Cocolat: Extraordinary Chocolate Desserts

Cocolat: Extraordinary Chocolate Desserts

by Alice Medrich


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780486813295
Publisher: Dover Publications
Publication date: 08/15/2017
Edition description: Reissue
Pages: 224
Sales rank: 771,762
Product dimensions: 8.70(w) x 11.10(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Alice Medrich has won more cookbook-of-the-year awards and best in the dessert and baking category awards than any other author. Mostly self taught, she received selective formal training at the prestigious École Lenôtre in France, and is credited with popularizing chocolate truffles in the United States when she began making and selling them at her influential Berkeley dessert shop, Cocolat, in the 1970s. She has since left the retail world, devoting much of her career to teaching and sharing her expansive knowledge about baking and chocolate. Check out her online baking course on and her column at Find her at and follow her on Twitter @alicemedrich.

Read an Excerpt


Extraordinary Chocolate Desserts

By Alice Medrich

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2017 Alice Medrich
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-82263-1


Paris, December 1972. I am sitting at Madame Lestelle's dining room table, helping her with holiday chores. I have no idea how this afternoon will shape my life. At 73 years of age she is sharp and energetic. In England, the United States, or Scandinavia, we might have been preparing fruits and nuts for Christmas puddings or fruitcakes, or rolling and cutting Christmas cookies. But this is France. We are making fresh homemade chocolate truffles — bite-size morsels of smooth, rich, and intensely bittersweet chocolate, dusted with cocoa — which she will later wrap and deliver to relatives and friends. I am encouraged to taste the fruits of our labors. The first bite is a revelation. - - -

This was no mere chocolate kiss or piece of sweet fudge. That truffle was something beyond candy and much closer to an "adult" chocolate dessert. I had never tasted anything so sublimely chocolate. To this day, I refuse so use the word "candy" to describe a real chocolate truffle — made only with chocolate, butter, and eggs or fresh cream. I regret that the chocolate truffle "idea" has become so popular that hundreds of mundane chocolate candies are now called truffles simply because they are chocolate. - - -

In one kaleidoscope of a year in France, I surely tasted and pastries of every description. Two bites in particular made a profound impression on me. Madame Lestelle's chocolate truffle was one. The second was a simple, rather homey chocolate cake. I tasted it first in a cooking class, then reproduced it in my own cranky oven on the rue Copernic. - - -

These two chocolate moments characterized everything that is awesome to me about food in France: that the simplest things are often the most sophisticated, the most elegant, and best of all, the most delicious. The French seem always to know this, despite the dizzy altitudes of haute cuisine. Both the truffle and the cake were superb because each tasted exactly of its few, but excellent ingredients. Chocolate, the star ingredient, could be appreciated for all its rich, almost earthy and sensual qualities because it had not been overwhelmed by sugar. - - -

My grandmother's conviction was always "plain is best, dear." Eating and cooking in France won me decidedly to her point of view, and it shaped my philosophy about my own desserts, my business, and so many other things in my life. - - -

My husband, Elliott, and I returned to Berkeley the following year, and I entered the graduate program in Business Administration with no idea what I really wanted to do. - - -

At the same time, and just for fun, I "perfected" Madame Lestelle's truffle recipe using American ingredients. A French delicatessen (charcuterie) had opened in our Berkeley neighborhood during our year abroad. They had beautiful pâtés and sausages in abundance, but no dessert and no chocolate. I stepped in, timidly, with my truffles two weeks before Christmas Day. To my astonishment, a deal was quickly made for just as many bite-size, cocoa-dusted, French chocolate truffles as I could make an even softer and creamier truffle — dipped in melted chocolate. - - -

Attempting — on my own — to perfect the dipping method, I lost control of the size of the truffle. The result was an alarmingly large, luscious, soft-centeredchocolate, the likes of which no Frenchman had ever seen. By the time I realized that the truffles were much too large, my clientele was totally hooked and there was no going back. The large, "American Chocolate Truffle" was born by accident in my kitchen. Unfamiliar with the bite-size French "original," many consider the larger truffle to be the standard! - - -

