(2013) Joanne Harris, Transworld, £12.99, hrdbk, 127pp, ISBN 978-0-857-52200-9
Now you may wonder what on Earth has a recipe book, let alone one on chocolate, has to do with SF? If you are then you are not of the old guard of the British SF community whose heydays were the 1980s and 1990s. Back then food was certainly somewhere on the fan agenda: the thought that McDonalds was a good food resource for hungry fans at a convention (as has happened on more than one occasion in the 2010s) simply would have been laughed out of court. The reason the British Eastercon's banquet fell into disrepute in the late 1990s was that hotel catering was so variable and tended towards the low end of acceptability. Of course there were exceptions and there were even fan recipe books. Remember BECCONs There Are Never Enough Mushrooms? The practical thought that went into that was considerable. It was spiral bound so that it would stay open flat. The cover had an outer sheet of transparent plastic in case of kitchen spillage. The temperatures were not only given in both Celsius and Fahrenheit but also gas regulo equivalents: how many cook books do that?
And then we come to SF and chocolate. Imagine the delight when it was discovered that the 1989 Eastercon was to be held at the De France Hotel on the Channel Island of Jersey and that that hotel had within it a chocolate shop! It sold 5 kg 80% cocoa chocolate bars. And then imagine the horror when barely a day into the convention the chocolate shop sold out, and with the convention being held over Easter Bank Holiday there was no prospect of re-stocking! The next time fandom went to the De France (for the 1993 Eastercon cum Eurocon) the convention's Progress Reports encouraged delegates to place advance orders at a specially arranged discount price, for collection on the day. (And from a Concatenation perspective, for a couple of years following that event Concatenation dinners saw Elaine's ever so scrummy chocolate mousse… But I digress. The point is that there is a firm connection between British SF fandom and chocolate. And this brings us on to Joanne Harris' The Little Book of Chocolat.
Joanne Harris is the author of the (mundane [in its SFnal sense]) novel Chocolat which was made into an Oscar-nominated film in 2000. With this recipe book she is assisted by foodie Fran Warde, so we can be assured that the recipes in this little book work.
The book begins with an introduction to the history of chocolate immediately followed by a short chapter that is essentially on tempering chocolate: the means by which you can make the surface of chocolate to ensure that it cools with a smooth dark surface without sugar crystals. But skipping over these minor gems we come to the recipes. These come with mouth-watering, full colour illustrations. We get recipes of varying complexity including for cakes, desserts and drinks. Nearly all look and sound simply divine. The only one I am not sure works is the chilli-chocolate shot drinks but I am ore than willing to be a guinea pig (though the edible gold leaf on the top is literally over the top). Vianne's hot chocolate with cognac, Amaretto and Cointreau looks like a brilliant way to round off a dinner. And the maple and walnut chocolate ice cream… Sorry I am beginning to drool.
There is no contents list of menus at the book's start, and this – strangely – is in fact wise. What we get instead is a detailed subject index at the back. This means that while I may not remember the title of a recipe for a cake or a spread, or a waffle or a drink, instead I can look up waffle etc and get directed to the appropriate page. Neat.
Hugely recommended, The Little Book of Chocolat makes for a great Christmas stocking filler and an essential hint you must give to the special cook in your life.
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