Acclaimed cookbook author Francine Segan to present on the heritage of chocolate

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By: Geoff Lesar
glesar@flavor574.com

Photo supplied

Celebrated food historian Francine Segan’s road to becoming a Random House cookbook author was, well, a bit random.

The former child psychologist had long been fond of home cooking and hosting dinner parties before her “wonderful accident” led to a new calling.

“It all happened because a friend of mine suggested I do an Elizabethan-themed dinner party, because he was performing with Gwyneth Paltrow in ‘As You Like It’ and thought it might be just a fun idea,” Segan said.

Chocolate 101: History and Tasting
1 to 2 p.m. June 1
Christiana Creek Country Club
116 W. Bristol St., Elkhart

Admission: free to Four Arts Club members, $20 for non-members.

After a bit of research, Segan resurrected recipes from the mid-16th century and provided quirky historical tidbits to guide each of her guests through the meal.

“Within, I don’t know, a week, word of mouth spread and I was offered a cookbook deal with Random House to recreate that dinner as a book,” Segan said. “And so then, that was my first opening.”

A “generous advance” allowed Segan to spend a year researching “every little scrap of paper” she could find.

“When the first book came out, they loved it and they offered me a deal for two more books if I quit my day job,” Segan said. “So, I stopped psychology and devoted myself full-time to researching the next two books.”

Now with six cookbooks to her name, Segan is often called on as an expert by the likes of The New York Times, Food Network and Martha Stewart.

She will offer her insight into the evolution of chocolate and its cooking properties as the featured speaker of Chocolate 101: History and Tasting, presented by the Four Arts Club from 1 to 2 p.m. on June 1 at Christiana Creek Country Club, 116 W. Bristol St., Elkhart.

Admission is free to Four Arts Club members and $20 for non-members.

“Most people don’t realize that chocolate has kind of a short history. It’s only about 200 years that we’ve been enjoying it the way we know it. For the majority of its history, it was just a drink and it was only in the New World,” Segan said.

Segan will speak to how chocolate was discovered, how it’s grown and prepared, and how that has changed over its 2,000 year history.

Near the end of presentation, Segan will lead attendees in a tasting of chocolate varieties, including dark chocolates crafted with a high cacao percentage and Perugina’s Baci, bite-sized Italian hazelnut chocolates similar in shape to a Hershey’s Kiss.  

“One message I love to send is, remember chocolate isn’t a candy; it isn’t sweet until we add sugar. It’s actually a very wonderful complex food that’s a seed, like fennel and cumin and coriander,” Segan said. “It’s actually fabulous as a cooking ingredient. So, I hope everyone leaves with the idea of keeping a bar of chocolate next to their spice rack and adding it to their summer dishes.” 

Five-Ingredient Italian Chocolate Cake
From “DOLCI: Italy’s Sweets” by Francine Segan (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2011)
Serves 8

This flourless cake has a crisp, macaroon-like top layer and a dense, incredibly moist center. It’s made with only five ingredients, so be sure to use only quality chocolate.

Ingredients

  • 7 tablespoons, 3 1/2 ounces, unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
  • 7 ounces dark chocolate, 70% cacao or higher
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 2 tablespoons potato or cornstarch

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch spring form cake pan.
  2. Melt the butter and chocolate in a small bowl, either in the microwave or over a saucepan of gently boiling water.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the sugar and egg yolks with an electric hand held mixer until creamy and pale yellow. Add the chocolate-butter mixture and beat until creamy. Add the potato starch and mix until well combined.
  4. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites until stiff. Slowly, using a spatula, fold the egg whites, a little at a time, into the chocolate mixture until combined.
  5. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for about 20 minutes, until just set in the center. Don’t over-bake. The cake will continue to set as it cools. Allow it to rest for about 30 minutes before cutting it until it collapses and the top crust cracks a bit.
  6. Serve warm or at room temperature.
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