From chocolate truffles I ventured to chocolate desserts. The following year I combined a vacation in France with a week-long stage at the Ecole Lenôtre — the most prestigious pastry school in France. By the end of the week I was exhausted — but more challenged and exhilarated than ever. I saw and heard things that I didn't entirely understand at the time, but somehow they entered my subconscious. Like a time capsule, the lessons from Lenôtre have served me over several years. "Oh, so that's what it meant — now I get it." Magically, one by one, things have become crystal clear just when I needed them. - - -

I was having a ball with my tiny dessert business and it grew to capacity in my home kitchen. Meanwhile, business school didn't speak to my heart. I couldn't imagine myself in a corporate environment, and I didn't recognize myself among the students around me. When my husband couldn't reach casually into the refrigerator for a cold drink without toppling a precarious tower of cookie sheets, and I couldn't find a head of lettuce behind bowls of buttercream and chocolate truffles, it was time for a change. My friends at the charcuterie said, "Get serious, open a shop of your own." My business school advisor said, "Get serious, this idea will never work." I took the advice that I wanted to hear and left business school to start my own business "for real." - - -

I quickly learned that no banker would lend money for an untested scheme like mine. Professional bakers said I couldn't possibly spend so much on the ingredients for one cake and still make any money. Suppliers and equipment dealers were convinced I didn't know what I was doing. - - -

I used our own savings and a loan from my mother-in-law, a combined total of $14,000. I scrounged for used bakery equipment; I patched and painted walls (if you can work with a spatula and buttercream, you can do it with a putty knife and plaster); and I built tables to save money. - - -

In 1976, three years after returning from Paris, I opened a dessert shop in Berkeley, California. I chose the name COCOLAT — a whimsical word, not actually French — to suggest chocolate in all its simple and elegant splendor. I specialized in European desserts — chocolate tortes, chocolate layer cakes, and chocolate mousses. Chocolate truffles — not yet a household word in America — were a cornerstone of the menu. Today there are seven Cocolat stores, and Cocolat products are distributed nationally. Locally, Cocolat stores continue to be a mecca for serious dessert and chocolate lovers. - - -

On opening day, we sold every dessert and truffle in the house in there incredible hours. I cannot explain how or why I knew that a chocolate store — not a traditional candy store or a regular bakery, but something halfway between, yet quite different from both — would be successful. - - -

Americans then were familiar with bakeries and candy stores, but a chocolate dessert shop was unique. Commercially prepared desserts were not made with top-quality ingredients and did not address a clientele with sophisticated tastes. AtCocolat I used the best sweet butter, fresh eggs, sipping-quality liqueurs, pure extracts, and freshly roasted nuts. I sought an audience who would appreciate desserts less sweets and more flavorful than the American classics, and who would respond to a more "adult" chocolate experience.- - -

I wanted to make and sell desserts that my customers did not make themselves, and that they might otherwise taste only in the very finest pastry shops and restaurants of Europe, or in the kitchens of European grandmothers. I wanted to create a store-bought dessert that the most knowledgeable and discriminating cook could serve with pride. Over the years, my most cherished compliment has been "I am a great cook, but I can't make desserts as well as Cocolat!"- - -

I also wanted to share the aesthetic qualities of the European desserts that I admired. The visual elegance and simplicity of French desserts opened my eyes. I appreciated the impressive understatement of decoration, the cleverness with which some desserts were constructed so that additional decoration was unnecesarry. Dramatic special effects — ruffles of chocolate, halos of spun sugar, perfect chocolate glazes, and elegant script — were so striking that a simple dessert became a work of art. I came away inspired by the "design," as well as the taste of these desserts. I turned away from the fussy, frilly style of American bakery decoration and aspired to a cleaner, more tailored effect, punctuated here and there by striking special effects. This is now very much the Cocolat signature. To it I brought my preference for desserts with clear, intense flavors and subtle textures, desserts in which sweetness enhances instead of dominates the pricipal flavors — whether chocolate, or lemon, or almond, or vanilla.- - -

