Acclaimed chocolatier and patissier William Curley, four times winner of the Academy of Chocolate’s Chocolatier of the Year Award, has the reputation of being ‘the chocolatier’s chocolatier’. The publication by Jacqui Small of his first book in the UK, Couture Chocolate is, therefore, a cause of no little interest in the world of chocolate. An appreciative introduction by the legendary chef Pierre Koffmann, for whom Curley worked as a pastry chef, and complimentary jacket quotes from such culinary notables as Marco Pierre White and Raymond Blanc signal Curley’s high standing in the world of haute cuisine.
At first glance, this large, handsomely produced volume, filled with alluring images of chocolates and patisserie, looks like a prime example of a coffee table book, one to be looked through and admired rather than used. This is misleading, however, because, while the book is indeed attractively and amply illustrated with Jose Lasheras’s eye-catching photograph of Curley’s handiwork, the special appeal of Couture Chocolate is that its ample collection of recipes and techniques really does offer the ‘masterclass in chocolate’ its dust jacket claims.
Curley begins with the fundamentals of chocolate making– so spreads on how to temper chocolate and how to make a basic ganache– before moving on to techniques such as framing and cutting ganache, combing and piping chocolate and making chocolates in moulds. Lucid instructions, practical tips and step-by-step photographs – in the spirit of Time Life’s legendary Good Cook series – give a genuinely useful insight into the chocolate-making process.
As anyone who’s visited Curley’s shops in Richmond or Belgravia or his outlet in Harrods will know, his chocolates and patisserie are truly elegant creations. Reading the recipes, it becomes clear what an extraordinary amount of work goes into creating these dainty chocolates, from making the pate de fruits, flavoured caramel or feuillantine to the painstakingly meticulous assembly. The recipes for his exquisite patisserie similarly offer an insight into the behind-the-scenes skill and expertise needed to create indulgent luxuries such as Chocolate Tiramisu Casket or Chocolate Mont Blanc.
When it comes to flavours, Curley is noted for his subtle and elegant combinations. His marriage to Japanese patissier Suzue saw him develop a hallmark Japanese palette of flavours and many of the recipes feature Japanese ingredients, from truffles flavoured with wasabi or houji cha (smoked green tea) to caramelized hazelnuts coated with kinako powder (made from ground roasted soya beans).
As one would expect, the recipes in Curley’s book reflect his world – which is that of a highly accomplished professional patissier and chocolatier . These are not speedy, easy recipes – these are recipes requiring time, patience and skill, as well as a considerable range of high-end ingredients and specialised equipment. Thanks to the Internet, however, the keen chocolate-maker can nowadays access both these ingredients and kit. Curley has always been known for his teaching and training – both of the apprentices who work for him and of the keen amateurs who do his classes - and Couture Chocolate is definitely a delectable textbook for serious chocolate enthusiasts. What I found especially inspiring about this book was the insight it offered into Curley’s creativity – from his striking and imaginative flavours to the aesthetics of presentation, whether a chocolate truffle lovingly coated in finely chopped pistachios or the dark, glossy perfection of his matcha and dark chocolate entremet. A book to savour and one which will inspire chocolate lovers everywhere.