By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor Published Feb 07, 2020 at 9:16 AM Photography: Lori Fredrich

I'd like to share what is likely to be an unsurprising confession: I’m a sucker for great cookbooks. I love the glossy pages filled with mouth-wateringly delicious, well photographed food. I love delving into the (often personal) stories behind the dishes. I love gleaning inspiration from new techniques, presentations and approaches to food and ingredients.

The best of the bunch not only feed my inner food geek, but also provide me with guidelines (and sometimes recipes) for creating something new and different. And, if a cookbook is really worth its weight, it’s as interesting to read as it is beautiful sitting on the shelf.

Sadly, a good many books meant for home cooks are gorgeous, but not particularly useful. In fact, out of the hundreds I’ve collected, only a precious fifteen or twenty actually make it into regular rotation in my kitchen.

I’m suspecting that the new America's Test Kitchen cookbook  "Everything Chocolate: A decadent collection of morning pastries, nostalgic sweets and showstopping desserts" might well become one of those books.

Here’s why.

Plenty of recipes

The book has a remarkable collection of recipes, from nostalgic desserts like Nanaimo bars, chocolate eclair cake to breakfast items like triple chocolate sticky buns, babka and chocolate cake doughnuts. The book also includes a number of special occasion recipes including a holiday Yule log and a chocolate-raspberry heart cake that would be perfect for Valentine's Day (see recipe below).

Some are fairly quick and easy (think: Nutella and hazelnut crispy rice cereal treats and no bake rocky road bars). Others, like chocolate croissants, are great inclusions for weekends when you’ve got a bit more time on your hands.

Even better, there are quite a few intriguing, more modern recipes like chocolate-cardamom cake with roasted pears, white chocolate-pink peppercorn panna cotta and a chocolate, matcha and pomegranate tart.

Useful tips & short-cuts

The book contains a concise explanation of the differences between Dutch process and natural cocoa powders (as well as the impact each has on various recipes) as well as tips on buying good quality products.

There’s a quick lesson in craft chocolate, including information on the flavor profiles you can expect from cocoa beans grown in various parts of the world (as well as why it’s probably a bad idea to waste artisan chocolate in cooking). It also contains useful tips for deciding when to use chocolate chips and when to chop your own bar chocolate.

Also, despite the fact that I’m always happy to go the extra mile for great results, I love discovering proven, high quality short-cuts. "Everything Chocolate" didn’t disappoint in that regard, offering shortcuts for processes like melting and tempering chocolate and making the process of mixing together the batter for profiteroles a far less arm-straining task.

Delicious desserts

Best of all, the recipes – some of which employ new-to-me techniques for creating time tested standards – seem to produce delicious desserts.

The chocolate-stout bundt cake – which my husband and I made over the weekend with 3 Sheeps Cashmere Hammer Nitro Stout – was downright delicious.

All told, the cake wasn't overly sweet. But its flavor was deep, rich and delightfully bitter with a fine, moist crumb. Unlike many recipes, it also seemed to showcase the attributes of the beer (including a modicum of earthy spiciness from the malted rye), while offering  up a genuinely pronounced chocolate flavor. The glaze was beautifully glossy and provided a pop of sweetness that balanced out the overall flavor profile.

Try it out

If you’d like to try before you buy, here are two recipes to whet your appetite. The first would make a great Valentine’s Day dessert. And the bundt cake is both a nice everyday favorite and a sure-fire win for St. Patrick’s Day. 

Chocolate-Raspberry Heart Cake

Serves 10 to 12

Why this recipes works:  We wanted to create a special, heart-shaped cake for Valentine’s Day featuring the flavors of chocolate and raspberry. And we wanted to put our love into this dessert with pans we already had at home—while we knew we could probably find a flimsy heart-shaped cake pan at a craft store, we generally avoid purchasing single-use kitchen items. For a cake with undeniable chocolaty richness, we used a generous amount of both cocoa and semisweet chocolate; some buttermilk added a mild tang. We poured the batter into one 8-inch square and one 8-inch round pan. Once baked, we leveled the round cake to ensure both were the same height and simply cut the round cake in half vertically to create two ears to attach to two adjacent sides of the square. For the frosting, we opted for a Swiss meringue buttercream; less sweet than other frostings, it helped balance the richness of the cake, and its ultra-satiny texture added an elegant decadence. Fresh raspberry puree gave our buttercream a lovely pink hue as well a note of bright berry flavor, while mixing in some melted white chocolate contributed a silky richness. Piping pink roses over the cake and dotting it with whole fresh raspberries were beautiful finishing touches.

