There is something so fun about sweets that come in just the right size to pop in your mouth. When the treats are only a bite, you can try several without the commitment (and perhaps guilt) of a large portion. Gale Gand has put together a great collection of bite-sized treats that range from the very easy to prepare Peppermint Stick-White Chocolate Bark to the slightly more advanced Ruby Raspberry Jellies.
This cookbook became a great reference for me when I began cooking professionally. I still had a lot to learn at my very first full-time job working in a restaurant kitchen, and wasn't given a chance to help create any of the desserts on the menu. However, the pastry chef was busy with her dual role as part owner of the restaurant and didn't have time to keep the petit fours updated. I saw my chance to get creative and frantically started searching for new ideas. Of course I had my textbooks from cooking school, but the fussy preparations and exotic ingredients were not practical for a kitchen with such a small staff. While searching for petit four ideas, I came across the title Just a Bite and thought it sounded perfect.
In her book, Gale Gand includes recipes for a variety of bite-sized sweets, from cookies and candies to cheese bites. The recipes are all preceded by a nice description of the history of the recipe or perhaps just a statement on why the author finds it so special.
The recipes are easy for a home cook to follow, and mostly use ingredients easy to come by, with only a few exceptions of slightly more gourmet items.
I tried the Ruby Raspberry Jellies first and immediately recognized them as the petit four staple: pate de fruit. Gand's version is straight forward, and was specific enough that I achieved the perfect texture on my first try. The lovely, fruity jellies looked beautiful cut in tiny squares and presented next to my brown-toned chocolates and cookies. On my next attempt I doubled the recipe with great results and was happy to find these sweets lasted well, in a hot California kitchen, for more than a week.
Trying my hand at another classic, I tackled the French Cannelés. These are a wonderful dark-caramel brown cake with a vanilla-scented, eggy interior that is both chewy and tender. The batter is easy to prepare, but I found they baked a bit faster than the recipe indicated, even considering how dark they usually are. I had a terrible time getting them out of the traditional, copper cannelés molds even though I had followed the instructions of coating the molds thickly with butter and chilling before pouring in the batter. I tried the recipe again using the alternative suggestions of a mini muffin tin. These released better, but were not nearly as attractive as the traditional cannelés pictured in the book. Appearances aside, they tasted delicious.
Saving the best for last, the Chocolate Chews recipe has been my most popular with guests. When I first read the recipe my reaction was to turn my nose up in a bit of food snobbery. Here she was trying to pass off chocolate clay as a candy. How silly! Chocolate clay was something we bought to mold into roses or wrap around cakes, but no one I knew ever ate it for pleasure. At its simplest, it is merely chocolate melted with corn syrup.
In Gand's recipe orange extract is added. I honestly don't know what made me try it for the first time, but I am so glad I did. When made with Scharffen Berger chocolate, this treat no longer resembles the chocolate clay bought by the bucket. Instead this easy treat takes on some of the qualities of a tootsie roll, but much, much better. The recipe was very quick to put together,with no chocolate tempering required. The instructions called for wrapping the treats in cellophane, but after a suggestion from a co-worker, we started rolling the chocolate ropes in powdered sugar, then cutting them in bite-sized pieces. This gave a beautiful contrast between the dark interior and the powdered coating.
Rarely is there a book that equally serves the needs of professionals and amateurs. Just A Bite is the exception that proves the rule. Home cooks might find this cookbook great for party planning, but I am not sure how often it would be used day-to-day. The small nature of these sweets is great for catering or petit four platters. Many of the recipes can be done ahead and some include suggestions for pairings. This is a book I return to again, and again.
Recipe: Chocolate Chews