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Well, it’s still very much hot in the city! I’m itching to try quite a few recipes from Lori Longbotham’s Luscious Berry Desserts (Flavour of the Month for July 2007), but I just can’t stand to turn on the oven.

And when even the Cream Puff won’t turn on the oven … well … that should tell you what the weather is like outside!

Instead, I’m making another withdrawal from my blog bank with a long overdue book review: Gale Gand’s Chocolate & Vanilla. I received this book many months ago and was pleased as I’d had my eye on it for quite awhile. While I’m very familiar with Gale Gand, surprisingly (even for me) I don’t own any of her cookbooks.

Chocolate & Vanilla is divided into two sections, obviously titled Chocolate and Vanilla! The book is filled with beautiful full-colour photos and has a very interesting design. If you open the book to the vanilla section, once you get to the end of that section, you have to flip the book over for the chocolate section. Alternately, if you open the book to the chocolate section, you then have to flip it over for the vanilla section.

At first I was a bit confused by this but once I realized that it was actually the design of the cookbook, I found it quirky and charming. It’s a bit risky, especially since it means that the book has no index. While each section does have a table of contents, the lack of index was probably the only drawback for me. I rely heavily on a cookbook’s index. But to be honest, it’s such a lovely book that I don’t consider it a huge deal.

Both the vanilla and chocolate sections begin with an excellent introduction, including histories of the ingredients and what to look for when buying vanilla and chocolate. The recipes are clearly laid out and they all begin with a very charming headnote. I love it when authors add a little intro to their recipes, whether it be to explain how the recipe was created or where it originates from. All of the recipes include very helpful elements like “do-aheads” and lists of what equipment you’ll need to prepare the recipe.

As for the recipes themselves, well, how do Cherries in Port over Vanilla and Late-Night Vanilla Flan strike your fancy? Anyone up for Chouqettes with Pearl Sugar or Vanilla Charlotte? And for those days when you simply must have chocolate, how about Black and White Cream Cheese Brownies or Mexican Hot Chocolate Fondue? Chocolate Babka? Chocolate Fudge Soccer Cakes?

Okay, I’ll stop now. Needless to say the titles of the recipes are endlessly tempting. But as always, the ultimate test of a cookbook is in the results. So what did I try?

Let’s start with some Chocolate-Amond Upside-Down Cake. The picture does not do it justice. It’s a moist, chocolatey sponge covered in sliced almonds smothered in a goey caramel. Yes. It’s that good.

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Just one page later, Gand has a recipe for Chocolate-Praline Cake in a Jar. Intrigued by the idea of baking a cake in a jar, I took a closer look at the recipe and knew I had to try it. While I didn’t bake mine in jars (I used mini muffin cups), this was a true winner! The cake is dense and moist and the praline topping is irresistible.

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As I read through the book, I found myself returning over and over to a recipe for Éclairs with Coffee Glaze. I adore éclairs and just couldn’t resist making these. Being a Cream Puff, I enjoyed the opportunity to make my close cousins the éclairs. And the custard filling and coffee glaze were amazing!

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With three recipes under my belt, I was enjoying this cookbook more and more. Usually when I’m reviewing a book I’ll try three recipes but I was so intrigued that I had to try a few more.

The éclairs were followed by what has become my most favourite shortbread ever: Deep Chocolate Shortbread. When I tasted the shortbread shortly after baking it, I was a bit disappointed. It seemed to be on the bland side. But as with all good shortbread, it tastes much better when it’s had the chance to sit for a bit. The following day I bit into a shortbread bar and was blown away. The butter and the cocoa had melded perfectly. I’d buy this cookbook for this recipe alone!

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Chugging along, I tried the Mini Chocolate Chip Muffins and the Buttermilk Panna Cotta with Strawberry Mash (sorry … no pictures). At this point, if you haven’t figured out that I’ve completely fallen in love with this cookbook, then hopefully the next and last recipe will convince you.

Allow me to introduce Mary’s Butterballs (also pictured at the beginning of this post)!

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I will say this about Mary’s Butterballs. Lots of butter. A vanilla sugar coating. Nutella in the middle.

No need to say anything else.

If you’re looking for a great book on vanilla and chocolate, check this one out. If you’re a fan of Gale Gand’s, definitely check this one out! I’m amazed that such a slim cookbook could hold so many treasures, but it’s true.

Now if only it would cool down enough to bake!

Ciao!

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