For 14 years, Cocolat has been the expression of my creative energies, a laboratory for my culinary and artistic ideas. The greatest fun of creating a new kind of business is the absence of rules and preconceived notions about what it ought to be or how things should be done. I have enjoyed the tremendous thrill of introducing the public to new and different tastes. Since I made the rules, I could stretch them and allow them to grow and change. The original inspiration was French, but I have always dabbled with whatever desserts captured my interest — whether Austrian, Italian, American, or my own creations. By now, Cocolat has become very much its own category — neither strictly European nor wholly American.- - -

This collection of desserts includes those recipes for which Cocolat is renowned, as well as some developed for my own home entertaining and special occasions, and desserts created especially for this book. This book is a very personal statement. These are the desserts that I love. I do not pretend to summarize the entire world of desserts or represent any kind of cross section or encyclopedis. I am biased in that most — but not all — of my favorites are chocolate. In keeping with the spirit of Cocolat, you will find a small collection of nonchocolate gems scattered throughout this otherwise very chocolatey book.- - -

I am a self-trained pastry chef and an eager and passionate problem solver. As a result, I do not stick to traditional techniques if I can find an easier way to do somthing well. I love to make complicated or difficult procedures simpler.- - -

Over the years, I have found that pastry and chocolate techniques are closely related to those of other crafts. Inspiration comes from many sources and I love to borrow tricks. Italianate paper marbling patterns can be applied to freshly pouredchocolate glaze to finish an elegant bittersweet chocolate torte. Fashion and couture offer shapes and ideas for the creation of glamorous chocolate ruffles. I love to use texture to create visual interest. I consult art and design books. I make stencils and use repetitive patterns to maximize graphic effects. The creative possibilities are endlessly challenging.- - -

Dessert is the lasting impression of a meal or gathering. The stellar reputaion of many a host or hostess is built around fabulous-tasting desserts. A dessert that is as beautiful to see as it is to taste casts the chef as a maker of fantasies. And why not? Sweet dreams and bon appétit.



Almost all of the ingredients I use for baking are straightforward and non-exotic. This makes shopping easy, as most everything can be purchased in a good supermarket. Even the better brands of chocolate are offered in some supermarkets, as are imported specialties, nuts in bulk, and even organic produce. Keep an eye out for freshness and quality. You may enjoy becoming an expert by trying some of the different brands of chocolate and taste-testing the different sweet butters and whipping creams, if more than one brand is offered in your area.

If your neighborhood market stocks only the bare essentials, you may have to seek out one or two specialty shops or use some of the sources listed in Resources, page 197.


Sweet (unsalted) butter is best for most all pastry and dessert recipes. Chocolate desserts made with regular (salted) butter are much too salty to be pleasing. Where salt is needed in a recipe, I prefer to add the needed amount rather than be stuck with the amount already in the butter. Sweet butter has a lower water content and a fresher flavor than regular butter. It spoils quickly, so it is frequently sold from the freezer case at the supermarket. Sniff it carefully before using it; it should smell sweet and fresh. If you like to keep some on hand for spur-of-the-moment dessert projects, store your own supply in the freezer.


As much as I adore eating fresh-roasted chestnuts, I use canned chestnuts for dessert making. Sweetened Chestnut Puree, also called Chestnut Paste or Chestnut Spread, is available in cans imported from France in the gourmet section of supermarkets, and, of course, in specialty stores. Do not confuse it with unsweetened puree.

For garnishing you will find canned whole chestnuts or chestnut pieces in vanilla syrup. Do not confuse them with chestnuts packed in water.


Coffee is a classic dessert flavor, with or without chocolate. Normally, to use it properly as a flavoring, we require maximum taste with minimum liquid. Rather than use coffee extract or flavoring from a bottle, I use one of the premium brands of instant coffee or espresso powder (but not freeze-dried crystals), dissolved in a few drops of water, or liquid, where necessary. Two brands that I like are Medaglio d'Oro and Café Salvador.

