher cake glazed and wrapped in joconde). Though it’s not a very large book (about 8 by 11 inches and 3/4 inch thick), it’s packed with quality recipes from a great pastry chef for a reasonably low price.

Main rating: Highly recommended
Visual appeal: Attractive
Suitability as a gift: Quite nice
This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
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3 Comments

  1. Posted 21 Dec 2008 at 23:15 | Permalink

    Sounds like just the book for adventurous old me Mark. I’ve been looking at this book for a while, & though I find it ‘too chocolatey’ at times, it’s a great book to have on my shelf. Love the review!

  2. y
    Posted 01 Jan 2009 at 13:41 | Permalink

    Great review, Mark. I’ve been wondering whether or not this book would be a useful addition to the cookbooks I already have concerning chocolate. That creme catalan cake sounds intriguing.

  3. Posted 10 Jan 2009 at 09:56 | Permalink

    Deeba: Ah, I’m not sure you can hate chocolate and own this book, hehe.

    Y: Thank you! The creme catalane cake is layered in a bowl, so it’s a dome– nice presentation. I think Payard has done well with the book :)

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