Thursday, September 14, 2006

The Boulevard Cookbook (with a Side of Hot Fudge)

Ever since I lived in the Bay Area I've had a soft spot for Boulevard. Some may say it's a bit overplayed - but I love the atmosphere, the slightly whimsical menu, and the shameless indulgence of it all. The location, the decor, the food - it always hits the spot for me.

My first trip was on a date, back in 1998. On that visit, I had a dessert called "Chocolate Boom Boom Cake" - essentially a chocolate version of baked alaska, with a round chocolate cake, topped with espresso ice cream (I think) and chocolate meringue. I fell in love with the restaurant (but not the date) and though I left the Bay Area later that year, I've been back to Boulevard many times.

When I saw that they had published a cookbook in 2005 I just had to have it, so I asked James to buy it for me for our anniversary last month. The recipes are not for everyday cooking. The yields are all eight servings or more - most are 10 or 12. Most require multiple steps and multiple processes. They do acknowledge that some are a bit over the top, and encourage you to take it slow - make parts of things and simply be inspired by their combinations. I've taken that approach several times, all the while drooling over the pictures and fantasizing about serving the elaborate compositions to guests.

Our dinner party last Saturday was my first real chance to try it out. I started with two relatively simple recipes (comparatively speaking) the Fresh Corn Soup, and Chocolate Cherry Shortcakes. My first problem with the book surfaced right away. The full page photos are beautiful, but the artful layout interferes with utility in this case - with the ingredient list and the steps of the recipe on different pages - you wind up flipping back and forth endlessly between the steps and quantities of ingredients in the recipe. Next time, I think I'll jot down the quantities and tape them to the cabinet or something, so I can just leave it open to the actual recipe process while cooking. Once I put the book on my cookbook stand, I'd prefer not to have to touch it with my grubby hands.

This is also not a book for beginners. I had to make a couple of corrections to the recipes that I used. For example, ten corn cobs in a gallon of water simmered for 45 minutes is not going to make a corn stock. It took about an hour and a half of simmering to get the corn flavor into the stock - and I used additional corn cobs because mine were small (Chino's corn is tiny this year but they give you extra to compensate). The fact is that most chefs cook by taste, touch, smell and sound, and it's really hard to put that on paper, especially when you're making something complicated. You just have to be prepared for that when cooking from this book.

All that aside, the book is food porn of the highest order and makes for some fun reading, with it's excellent photos and yummy sounding combinations - like "Buttermilk Brined Fried Little Chickens with Cream Biscuits" nestled into Mashed Potatoes and doused with gravy, and a triple vanilla dessert called, what else? "Vanilla Vanilla Vanilla." But my favorite part, and where the book really earns its keep, is the "Boulevard Basics" section in the back. This is the treasure trove of their formulas for building blocks like duck confit, light and dark chicken stock, beef stock, gigande beans, melted garlic, oven roasted tomatoes, pasta dough, porcini-pork sausage, creamed spinach, crab salad, preserved lemons, and my new favorite hot fudge sauce.

Since I didn't have fresh cherries for the cherries jubilee called for in the shortcake recipe, when I made this for my dinner party on Saturday, I improvised with this fudge sauce and a cherry syrup made by simmering cherry juice and brandy with a bit of sugar over a low flame. (I actually tried mixing a bit of the two to make a dark chocolate cherry sauce, but the taste was strangely metallic for some reason - they were much better kept separate.)

This makes a gloriously dark, fudgy and deep syrup that keeps its gloss even when it cools. I suspect that is becasue of the corn syrup - an ingredient I usually eschew, but here it serves a useful purpose. This is also fantastically easy and quick to make. It's even good straight from the fridge... as you can see!

"Boulevard" Hot Fudge Sauce
adapted from the Boulevard Cookbook
makes about 2 cups

1 stick unsalted butter cut into pieces
1/2 cup corn syrup
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup Dutch Processed Cocoa (I used Valrhona)
4 ounces Bittersweet Chocolate (Whole Foods sells cut bars of Valrhona for baking that are about 8 oz, I used half of one since I don't have a scale yet to measure it precisely)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

In a medium heavy saucepan over medium/low heat, heat the butter with the water, corn syrup and sugar. When the butter has melted, stir in the cocoa powder with a wooden spoon. Bring the mixture to a simmer and cook for three minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Place the chopped chocolate in a medium heatproof bowl and pour in the hot butter-cocoa mixture. Add the vanilla and salt, and whisk to combine. If it tastes too bitter (mine did - I think it depends on the chocolate you use and I might have used too much) add a bit more corn syrup to taste. Pour into a heatproof glass storage container or bowl. Chill until ready to use. Can be kept - covered and refrigerated, for up to two weeks.


  1. i have this book. We made the mussel salad recipe at Cooking School and it was so great that then I bought the book.

    I think it is the most difficult recipe book I have ever seen.

    The French Laundry Cookbook scares me far less.

    Even though I know I have made one recipe, it was printed out on white paper where it looked far less forboading. When I see the exact same recipe in that book I want to run a mile.

    There are some recipes that sound delicious but I just can't bring myself to make them.

    I think the best thing the book does is to remind yourself how great the food is at boulevard and it would just be far easier to go there for dinner instead.

    I know you don't have that luxury, ALice, not being local, so instead I coomend you for your enthusiasm and ability to take this book in your stride.


  2. Wow. I must admit, between your post and Sam's comment, I am very intrigued...I'll keep my eye out for this one...

    Even if just for curiosity's sake.


  3. I know I'll screw it up. But I'm gonna try it anyway.

    Hot Fudge Sauce. Yum.