Amour et BEER.

Originally, this post was a lot more political. I cut that out. You’re welcome.

When I started reading the series of books I’m currently reading, I told some of my friends about it. I was going to town about improved bibliogony of non-traditional authors, the remarkable depth I’m now reading in maligned genres, and how I feel this series of books really represents publishers looking outside of typical parameters to find books truly worthy of shelf space.

They were, of course, intrigued. They were desirous of the delicious selections I was sucking down like so much hot cocoa. I told them of tales of chocolatiers, lady business magnates, and romantic guys with hearts of solid gold (leafed chocolate). Until, that is, I told them where the stories take place.

France.

America and France have a very “interesting” relationship. Most assume they (the French) see us (Americans) as a brash bunch of assholes who push their way into every situation. Americans tend to view the French as a lazy bunch of snobby poltroons who don’t really “count” on the World’s Stage.

This does not make for as many stories featuring French storylines as say, British, or circa 1800s Montana rancher. Honestly, you really just don’t see them. If a protagonist has an accent, is an expat, or wants to bear the main character away to a foreign land, it’s to the UK. It’s the most socially and fiscally acceptable alternative for Americans to read. Hell, you never even really see Canada, in spite of the whole, “they’re our fucking neighbors!!” thing.

Oddly, I’ve read about more characters from Eastern Europe or Italy than from France. Because when I think “romance,” I think, “Bratislava!” (ok, I kinda do, but only because I’m Slovak, and I could be fat and happy there. PASS THE SOUR CREAM! NA ZDRAVIE!!!

But here’s the thing. France is a beautiful country, and just like not every American carries a gun into a grocery store, and has an “Obama Bin Laden” bumper sticker, not every French person is anti-semitic/Islamophobic (ala Charlie Hebdo) or hates Americans. (Hellooooo, something like 40% of their television programming is from the U.S.. BOOM!)

The fact that we allow our stereotypes and preconceived notions to dictate ANY aspect of our literature is infuriating to me. Literature–in large part–has oft served to move society forward. Swift, Shelley, Dickens, Mellville, Wolfe–they all used literature and journalism to effect change in the social strata, and set about a call to arms among their peers. Hell, Austen, with her uppity prose, and women (gasp!!) educating themselves, used the “silly” genre of romance to plant seeds of discontent in the masses.

It’s a beautiful fucking thing. Litterateurs recognize this, and the greater reading public should embrace it.

A huge part of the book I’m talking about today revolves around “place.” Paris becomes a character in the novel. It’s beautiful. It’s warm. It’s a complete escape. It gives that “ooey-gooey-warm feeling in your chest and belly. You know that sparkly feeling that emanates from somewhere near your heart? That. So much of that.

What book?

The Chocolate Thief by Laura Florand

The Blurb:

Paris

Breathtakingly beautiful, the City of Light seduces the senses, its cobbled streets thrumming with possibility. For American Cade Corey, it’s a dream come true, if only she can get one infuriating French chocolatier to sign on the dotted line…

Chocolate

Melting, yielding yet firm, exotic, its secrets are intimately known to Sylvain Marquis. But turn them over to a brash American waving a fistful of dollars? Jamais Not unless there’s something much more delectable on the table…

Stolen Pleasure

Whether confections taken from a locked shop or kisses in the dark, is there anything sweeter?

My thoughts?

When I was first reading this, I read it with all of my American stereotypes firmly in place. Though the author is American, I am fluent in French, I adore the food culture of the French, and I consider myself pretty open-minded–there they were.  In the end, I started reading and thought “Sylvain is really a bag of snobby dicks, and GO CADE!!! RUN AWAY!!” I mean, he’s a food snob, and she’s essentially a Hershey. MERICA!! CAPITALISM!! CRAP CHOCOLATE IS GOOD!! (I won’t hold it against the literary twin of Hershey that they fucked up the Take 5 bar. I will not. GODDAMN YOU, HERSHEY!! IT WAS MY FAVORITE!!)

I was quickly engrossed in the story, and realized that even though Sylvain is still a complete snob, that’s just his thing. It’s the imperfection that makes him human. It also serves to poke fun at the American image of the French. When American readers open up to the book, I can tell you, it’s like being startled in the shower. You want to cover all of your exposed parts, but you still kind of want company. (insert winky face) I want to share this book with everyone, exclaiming what an ASSHOLE I was for the way in which I began reading it.

It is sexy without feeling explicit (though, there is a time and place for that as well) and it is told in a sort of fanciful dual POV/close third, which ends up feeling very intimate and not at all contrived as it is wont to be. The only thing I take umbrage with is possibly that the supporting characters feel slightly short-changed in amongst the very strong leads. I would’ve liked more of Cade’s grandfather and possibly more of Sylvain’s sister/mother. I feel like those characters could’ve offered interesting insight into Sylvain and Cade. However, the book doesn’t suffer for its lack, and I truly loved it.

