Pros: well written, comprehensive, good photos
Cons: too much use of corn syrup
Reviewed by Susan Sterling
(editor’s note: We asked experienced confections maker Susan Sterling to review this instalment of the At-Home series. Because CIA claims these books are simplified versions of its professional texts, Susan took things a step further and compared this one with the original professional book, “Chocolates & Confections: Formula, Theory, and Techniques for the Artisan Confectioner”---an interesting look at how well the At-Home series compares to the professional manuals)
I have a theory that chocolate slows down the ageing process. It may not be true, but do I dare take the chance?
OK, I didn’t write that, but I’m not taking any chances either.
However, when I recently went into a high-end chocolate boutique, and chose 6 individual chocolates and a small round bar of chilli pepper chocolate, and the cashier said “that’ll be fifty seven dollars and thirty two cents” I thought I might have to re-evaluate this anti-aging plan.
Then these books arrived, Chocolates & Confections : formula, theory, and technique for the artisan confectioner, and Chocolates and Confections (At Home with The Culinary Institute of America). Could I find Shangri-La in my own kitchen?
I have to admit being a little burned out when it comes to cooking these days... Just like hens which have only a certain number off eggs in them, after years of far too much cooking I am starting to feel a little “cooked out.” I remember hearing the writer Margaret Atwood saying something about not liking writing but liking having written. Kind of the same for the cooking in this house. Do I really want to get into making chocolates and confections?
One of the reasons I do cook, is that I like food that comes from well sourced ingredients. I have to make cakes from scratch because that seems to be the only way to get them made from pure ingredients, like real butter and sugar, not high fructose corn syrup and strange and hideous oils.
Elegant chocolates and sweets are such a nice little luxury, and made at home, they can be a very inexpensive luxury.
I set out to evaluate the two books. My partner in crime (my husband with the sweet tooth and uber-metabolism that could eat pounds of chocolate, wash it down with port, and not get portly) had cheekily put yellow post it notes on all the recipes that looked good. Whole pad of post-it notes gone, there are a heck of a lot of recipes that look good in these books.
I have to confess that I haven’t been impressed with some of the “At Home” series books I’ve looked at from the CIA. This one however is excellent. The author Peter Greweling, who is a Certified Master Baker, has done an outstanding job with both books, the “professional” and the “at home.”
The “at home” book tries to use ingredients that are more readily available, which, for this subject, pretty much boils down to corn syrup for the “at home” instead of glucose in the “professional” book. Other than that, ingredients wise, there’s only the occasional difference.
I was pleasantly surprised how much quality teaching, explanation and theory there is in the “at home.” The professional book gets a little more scientific about its explanations. If you’re not scared off by a little science, the pro book will probably leave you with a slightly deeper understanding and more complete troubleshooting ability than the “at home.” That’s not to say that the “at home” book doesn’t do a pretty darned good job of teaching you what you need to know to not screw up and waste your ingredients. It is a fairly comprehensive course in a broad array of confections. The pro book reads much like a science text book in its explanations, if you don’t glaze over when you read that sort of thing, the pro book is for you, and you’ll benefit from the expertise that comes from that scientific, technical level of understanding.
Both books feature ample luscious photographs and lots of good recipes for a broad spectrum of confections. After I got over the ubiquitous corn syrup in the “at home”, the only two recipes in the “at home” that really put me off were the candy apples, and the “Sesame-Ginger Truffles.” The candy apples were made with a can of sweetened condensed milk (the devil) and corn syrup. If you’re going to make caramel apples like that, you’re better off going to my old Mennonite friend’s recipe: 1) melt a bag of Kraft Caramels 2) dip apples. Much better tasting, less hassle, and no Eagle Brand.
As for the Sesame Ginger Truffles, they were in a league of their own. Now I’m not narrow minded when it comes to combining odd things with chocolate. I’ve had fine chocolates with everything from lavender, to cepes and morels, to black olives, to earl grey ganache, quince jelly and rose petals. Sesame-ginger might be a good combination for cabbage, but it was like pollution in my Belgian 70%. If “life is a box of chocolates,” then file this one under “stupid is as stupid does.”
Other than those two recipes, there is a fine array of recipes in the “at home” as well as the “professional.” Some things are taken up a notch in the “pro.” Take for instance Peanut Brittle. In addition to avoiding the corn syrup that’s used in the “at home,” the pro book offers the option of stretching the brittle before it sets to make it thinner and more elegant. I loved this, and was surprised that after many years in the culinary arena, I’d never seen delicate peanut brittle like this. And you can make it more peanutty with less of the hard sugar candy, very nice. Or with Chipotle-Pecan instead of peanuts in the “pro,”or just plain Pecan in the “at home.”
The other notable difference between these books is cost, the “at home” being significantly lower in price. If you still don’t know which one you want, you really can’t go wrong with either. Greweling has done an excellent job of both.
Now after this delving into decadence with Chocolate and Confections, it’s time to make an appointment with my trainer. And the dentist.
From Chocolates and Confections At Home with the Culinary Institute of America
1 lb (2 cups) Sugar
4 oz (1/2 cup) Water
12 oz (1 cup) Light corn syrup
1 lb (3 cups) Unsalted blanched raw whole peanuts
1 tsp Salt
1 oz (2 Tbsp) Butter, unsalted, soft
1 ½ tsp Vanilla extract
1 ½ tsp Baking soda
Lightly oil a 10x15-inch sheet pan, or line it with parchment paper. Lightly oil an offset palette knife.
Combine the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a 4-quart saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly with a heat-resistant rubber spatula. Cover and boil for 4 minutes.
Remove the cover, insert a thermometer and cook without stirring to 240F.
Add the peanuts and cook while stirring to 320F, or until the batch is light brown.
Remove the heat; mix in the salt, butter, vanilla, and baking soda thoroughly.
Pour onto the prepared pan and spread to the edges using the oiled palette knife.
Allow to cool to room temperature. Break into the desired size pieces. Store sealed in an airtight container.
COCOA NIBS BRITTLE: Replace the peanuts with 4 oz/1 cup cocoa nibs.
PECAN BRITTLE: Replace the peanuts with an equal amount of coarsely chopped pecans.
SESAME BRITTLE: Replace the peanuts with 8 oz/1-1/2 cups sesame seeds.
Keys to Success:
If you use a rubber spatula, be certain that it is heat-resistant.
Prevent scorching by stirring constantly and gently once the peanuts have been added.
The batch will brown more when the baking soda is added, so it should be only very lightly browned when removed from the heat.