Book Review: Mast Brothers Chocolate

By Sharon Kebschull Barrett

Feeling uncool in the kitchen? Need a lot more hipster at your stove? With its painstakingly retro design, bearded Brooklynites, more-artisanal-than-thou essays, and too-hip-to-give-you-much-detail recipes, Mast Brothers Chocolate has you covered.

None of which is to say, if that description turned you off, that the book isn’t worth reading. If you can get past the requisite photos of chocolate milk in—of course—a mason jar, or the mason jar of bourbon next to the bourbon balls, or the yogurt and chocolate granola in—deep breath now—a mason jar, and you read the essays in small bites to keep from gagging at the authors’ ever-adorable and self-deprecating descriptions of themselves and their adventures . . . well then, this book actually is interesting.

The background: Two brothers raised in Iowa eventually find themselves together and scraping by in New York, with Rick working in restaurant kitchens and Michael in film production. Of course (this being a Brooklyn story) they throw many dinner parties (“Rick bought a roasting pan and loved cooking a whole leg of lamb after proudly marching down the street with it slung over his shoulder”).

At one dinner, they realize that though, like good Brooklynites, they make their own beer and bread and ice cream and cake and pie, they don’t know how to make chocolate. So, like good Brooklynites, they must march forth to figure it out (“Our heads were pounding the next day with the excitement of discovery on the horizon”). Along the path to enlightenment, they discover with horror that North American chocolatiers melt down chocolate, rather than making their own from scratch. Of course, being good Brooklynites, they cannot let that stand.

And so they become “craft chocolatiers,” opening a factory and retail store in Brooklyn to sell their chocolate bars wrapped (of course) in custom papers they designed.

After all the essays detailing this journey, the pared-down recipes come as a pleasant surprise (at least to experienced cooks—to fit with the look of the book, presumably, these are not hand-holding recipes; rather, they trust that you are not an idiot/enjoy DIY’ing it like a good Brooklynite).

Alongside the obvious chocolate drinks of all sorts, cookies, brownies, ice creams, candies, and truffles sneak in scallops topped with cacao nibs and browned butter, and a savory chocolate cream sauce for pasta or meat. Few of the sweet recipes will surprise readers—chocolate blueberry pie and peanut brittle made with cacao nibs are about as unusual as they get—but for readers with a canister of those nibs stuck on a pantry shelf, the authors have a host of ideas, from steak or salmon covered in nibs, a meat dry rub, homemade pork sausage, cranberry sauce, pate, coq au vin, butternut squash soup, and nibs in a salad with a cocoa balsamic vinaigrette. All far more interesting than the ending recipe of chocolate Rice Krispie treats.

Still, for cooks accustomed to sweet and bland American milk chocolate or chocolate chips, these recipes, with their emphasis on using good, dark chocolate, all the way to the Krispie treats, should awaken taste buds to the delights of rich chocolate—spicy, citrusy, winey, or floral, enhanced but not hidden by sugar.

Mast Brothers Chocolate: A Family Cookbook, by Rick and Michael Mast (Released October 22, 2013, by Little, Brown & Company; 288 pages)

This review first appeared online at the New York Journal of Books.

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