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February 8-14, 2006

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Real-Life Kitchen

Cookbooks Have No Calories

By Sara Bir

If your lover is a lover of chocolate, Feb. 14 cannot pass without the requisite box of bonbons. To improve on tradition, however, include one of the many recent food-porn-worthy chocolate cookbooks in the mix; it's the gift that keeps on giving. Here's a sampling of some of the best out there.

'Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate' (Artisan; $35) by Alice Medrich. Medrich, the reigning queen of Bay Area chocolate education, knows her stuff. Bittersweet, her fifth book on the subject, is the first to examine baking with newer, high-percentage chocolates in depth. The recipes cover a great range--fancy to cozy, sweet to savory--and they hit the nail on the head every time. Medrich's self-referential style can get tiresome, but that's a small complaint for a book with so much to offer.

'The Great Book of Chocolate' (Ten Speed Press; $16.95) by David Lebovitz. For such a slender book, this cute little volume packs in heaps of useful, well-researched information that chocolate snobs and undiscriminating chocoholics alike will gobble right up. The Great Book of Chocolate is basically a chocolate guidebook, with descriptions of cacao growing, lists of the best chocolate shops in Paris and a small but well-selected cluster of recipes. You can't go wrong with this one.

'The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cacao with Recipes' (Ten Speed Press; $32.50) by Maricel Presilla. This reads (and looks) like an extended National Geographic article, only with authentic, exotic recipes to boot. Presilla focuses on cacao agriculture and anthropology in South America and Central America, in the process revealing the true heart and soul of chocolate. People who buy chocolate based on what region the cacao beans were grown in will devour this richly photographed book.

'Chocolate Obsession: Confections and Treats to Create and Savor' (Stewart, Tabori and Chang; $35) by Michael Recchiuti and Fran Gage. Michael Recchiuti, one of the country's most gifted chocolatiers, has sold innovative confections in his San Francisco boutique since 1997. Co-author Fran Gage collaborates to reveal professional tricks of the trade in easy-to-follow language. Many of the confection recipes are only for the highly ambitious, but there are recipes for baked goodies, too--and with a book photographed and presented as elegantly as this one, reading just for the fun of it is satisfying enough.

'Chocolate American Style' (Clarkson Potter; $35) by Lora Brody. For those who just want chocolate and don't want to fuss about what brand it is or how long the beans were fermented, Chocolate American Style will satisfy many a craving. Brody offers a bounty of homey recipes, with humorous asides and few pretensions. Brody's recommendation of using premelted unsweetened chocolate made me cringe a bit, but this book will charm most home cooks who embrace nostalgia.

'Pure Chocolate: Divine Desserts and Sweets by the Creator of Fran's Chocolates' (Broadway; $35) by Fran Bigelow. Over the past two and a half decades, Seattle-based Fran's Chocolates has built up a strong reputation executing traditional favorites with flair and skill. Though rich with recipes for classic truffles, decadent bars and dreamy ice creams, this cookbook's biggest asset is its recipes for showstopping tortes, tarts and chilled chocolate desserts.

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