Jul 16, 2010

Garlic and sapphires, and Reichl’s chocolate cake

If you have ever wondered how you will be treated in a snooty, fancy restaurant, Ruth Reichl will tell you in Garlic and Sapphires. It is Reichl’s candid memoire of her stint as a restaurant critic for New York Times, which turns out is one of the most powerful positions a newspaper critic in New York could have.

Besides transitioning from the laidback LA Times to the more staid and rigidly structured NY Times, Reichl has to go through the pains of getting used to the wrath of readers faithful to her predecessor not to mention donning disguises to review restaurants incognito (apparently, every restaurant in NY has her photo tacked in the kitchen).

The disguises turn out to be the most fun part of her job till she finds herself competing with one of her assumed identities, an elegant blond named Chloe, with whom everyone including her husband and son seem taken with. She even gets hit on by a middle aged rich guy and agrees to a date with him at a restaurant she has to review.

Reichl narrates her adventures with a sense of humor and total honesty that makes you want to befriend her. She is generous in her praise and brutally honest with her criticism. Like the time she gets treated differently at a high end restaurant when she dines dressed as a middle class housewife (longer wait, bad table and horrible service) and later as the critic of NYTimes (the King of Spain waits in the bar but her table is ready even when she shows up early!).

However, all good things must end as they do for Reichl when she realizes she no longer likes the person she is disguised as, a bitter, sarcastic *itch. With the realization comes the offer to edit Gourmet, where she has continued to break culinary ground with the same enthusiasm for good food that etched her name as one of the finest food critics of NYTimes. Check out her new PBS series, Gourmet Adventures with Ruth that she sums it up in these words: There’s no better way to experience a culture than to stand at the stove with a wonderful cook.

For our book club, This Book Makes me Cook, I made Reichl’s Chocolate Cake and it can’t be simpler or decadent than this. Bursting with intense chocolate flavor and a hint of coffee, it is the perfect cake to eat with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, sprinkled with hazelnuts, salted pistachios and some blueberries and blackberries tossed in for an additional burst of flavor. I think Ms. Reichl will approve.

Ruth Reichl’s Last Minute Chocolate Cake

4 oz fine quality unsweetened chocolate*
¾ stick (6 tbsp) unsalted butter
¾ cup brewed strong coffee
2 tbsp Grand Marnier (I did not add this)
¾ cup sugar*
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup APF
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt

Preheat the oven to 300 degree F.
Butter and flour a 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf pan.
Combine the chocolate, butter, and coffee in the top of a double boiler or in a very heavy pot. Stir constantly over low heat until melted. Let the mixture cool for 15 minutes.
Add Grand Mariner (if using), sugar, egg and vanilla to the cooled mixture. Stir well.
Stir the flour, baking soda, and salt together, and add this to the chocolate mixture. Add this gradually or use a hand mixer to blend if the mix becomes lumpy.
Pour the batter into the loaf pan and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

* I did not have unsweetened chocolate so I used 75% coco content dark chocolate and reduced the sugar to 1/2 cup.

This book review also goes to Food For Thought, for obvious reasons. If you have a book review and a recipe on your blog, do visit Jain's lovely blog to drop her a link.

I would like to end this post with a reminder to the writer within all of you to visit Sra at When my soup came alive and participate in her Chalks and Chopsticks event.


  1. Great review - you really have a way with words!

    And *gasp* - I can't believe I missed that chocolate cake recipe. Was it in the book? It sounds divine.

  2. Beautiful clicks and a lovely recipe.

  3. Nice review Jaya.And the click is making me droolllllllll...

  4. That cake looks beautiful and simple enough for me to make. Bookmarked. Love the way you dressed it up.

  5. Thanks Marissa. The cake recipe was the last one in the book. It is one of those recipes that when you see it you know it is going to turn out good.

    Thank you KQ, Sanjeeta and PJ. :)

    Soma, you flatter me. :) Can't wait to see your take on this. I am sure you will come up with your own version. :)

  6. Wow, the cake looks so luscious. I went for a hashbrown recipe, becoz of lack of time (and patience). A very god review Jaya and loved reading it :D


  7. Oops, not god meant to say *good*.

  8. Oh my goodness...that looks incredible. What a delightful recipe and presentation!

  9. Cakes looks sinfully delicious. Nice review. It is nice reading each ones perspectives on the same book in different blogs.

  10. Cake sounds delicious, love coffee flavor in it, truly brings out the chocolate flavor!

  11. Great recipe, thanks for sharing :-) I wanna try this out this week, hehe. I wanna share this to my frieds too in Foodista , just if you won't mind adding the foodista widget then that would be great! The widget shall direct readers to your recipe when they go looking for recipes with vanilla extract. Thanks and hope you keep on posting! ;-)

  12. I am in love with Ruth Reichl's writings, finished all of her memoirs, did not cook anything though.

    When does the PBS series air ?

  13. Sandeepa, the PBS series is already on in our part of the country. It is every Sat at 11.30 AM. Click on the link I put up and enter your zip code to find listing in your area. And yes, I too am in love with her writing. Have read her one memoir and can't wait to finish the others. :)

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  15. I will certainly seek out the PBS series Gourmet Adventures with Ruth & I thank you for the heads up about it.
    Fun review & your cake looks divine!
    (although I hate the taste of coffee & hazelnuts give me a headache) I still think I'd like a taste!!!

  16. Great review! I have this book buried in my TBR pile, clearly I need to pull it out. Love the name of your book club! Your cake looks DEVINE...now I'm craving chocolate cake for breakfast, at least I'd get a fruit serving with your yummy recipe :-)

  17. i am so glad you joined in food for thought, it is great to see other book clubs doing such great reviews too! i loved this book, i think she is a crack up, it was an insightful read, as you mentioned all the bs that goes with haute cuisine... i read it before food for thought, lucky you, a perfect chocolate recipe to indulge in! your pics are gorgeous, gorgeous presentation~ thanks so much for sharing with us, i hope to see all you are reading soon!

  18. What a cute name for a book club. Thanks for sharing this review. Your photos are wonderful and now I'm craving some chocolate cake! ~ Sarah


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