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Paris Sweets

When I bought Dorie Greenspan's beautiful book Paris Sweets: Great Desserts from the City's Best Pastry Shops, I did so simply because I liked the looks of it. I liked the cover, the illustrations, the layout, and every recipe I happened on as I thumbed through it.

However, when I sat down to read it in earnest -- and one of the nicest things about this cookbook is that it can be read through, since it is a prose work with frequent cooking instructions rather than simply a collection of recipes -- I found that Greenspan's priorities were wonderfully in tune with my own. A third of the recipes are chocolate desserts, and chocolate in general is given special and loving attention.

That still might not have been enough to make it suitable for a chocolate writer to review. But the chocolate recipes are extremely worth having, and you won't find them anywhere else.

Greenspan, who spends half her time in Paris and half her time in America, created this book by speaking to the pastry chefs at various wonderful Paris sweet shops. As she points out in the introduction, most of the recipes she got have never been published before, and many of them hadn't even been written down before the generous chefs shared them with Greenspan.

Therefore, if you want to enjoy, say, La Maison du Chocolat's Gateau au Chocolat Grand-Mere (Grandmother's Creamy Chocolate Cake), a wonderfully simple yet achingly effective dessert, you have two choices: travel to Paris and order a piece, or buy this book and bake it yourself. (Hint: the book is cheaper, and your house will smell terrific in the bargain.)

And you can be sure that any recipe you decide to make will work. Greenspan tried them all out herself, several times. First she tested them in her Paris kitchen, "to be sure that each recipe tasted just as good as the sweets I bought at the shop." Then she prepared them in her kitchen in New York. That way she could tell if they'd really work even with American ingredients and going by the American system of ingredient measurement.

Greenspan doesn't say how many recipes hit the cutting room floor. Perhaps "the aptly named Extrême, a tri-part chocolate fantasy that separates the chocolate likers from the chocolate lovers," which is mentioned only in passing and which I believe will be the first thing I seek out when I am finally lucky enough to visit Paris.

I'm deeply grateful for the recipes that did make it to the page. The Chocolat Chaud (hot chocolate) was my strongest reason for buying this book. I am passionate about drinking chocolate, and this recipe recommends blending one part 80% cacao chocolate with three parts 67% cacao, which I never would have thought of in my wildest chocolate dreams.

Quite aside from the recipes, Paris Sweets is also a lot of fun just to read, whether you've been to Paris or not. Greenspan talks about each place and its pastry chef. She describes the delights of le goûter, that lovely French late afternoon pick-me-up. She explains that the water in Paris is so mineral-laden that chefs there generally use bottled water in their recipes. And, on page after page, she reminds us that "chocolate is, as its ancient name, Theobrome, decreed, the fruit of the gods."

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