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As Americans have become fascinated by chocolate, and especially high-quality chocolate, one name has risen above the rest: Scharffen Berger. Founded in 1996 by Robert Steinberg, a physician and amateur chef, and John Scharffenberger, an award-winning vintner, the company's confections have won a following among food ...
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As Americans have become fascinated by chocolate, and especially high-quality chocolate, one name has risen above the rest: Scharffen Berger. Founded in 1996 by Robert Steinberg, a physician and amateur chef, and John Scharffenberger, an award-winning vintner, the company's confections have won a following among food professionals and home cooks alike. Now, in their first cookbook, the duo shares their passion with the world.
The Essence of Chocolate features more than one hundred spectacular -- and often simple -- recipes drawn from the Scharffen Berger files and from two dozen top pastry chefs. It is divided into three sections: "Intensely Chocolate," which includes such decadent treats as That Chocolate Cake, in which the sumptuous flavor of chocolate is the star; "Essentially Chocolate," with lighter chocolate desserts like White Velvet Cake with Milk Chocolate Ganache or Brown Butter Blondies; and "A Hint of Chocolate," with recipes that use chocolate's spicier qualities to their best effect, like Vegetarian Chili and John's Cocoa Rub. And all will work magnificently with any high-quality chocolate. Filled with helpful tips, sumptuous photographs, and the story of how chocolate is really made, here is a book that is every bit as seductive as its subject.
FROM MEDICINE TO CHOCOLATE: ROBERT STEINBERG
"Why did you leave medicine for chocolate?" People have asked me this question countless times, and I'm still not sure how to answer. The truth is, I never gave up practicing medicine. I just stopped being a fulltime doctor, and my leaving medicine had nothing to do with chocolate. In fact, almost four years passed between the time I left my medical practice in San Francisco and the moment in 1994 when I first thought about making chocolate.
The major change in my life occurred in May 1989, when I was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. For a year and a half after the diagnosis, I continued to see patients. Although it became harder physically to go to work as symptoms of the leukemia began to emerge, I faced another challenge that was the result of the similarity between one aspect of my illness and that of some of my patients-a compromised immune system. In 1989, San Francisco was in the middle of a full-blown AIDS epidemic, and ten to fifteen percent of my patients either had AIDS or were HIV-positive. I attended to some extraordinarily ill patients and was present at the death of several of them. Looking at these patients felt at times like looking into a mirror, because I had been told when I was diagnosed that the leukemia was incurable and that I had a fifty percent chance of dying within ten years as a result of a weakened immune system. The combined effect of my waning energy and the feeling that I was torn between worrying about how to take care of myself and how to take care of my patients led me to sell my practice. At the end of my last day at the practice, when I'd transferred the care of my patients to another physician, I walked out into the cold air of a late November night with a feeling I can only describe as a mixture of relief and elation. Paradoxically, the apparent nearness of death gave me permission to try just about anything.
Free of a rigid daily schedule, I took piano lessons and life drawing classes and tried to improve my Spanish and French. Although hardly a moment passed when I wasn't conscious on some level of my illness, this period of my life strengthened a resolution I had made shortly after my diagnosis: that the leukemia would not monopolize my life. I went each morning to the Zuni Café, where I would order a double espresso and linger over a book or my journal for hours. I became such a fixture at Zuni that Sylvie Darr, the manager and sommelier, included me when arranging wine-tasting trips to Napa and Sonoma for the staff. I was lucky to be invited on those trips, because they introduced me to the intellectual side of tasting. I began to understand the importance of attaching words to a sensory experience.
* * *
Living with an Illness
Since we began Scharffen Berger, I've received many letters from people who are coping with an illness of some sort. Whenever I can, I write back. Many of these letters praise my openness about my leukemia as "courageous." But I don't see myself as courageous. Cancer is such a charged topic in our society, it's easy for an illness to become a sort of dramatic event, but not very easy to shrug off the kind of stigma that we assign to people with cancer. To talk openly about my illness is simply to talk about an integral part of my being. It's hard for me to imagine trying to direct a conversation away from the topic without being closed and mysterious in a way that is foreign to my sense of self. Being open about my leukemia also lets me acknowledge what I know for sure from my years of practicing medicine: every one of us has challenges to face. The deeply felt and beautifully written letters that have been sent to me connect me to people in an unusually personal way. For those who have asked me how to approach life with an illness, I can say this: there are no useful generalizations, but to the extent that your illness and life circumstances allow, try to be yourself and understand that in accepting who you are, you are likely, to become more accepting of others. It may not be readily apparent, but that sort of compassion is often a reward in itself.
* * *
When I felt well enough, I traveled, first to Bologna, Italy, and then to France. During a stay in Paris, I walked past a small tailoring shop in the Marais late one night and stopped to admire a jacket that hung in the shop window. When I returned a day or two later to try on the jacket, the tailor who owned the shop engaged me in conversation, and eventually he asked if I would help him import a line of eyeglasses that he'd designed. The idea of selling eyeglasses might have seemed a bit odd, but at that moment in my life, I wanted to be open to every possibility. Besides, I wasn't beyond looking for an excuse to visit Paris more often.