If (like me) you are too much of a coffee snob to ever dream of actually drinking instant coffee, you are probably thinking of using strong, brewed coffee or real espresso to flavor your desserts. I recommend against this. A strong cup of coffee or even a cup of very concentrated espresso usually will deliver too much liquid and not enough coffee flavor for most dessert recipes. So, relax this time and open the jar.


See Working with Chocolate, pages 24–29, for types and uses of chocolate.

Citrus Fruit

Whether or not you are concerned about ingesting pesticides used to grow produce, orange and lemon slices poached with their skins left on (see Lemon Bombe, page 70, and Citrus Tart, page 142) taste and smell measurably better if the fruit was grown organically. If you are a stickler, you will consider this also when using the grated zests of citrus fruit.


Unless otherwise stated, use the richest, purest cream you can find. This means pasteurized heavy cream, or whipping cream with at least 38 percent butterfat. It should have the fewest possible ingredients on the label! The very best-tasting cream usually has only one ingredient printed on the carton: "cream." Other creams may have a stabilizer, such as carrageenan, which makes the texture seem thicker. If you buy large cartons of cream from a dairy or producer, you may be able to find something called "manufacturing cream" with as much as 40 percent butterfat. This is a good choice, if you can get it.

Creams vary in taste and texture. Choose by tasting. The best will taste fresh and natural, not cooked or processed. The cream that you buy should be pasteurized, but avoid creams labeled "ultrapasteurized" or "sterilized." Both of these terms indicate that the cream has been treated with additional heat — cooked at high temperatures — to make it last for weeks without spoiling. The flavor is similar to canned milk. I am willing to go out of my way to avoid buying this type of cream because the flavor is very disappointing. Regular pasteurized cream is available in most areas of the country, but you may have to read labels carefully or phone several local stores to find one that carries it. If you have the luxury of having more than one brand of cream available (other than ultrapasteurized or sterilized) in your market, buy a small carton of each one on a day when you plan to make a dessert with lots of cream. Conduct your own blind tasting to decide which you like the best. For techniques and details on working with cream, see Frosting with Whipped Cream,page 179.

Cream of Tartar

This white acidic powder is a natural by-product of wine making. It is one of the ingredients in baking powder. It also stabilizes beaten egg whites (meringue), helping to keep them from becoming dry and grainy. Add ? teaspoon for every three to four egg whites before beating. If you beat your egg whites in an unlined copper bowl (page 23), do not use cream of tartar.

Creme Fraîche

This is the thick, rich, slightly fermented cream so beloved in France. It tastes like exotic, rich sour cream. It is rich enough to cook with or to whip. It can be purchased here in the U.S. at a very high price. When I use crème fraîche, I like to use lots, so I make a close approximation of the real thing myself by allowing a small amount of buttermilk to ferment a larger amount of cream. See the recipe, page 169, and remember to prepare it several days in advance. It must not only have time to ferment slightly, but it will need additional time to chill before it is used for whipping.


Recipes in this book are based on large grade AA eggs. Buy the freshest available in your area and store them in the refrigerator. Bring eggs to room temperature before baking. See Shortcuts, page 23, for quick ways to bring eggs to room temperature.


Excerpted from Cocolat by Alice Medrich. Copyright © 2017 Alice Medrich. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Introduction to the Dover Edition,
Notes About Ingredients,
A Few Words About Photography and Styling,
The Chocolate Chart,
Introduction to the 1990 Edition,
Shortcuts and Production Tips,
Working with Chocolate; A Guide for Dessert Makers,
Chocolate Tortes,
Designer Desserts,
Specialties of the House ... and Personal Favorites,
Petite Rewards,
Special Occasions,
'Tis the Season ... Christmas Desserts and Gifts,
Building Blocks,
Finishing Techniques and Special Effects,

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