Thursday, June 18, 2009

Jacques Torres invites you to spend 'A Year In Chocolate'

By Helen Klein

As Brooklyn’s preeminent chocolatier knows, there are seasons even in chocolate.

Jacques Torres, who wows devotees of the cacao been with the masterful confections served at his charming DUMBO storefront, now pulls out all the stops for the home chef, in his new volume, A Year in Chocolate (Stewart, Tabori and Chang).

The volume, said Torres during a phone interview, mirrors the rhythm of his culinary life, with “different chocolates in different months.” Chocolate desserts and confections, Torres asserted, “Change with the season, change with produce, change with what you are craving for and change with the holidays. What you eat at Easter,” he added, “is not what you eat at Christmas.”

Part of this, Torres noted, has to do with what you yearn for at different times of the year.

“In fall,” he said, “you start craving apples, pears, caramel, maple. Winter is more about exotic fruits -- banana, pineapple, mango -- as well as some winter items such as chestnuts, caramel and coffee, foods that make you feel good. Spring has so much to offer, what’s fresh and coming up. It’s very whimsical, so we play a lot with fruits. To me, mint is more spring, passion fruit is more spring, all refreshing flavors will be spring.”

For summer, finally, “We try to stay a little bit lighter,” said Torres. “It’s almost easier, with ice creams, refreshing cold drinks, pastries and cupcakes.”

With precise instructions and glorious photographs, the volume is at once both tempting and satisfying, like a sip of Torres’ own hot chocolate. And, devotees of the confections Torres offers up at his 66 Water Street emporium will be happy to learn that some of their favorites can be made in the home kitchen, following the recipes in the book.

These include Mendiants, chocolates studded with dried fruits and nuts; Chocolate-Chocolate Biscotti; and Chocolate Caramel Corn, as well as the Bûche de Noel, which is one of the longer recipes in the book.

The Bûche de Noel -- a favorite French Christmastime cake -- is “what we did this year for our customers,” Torres attested. “When things work well, we don’t change them.” As for the Chocolate Caramel Corn, Torres said, “You can come here and buy it in bags. It’s exactly what we do here.”

Asked to name a favorite recipe, Torres demurred. “I don’t really have a favorite,” he confessed. “What is in the book is really what I like. If I don’t like it, it won’t be in the book.”

While some of the recipes may be somewhat complicated to follow, simplicity of flavor is primary, said Torres. The key, he stressed, is to “extract the most flavor possible and use good ingredients. The less you put flavors on top of each other, the better it is.”

Many of the recipes in the book can be accomplished easily by home cooks with just a bit of culinary confidence; however, they should not be put off by the length and complexity of some of the more detailed recipes, Torres stressed. “Pastry is sometimes a little bit intimidating,” he remarked. “I tell people, try to do it. If it doesn’t work once, that’s okay. Try to do it again. I promise that by doing that, you’ll become better at it.”

Reading through the recipes, and gazing at the pictures, it’s clear why Torres’ shop in DUMBO has been so successful during the eight years it’s been open. But, he recalled, when he first arrived in the neighborhood, it was not the chic place it is today. “There was not one retail store in the neighborhood,” Torres said. “I was the first one to sign a contract for a retail store. I think I got pretty lucky.”

While Torres doesn’t often dine out in Brooklyn, one of his favorite borough restaurants is the River Café. “It’s good, always a sure value,” Torres noted. He also noted he doesn’t often eat at informal places like the local pizza parlor. That being said, however, Torres did mention that he sometimes orders from the “pizza parlor next to my place,” which he said was really good.

Chocolate Almond Chews


1¾ cups plus 2 tablespoons almond paste

5 large eggs, at room temperature

½ cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder

½ cup plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted and cooled


Preheat the oven to 350° F. Lightly butter and flour miniature muffin pans or similar-sized flexible molds. Or, line the cups with paper liners.

Place the almond paste in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle and beat on medium speed until softened. Begin adding the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the cocoa powder and beat until blended. Then add the butter and continue beating until completely blended.

Spoon the batter into the prepared muffin pans, filling each cup to within about ⅛ inch of the rim. Bake for 8 minutes, or until just set. Be careful not to overbake, or the chews will dry out. Remove from the oven and transfer to wire racks to cool.

Layer the chews, separated by sheets of waxed paper, in an airtight container and store at room temperature for up to 1 week.


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