I returned to San Francisco and arranged to meet my friend Bob Voorhees for lunch. Bob, a restaurateur and coffee roaster, was the only businessman I knew, and he listened while I described the tailor and his idea. When I asked for his advice on my admittedly eccentric idea to import eyeglass frames, Bob sat forward in his chair, looked at me, and asked, "Robert, if you want to take up a business, why not start with something more familiar?" Bob felt that my intense interest in food and cooking as well as my background in basic science qualified me to help him with a business he had looked into a number of years earlier: making chocolate.
When Bob first thought about making chocolate, he enrolled in a brief industrial chocolate-making course, but his unfamiliarity with scientific terms frustrated him. He thought I would have an easier time grasping the chemistry involved. He loaned me a textbook from his course, a heavy six-hundred-page book called Chocolate, Cocoa, and Confectionery: Science and Technology, by B.W. Minifie. As I began reading, I felt as though the door to the underground world of chocolate had opened. I started to see a food that I had taken entirely for granted in a completely different light. The more I read, the more the challenge of chocolate making appealed to me. That chocolate crossed many fields of interest-history, science, agriculture, and archaeology-fueled my enthusiasm. I read the relevant parts of the book and then, while looking for other books about chocolate making, I began calling U.S. chocolate experts and manufacturers to see what they thought about making chocolate on a small scale. Every person I spoke with told me that I couldn't make chocolate without costly equipment and millions of dollars in capital-and many seemed amazed that I was even considering the idea.
It soon became clear to me that there was more than one way to make chocolate-there are actually many different machines that could be used-and that I couldn't learn chocolate making from a book. One fortuitous event occurred a month after Bob and I had our first conversation about chocolate. A pastry chef friend gave me a book called A Passion for Chocolate, which Rose Levy, Beranbaum had translated from the original, La Passion du Chocolat. The authors of the book, Maurice and Jean-Jacques Bernachon, were chocolatiers who owned and ran a legendary chocolate company in Lyons.
In 1993, Bob Voorhees and I decided to meet in Paris and visit Bernachon together. We spoke with Matthieu Barès, the person who managed Bernachon's store and public relations department. On an afternoon when no one was making chocolate, Matthieu walked us through the tiny factory. The Bernachons were unusual in several respects: Despite a large following, which might have led other chocolate makers to expand, the Bernachon family had kept their shop and factory virtually the same size over the course of decades, and their chocolate-making equipment was housed in a single large room.
Months later, as my frustration grew over not being able to really understand how to make chocolate, I decided to write a letter to the Bernachons, explaining that I was a physician interested in chocolate making, but that I was not in the business. I said that I spoke French and asked if they would let me work at their factory for a month. I had a friend help me phrase it in very polite French, and then mailed it to Matthieu, nearly certain that the answer would be no. They faxed me back a letter saying I was welcome to come for two weeks. I still don't understand why they agreed to let me spend two weeks there, but I know that I glowed when their response came through. It's safe to say that without Bernachon, there wouldn't be a Scharffen Berger.
Working at Bernachon seemed almost like a dream. I didn't absorb many technical details. I didn't, for instance, learn such things as the optimal micron size to which cacao beans had to be ground or exactly how much cocoa butter should be added. I didn't even learn to roast cacao. Instead, I absorbed a philosophy. The key idea behind chocolate making at Bernachon is attention to the ingredients that go into chocolate and an understanding of the role each ingredient plays.
During my first week at Bernachon, I was asked to fill in for one of the workers who was away on vacation-an incredible stroke of luck. I did whatever I was asked, sorting beans, scooping chocolate from one container to another, and scraping bits of stray chocolate off the floor at the end of the day. During the second week, spent in the confection-making area, I was more observer than contributor, although I did learn about enrobing and hand dipping, and I got to put the pistachios on top of the little bonbons as they went down the line.
Maurice Bernachon, who was eighty years old and lived in the apartment upstairs, came down every morning at 6:30, went to his table, and began making pastries. Every day at noon, the workers began sitting down in shifts at a large table to have lunch together. The company provided a bottle of wine, a big salad, and some kind of meat for the meal. I felt that I was sharing a way of life and an atmosphere from an era that had virtually passed. The workers could not have been more gracious or accepting of me. I was, after all, an American who'd appeared out of nowhere, asking dozens of questions and providing little help in exchange. (Their references to ganache, the center of every truffle, made no sense to me until I'd had a chance to consult a dictionary after I'd gone back to the hotel for the evening.) When my two weeks ended, I sat down and had a conversation with Jean-Jacques and Maurice. After thanking them profusely for their openness and generosity, I suggested that they open a factory in California. Bob and I would help them, I said. They laughed. "This is much too hard," Maurice replied, smiling. "We couldn't possibly start at the beginning and do all this again."