The Chocolate Thief was incredibly warm and sweet with just enough bitter to keep you interested, just like dark chocolate on your tongue.

Four chocolate-covered stars.

The recipe inspired by the book:

I made chocolates because OF COURSE I DID. I also put my own twist on them because, OF COURSE I DID. Please make these, but PLEASE follow every instruction to the T. They’re not difficult per se, as much as they are bound to the art of precision and tools. Also, if you’re not eating them all at once, or giving them away, store them in your wine cooler or crisper drawer with the humidity set to its lowest available setting. Make sure they’re wrapped tightly. They CAN be frozen, but they need to be wrapped first in freezer paper, then in foil, then in a zip-top bag. The enemy is not the cold, but the moisture. Chocolate can handle the cold–it hates humidity worse than my hair does.

These chocolates are a 60% semi/dark chocolate filled with a salted lager caramel, and topped with chopped peanuts and pretzels. They’re divine.

In honor of the Take 5 bars which now taste of sadness and corporate takeover of British hopes and dreams, I call these

Take That Bars aka Salted Lager Chocolate Caramels

Salted Lager Chocolate Caramels

theft-worthy Salted Lager Chocolate Caramels and @LauraFlorand 's The Chocolate Thief #bookreview… Click To Tweet

Salted Lager Chocolate Caramels Salted Lager Chocolate Caramels Salted Lager Chocolate Caramels

 

Take That Bars aka Salted Lager Chocolate Caramels

by Cat Bowen

Prep Time: 1-2 hours

Cook Time: rest time 45 minutes

Keywords: no bake appetizer snack dessert

Ingredients (2 dozen small caramels)

    for the chocolate

    • 20 oz dark chocolate (your preferred level of darkness. I would suggest somewhere between Buffy and the color of my soul.) separated in 10 oz and 8 oz. CHOPPED. NOT CHIPS. Those have additives that make tempering difficult.

    for the caramel

    • 1 cup refined sugar
    • 4 tbsp salted butter
    • 1/3 cup rich lager–FLAT. (drink 2/3-3/4 of a beer, and let the rest go flat. Ok, our out the 1/3 cup first, THEN drink it. silly hygiene.)
    • 1 tsp vanilla extract
    • 1/4 tsp kosher salt

    toppings

    • another ounce or two of the dark chocolate
    • finely chopped pretzels and peanuts–salted.

    Instructions

    Things you’ll need

    acetate or silicone chocolate molds–acetate is BETTER. about 1″-1/2″ They sell them at Michael’s Craft Store.

    a double boiler or a heavy glass dish over a stockpot/saucepan

    offset spatula

    silicone spatula

    really heavy bottomed saucepan for the caramel

    wooden spoon and regular fork for caramel making

    parchment paper

    get started

    melt 10 oz of the chocolate slowly in the bowl over slowly simmering water, stirring pretty often

    remove from heat as SOON as it’s all melted

    stir chocolate until it’s just a tiny bit cooler

    pour into the acetate molds (do NOT spray with cooking spray) until 3/4 full

    flip over back onto the bowl of the double boiler (OFF THE HEAT) and let settle until the sides and bottoms are the only thing coated. finagle with the handle of a teaspoon into corners and whatnot if need be.

    turn right side up and FREEZE for 15 minutes or until chocolate is extra cold. (and, actually, until caramel is nearly room temp, so–a bit)

    During this time, make the caramel.

    Making the caramel

    spread the sugar into the saucepan and turn to medium low

    don’t touch it until it starts to bubble on the edges and at the center

    stir slowly with a fork until it’s all liquid

    remove from the heat and stir in butter, vanilla, salt, and beer. I suggest wearing an oven mitt for this part. That steam is HOT.

    stir the F out of it and return it to low heat until it’s all homogenous.

    Remove from heat and stir some more

    for ease, pour this into a heavy pyrex measuring cup with a spout

    let come to room temperature.

    assemble

    pour a little of the caramel into each of the chocolate shells (still in the molds! until 3/4-5/8 full

    freeze 1 hour.

    melt 8 oz chocolate and temper until it’s (just) spreadable

    pour over the chocolates and level them off/make sure they’re covered with the side of the offset spatula, they don’t need to be absolutely perfect. They’re HOMEMADE.

    return to the freezer

    when firm, turn out onto a piece of parchment paper

    chop peanuts and pretzels

    melt remaining chocolate and dab a bit onto the top of each chocolate

    sprinkle with peanuts and pretzels.

    serve!

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