January 11, 2014

In a Chocolate World. ~ Gabbi Magana {Book Review}

It’s a cold winter afternoon and I’m in my kitchen, filled with a delicious chocolate smell and reading about the legend of the Sachertorte, the beauty on the cover above—and in my kitchen.

As I indulge myself on bites of this delicious ancient dessert, I am thinking “Thank you Fran Costigan. Thank you, Thank you!”

Fran Costigan is the author of “Vegan Chocolate. Unapologetically, Luscious and Decadent Dairy-Free Desserts” and I am lucky enough to have it on my hands. In this book, Costigan proves that vegan chocolate recipes can be cruelty free without giving up flavor and the richness of good chocolate.

When I received the book on the mail, I eagerly opened it hoping to find myself in front of a list of recipes right away. However, I was wrong in the best way possible. Costigan takes her time before she trows all the recipes to the pages, and I appreciated that. She starts by telling the story of how she became interested on vegan chocolate cooking. She shared the stories with such flow that I felt I was in a coffee shop chatting with her over a piece of cake and hot coffee. Costigan goes then to the first chapter, where she makes sure that pros and newbies in the kitchen feel alike. She accomplish that by stating first and foremost that the experiences that the reader is about to go through are about having fun! And then, going into detail on the ingredients she is going to incorporate further on.

Vegan cooking tends to go out of the box when it comes to ingredients.

With Costigan’s book I can even say that the ingredient section can serve as a reference material for other recipes with unfamiliar ingredients. She describes where the product comes from, where to get it and how to use it. This goes for more common ingredients like milks, flour, fats, soy, sugars and nuts; to even more specific ones like extracts, essences, gums, leaving agents and starches. She touches subjects like vegan sugar, where Costigan mentions white cane sugar can be processed with bone char as decolorizing, being therefore, not vegan. She explains that we can use vegan organic sugar recognizable by its large crystals. Even when it comes to honey, she raises a good point. Bees are declining. She recommends to always shop responsible and encourage bee population, even if she does not use honey in the recipes,

Further on, Costigan prepares the readers to take us into full immensity of the world of chocolate. From a detailed explanation about vegan chocolate, to types, storage and a How-To guide on chopping, melting, tempering and decorating with chocolate, which I used several times after, as a reference.

Over 30 pages into the book, I got to the first recipes, but she didn’t stop being personal at all. The next 10 chapters are filled with what is more than just a regular cookbook. Costigan delights the reader with comprehensible and full of flavor recipes, but also personal tips to get the adequate measurement, consistency and one of my favorites, troubleshooting, which  is particularly useful to me, because if the mix is too thick, too thin, too dry or if I simply feel like getting a different consistency in a cookie, she tells me how to do it in the simplest way.

In every recipe, Costigan gives us a background on its origins or a personal story that changed the meaning of the recipe. Whether a historical tale, like the Sachertorte that goes back to 1832 in Austria, where this cake filled with apricot jam and covered in chocolate glaze was first originated according to the legend. Or a more personal story, like the time when Costigan found the recipe that would become her vegan signature cake, the “Bittersweet Ganache-Glazed Chocolate Torte to Live For.” Such cake was one of the first ones that I made and believe me, it honors its name. Whichever kind of story she told me, I learned something new with every turn of the page.

Costigan includes a “Master Recipe” chapter with base recipes that she uses in different ways throughout the book. It is surprising to me how the same “base cake” can taste so deliciously different from one recipe to another. This move of “base” recipes I found definitively clever, because I was able to make a variety of cakes with only one trip to the market. Without getting bored of the same flavor.

I could not pass unnoticed the photographs by Kate Lewis and assistants Clare Gray and Christina Martin, who did an outstanding job on making the book look amazingly appetizing. I love seeing full color page photos of glazes, cakes and truffles as I turn the pages to decide the next recipe to try.

The pages are shinny and waxed, so it easily takes heavy cooking sessions—like mine—without leaving stains on the sheets. After those messy kitchen adventures, I just cleaned the page with a towel and my treasure book was good as new.

At the end of the book, there’s a bonus resource guide to conscious shopping. I learned about new favorite providers of my chocolaty pleasure as well as publications to read.

This book is much more than just a cookbook and definitely a must-have in any kitchen. Whether or not you are a vegan, cooking newbie or just love chocolate, you’ll find it comprehensible and stunning.

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Editor: Rachel Nussbaum

Photo: Vegan Chocolate by Fran Costigan

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