In 1999, I returned to Bernachon, bringing Scharffen Berger chocolate for the Bernachon family and the workers. I was greeted warmly, and many of the workers said, half-jokingly, "Maybe I could come to California and make chocolate with you in your factory!" Jean-Jacques sent us a letter saying that our chocolate was quite good and congratulating us on our success. Both John and I have always been open about our chocolate-making techniques and we've encouraged factory tours. I think this is due partly to the Bernachon family, who shared their ideas so generously and influenced the course of my life.
When I returned from Lyons, eager to begin making chocolate, Bob was busy with other business matters and I wasn't sure what our next step should be. John and I had met through mutual friends in 1979, when both of us lived in Ukiah. John came to see me as a patient during the late eighties, when I opened my practice in San Francisco. In the years after I'd become ill, I'd run into him from time to time, usually at restaurants, and we casually talked about what we were doing. It was probably at Zuni Café in the fall of 1995 that I first mentioned the fact that Bob and I were thinking about making chocolate.
Around the same time, I began hunting for chocolate-making equipment like the machines used at Bernachon. One visit to a used-equipment company stands out in my mind because it felt almost surreal. The warehouse was set in what seemed like the most desolate corner of the Bronx, on a street of old industrial buildings with few cars and no pedestrians. Once I walked into the building, I had to follow a long, fluorescent-lit corridor, making several sharp turns, until I finally reached the reception area, where miniature candy-making machines were set out on display. I was led inside their warehouse, filled with old machines that, not having been restored or cleaned, looked, to me, unusable.
I was beginning to wonder how Bob and I would turn our idea into reality. Uncertain about whether we were going in the right direction, I remember calling John one evening to ask if he, as someone who had started a business to make a similar affordable luxury, thought our plan was reasonable from the perspective of customer acceptance. Yes, he said, he thought it was. I had no idea at the time that John had sold his interest in his winery, Scharffenberger Cellars, so it was a surprise when I received a call from him in December 1995, asking if I was still interested in making chocolate.
In early 1996, John met with Bob and me, and the three of us agreed to explore working together. We incorporated under the name SVS-for Steinberg, Voorhees, and Scharffenberger-but agreed to call our company Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker. To use Scharffen Berger made sense given that Scharffenberger Cellars was familiar to many people who knew food and wine. We decided on the "Chocolate Maker" part of our name while considering how to best translate chocolatier into English.
Months passed and still nothing happened, until the day I saw an ad in The Manufacturing Confectioner, a trade magazine I'd subscribed to. The ad announced a trade show in Düsseldorf for confectioners and chocolate manufacturers. I called John and told him I thought we ought to go and see what kind of equipment they had displayed at the show. John agreed. By that point, Bob had bowed out, citing other business ideas he wanted to pursue. John and I met in Düsseldorf, drove to the convention together, and bought our first piece of equipment.
FROM WINEMAKING TO CHOCOLATE: JOHN SCHARFFENBERGER
When Robert spoke to me about chocolate, it seemed like a natural thing for us to do together. I had been growing food and making food products for most of my life, and chocolate seemed a logical step after I sold my winery.
I might never have become a farmer if my family hadn't moved from New Jersey to a ranch house on Warner Ranch, a two-thousand-acre spread of open land in Woodland Hills, California, when I was nine years old. It seemed like the end of the world. I went from riding my bike in the suburbs with my friends to being stuck in the middle of a huge farm with only my siblings for company.
My father was a businessman who loved country life. He kept beehives and planted fruit trees. His idea of a really great weekend was putting in a new irrigation line or making a barbed wire fence (until he realized that putting in electric fences was even more fun). Gradually, though, I grew to love having a vast place to explore.
My dad had bought a farm for himself right out of college, and quickly lost his shirt trying to make it work. He'd had the sense to rent out the farm and return to business and finance to pay off the relatives who lent him money. For him, that was the end of farming and the beginning of a very good business career. But even though he succeeded in business, I think at heart he always thought of himself as a farmer.
When I began school at the University of California, it was the first time I'd lived in an apartment house, my first time living in an urban setting. I liked Berkeley, but I kept thinking, "What's wrong? What am I missing here?" I realized I missed the open spaces I'd grown up in and I couldn't stand the thought of not having my hands in the dirt for a whole year. I took a job as a live-in gardener tending a really good, big garden in the Oakland Hills. The woman who hired me was eighty-five years old. Her garden, which had once been terrific, had been on the decline for years. Her incredible collection of plants had completely grown together, and I spent a lot of time trying to sort them out. That was my first serious gardening job, and it made me acutely aware of my lack of knowledge about plants. From my upbringing, I understood things like watering systems, trimming, and mowing, but the rest I had to teach myself.
Excerpted from THE ESSENCE OF CHOCOLATE by John Scharffenberger Robert Steinberg Ann Krueger Spivack Susie Heller Copyright © 2006 by Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker, Inc.. Excerpted by permission.
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Posted March 15, 2010
This is a GREAT book. The recipes are fantastic, but I mainly got it for the information on chocolate. The photos are beautiful and the information about chocolate is wonderful. I really am enjoying this book.
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