Cake

1  1/4 cups (6 1/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (2 1/4 ounces) unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon table salt
8 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped
12 tablespoons unsalted butter,
cut into 12 pieces
1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) sugar
1 cup buttermilk
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Frosting

7 1/2 ounces (1 1/2 cups) fresh or thawed frozen raspberries, plus about 20 fresh raspberries, divided
8 ounces white chocolate, chopped
11/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) sugar
6 large egg whites
1/8 teaspoon table salt
24 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 24 pieces and softened

  1. For the cake Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 325 degrees. Grease 8-inch square baking pan and 8-inch round cake pan, line each with parchment paper, grease parchment, and flour pans.
  2. Sift flour, cocoa, baking soda, and salt together in bowl. Microwave chocolate and butter in second bowl at 50 percent power, stirring occasionally, until melted and smooth, 2 to 4 minutes. Whisk sugar, buttermilk, eggs, and vanilla together in third large bowl.
  3. Whisk chocolate mixture into sugar mixture until combined. Whisk in flour mixture until smooth. Divide batter evenly between prepared pans and bake until toothpick inserted in center of each cake comes out clean, 35 to 45 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking. Let cakes cool in pans on wire rack for 10 minutes. Run thin knife around edge of pans, remove cakes from pans, discarding parchment, and let cool completely on rack, about 1 hour.
  4. For the frosting Process 11/2 cups raspberries in food processor until smooth, about 30 seconds. Strain puree through fine-mesh strainer into bowl; discard solids and set aside puree. Microwave chocolate in bowl at 50 percent power, stirring occasionally, until melted, 1 to 2 minutes; let cool slightly. Combine sugar, egg whites, and salt in bowl of stand mixer. Set bowl over saucepan filled with 1 inch barely simmering water, making sure that water does not touch bottom of bowl. Cook, whisking constantly, until mixture reaches 160 degrees, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove bowl from heat and transfer to stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Whip warm egg mixture on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to medium-low, add butter 1 piece at a time, and whip until smooth and creamy, about 2 minutes. Add melted chocolate and mix until just combined. Slowly add raspberry puree and mix until incorporated.
  5. Place 1 corner of square cake against lower edge of large (about 16-inch diameter) cake platter. Using serrated knife, shave domed top from round cake to make it level with square cake; discard top. Cut round cake in half. Place halves, with cut sides facing in, against top 2 edges of square cake to form heart shape. Spread 21/2 cups frosting over top and sides of cake in thin, even layer. Fill pastry bag fitted with star tip with remaining frosting and pipe roses (spiraling from inside out) over top and sides of cake. Place fresh raspberries between roses. Serve.

Chocolate-Stout Bundt Cake

Serves 12

Why this recipe works: Wine or beer and chocolate pairings have become as popular as cheese pairings, and stout, in particular, tastes great with chocolate—it has notes of chocolate itself, after all. We wanted to take the chocolate off the plate and the beer out of the flight glass and bring the two together in a fine-crumbed, moist, rich chocolate cake enhanced by the slightly bitter, malty, roasted flavors of stout. A Bundt cake seemed like the right choice as it could also be an attractive vehicle for displaying a chocolate-stout glaze, which we knew would boost the flavor of the cake itself. We used both bittersweet chocolate and cocoa powder, dissolving them in boiling stout to bloom their flavor. Brown sugar and sour cream both provided moisture and the latter contributed a subtle tang that enlivened the other flavors. Coating the Bundt pan with a paste made from cocoa and melted butter ensured a clean release from the pan’s ridges. We cut some of the heavy cream from the glaze with beer to give our cake a substantial glossy coating with a real hit of stout. We prefer natural cocoa here; Dutch-processed cocoa will result in a compromised rise. When measuring the beer, do not include the foam.

Cake

3/4 cup (2 1/4 ounces) natural unsweetened cocoa powder,
plus 1 tablespoon for pan
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus 1 tablespoon melted, for pan
3/4 cup stout, such as Guinness
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups (8 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups packed (14 ounces) light brown sugar
5 large eggs, room temperature

Glaze

6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup stout, such as Guinness

  1. For the cake Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Stir 1 tablespoon cocoa and melted butter into paste in small bowl. Using pastry brush, thoroughly coat interior of 12-cup nonstick Bundt pan with paste.
  2. Microwave stout, chocolate, and remaining 3/4 cup cocoa in bowl at 50 percent power, stirring occasionally, until melted and smooth, about 3 minutes. Let chocolate mixture cool for 5 minutes, then whisk in sour cream and vanilla.
  3. Whisk flour, salt, and baking soda together in second bowl. Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat remaining 12 tablespoons butter and sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, and beat until combined. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in 3 additions, alternating with chocolate mixture in 2 additions, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Give batter final stir by hand.
  4. Transfer batter to prepared pan and smooth top with rubber spatula. Bake until skewer inserted in center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking.
  5. Let cake cool in pan on wire rack for 10 minutes. Invert cake onto wire rack set in rimmed baking sheet, remove pan, and let cool completely, about 3 hours.
  6. For the glaze Microwave chocolate, cream, and stout in bowl at 50 percent power, stirring occasionally, until melted and smooth, about 3 minutes; let cool for 30 minutes. Drizzle glaze over cake and let set for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Recipes and photos were reprinted with permission from America's Test Kitchen.

Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.