Q&A with Chocolate Expert and Author Alice Medrich

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Alice Medrich Photo: Dave Lauridsen
Alice Medrich. Photo: Dave Lauridsen

If you’ve eaten or made an American style chocolate truffle—known for a soft center and slightly lumpy form compared to French truffles--you have a local Bay Area chocolate expert to thank. North Berkeley resident and Alice Medrich said of this early culinary start:

“My career started with a hand-written recipe for the tiny cocoa-dusted chocolate truffles given to me by my Paris landlady in 1973. I went on to make and sell those pure bittersweet truffles at the Pig by the Tail Charcuterie (a distant fond memory now) across the street from Chez Panisse in Berkeley in l973.”

She opened her dessert shop Cocolat in 1976 and became famous for her baking and pastry work and chocolate truffles. Her sweet professional career has included national media coverage, James Beard Foundation and the International Association of Culinary Professionals award-winning cookbooks, and a chain of Cocolat stores. She sold her interest in Cocolat in 1989.

The First Lady of Chocolate has an upcoming book called Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts (Artisan Books), which should hit the bookshelves in May 2012. Medrich told Bay Area Bites that she is launching a series of dessert classes on Craftsy.com later this spring. Medrich is featured in Growing a Business, Paul Hawkens's book and TV series profiling successful entrepreneurs, and has appeared on the Food Network’s Chef Du Jour and Bakers’ Dozen, the Julia Child PBS series Baking with Julia, and Joan Nathan’s Jewish Cooking in America. Medrich trained at the prestigious Êcole Lenôtre in France, and is the author of Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies, Pure Dessert, Bittersweet: Recipes and Tales from a Life in Chocolate, and Chocolate Holidays.

What is the premise of your upcoming book "Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts"?
Well, uh, sinfully easy! The subtitle is "Quicker Smarter Recipes" if that helps. I've streamlined steps to make some classic faves easier to make without loss of quality, included some amazing cakes that are mixed in the food processor, and demystified a few things (like souffles) that people think are scary and hard, but are really quite simple. Everyone needs a sinfully easy repertoire of impressive desserts that take less time, fuss, and equipment than people think.


What are your favorite recipes from "Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts"?
Among my chocolate faves: The Chocolate Stout Floats, The Cocoa Brownies with Walnuts and Brown Butter and The Food Processor Chocolate Mousse.

What are your favorite local treat recommendations for Valentine's Day?
Michael Recchiuti chocolates are always beautiful and exciting...Paul Masse's desserts at Masse's....Interesting bars, especially Bittersweet's own milk chocolate and hot chocolate in Oakland and the crazy wild collection of chocolate bars at Fog City News.

If you had one bar of chocolate to eat, what would it be?
That’s not fair. I taste a lot of chocolate. I’m currently enjoying eating two different milk chocolates: Scharffen Berger milk and also milk chocolate by Bittersweet Café, being made by Albert Abrams. I nibble them. I’d actually rather eat a good bar than eat a truffle these days.

What are your favorite spots to shop for food?
I’m a big Monterey Market person because it’s local and so good. I shop for produce there and live in that general area. I also like going to Berkeley Bowl, the Cheese Board and Berkeley Natural Grocery.
There’s the tiny Coffee Market, where I get my bulk spices and sometimes dried fruit.
The Pasta Shop is where I get olive oil.

What are your favorite dining spots?
For casual friends stuff, my regular kind of go to is Café Rouge for oysters and wine. I think they have the best oysters in town.
Imperial Tea Court for hand pulled noodles.
O Chamé for small dishes.
Fonda or César for drinks.

What is your favorite meal to have with your family?
My daughter, Lucy is in New York and one of my best eating partners. We want to go out, try something new and have a new restaurant experience together. In the last couple of years, we’ve loved Prune, and EN Japanese Brasserie. At Joe’s, we did the two-hour wait at Christmas, and ate their Shanghai noodles. In Berkeley, we’ll have tea at Imperial tea court and go to Café Rouge.

With my larger family, we love crab so we make a whole meal out of Dungeness. There’s a bunch of us here: my brother and mom, and my cousins are down in the peninsula. We like to eat and drink. With my mother, we go for sushi. That little hole in the wall off Piedmont Ave called Geta is very good and we like Kirala's takeout in the Epicurious garden in North Berkeley; we think the sushi there is way better than it is at the Kirala restaurant, go figure.

What is your guiltiest food pleasure?
My mind doesn’t go to M&Ms, which I’ve been known to eat. It’s foie gras and caviar that I still love. I love crab butter, which I know we’re not supposed to eat too much of. I like cheese, rich cheeses.

Any news we should know about?
I'm starting a new baking book, about baking with non-wheat flours. In my cookie book, it occurred to me that it’d be good to have a collection of gluten-free cookies in there. So many people have an intolerance to gluten. I found it very challenging and interesting, so I pitched it to my editor, who said, “Let’s not think about gluten-free. Let’s think about all those flours, and frame it in a different way.”


What advice do you have for home bakers?
Pick a recipe you trust. Hopefully it’s a recipe that tells you the cacao percentage. That makes a lot of difference! Then use chocolate that is that percentage. In older recipes, they didn’t tell us that because we didn’t have the percentages on the chocolate.