Top Chef's Chocolate And Vanilla Recipes

Award-winning pastry chef and cookbook author Gale Gand's latest offering deals with two of the major food groups: "Chocolate and Vanilla."

That's the tile of her sixth cookbook, which she co-authored with Lisa Weiss.

It's full of great dessert ideas and could help you can indulge your cravings for whichever you prefer.

She stopped by The Early Show Wednesday to talk about the two staples, the book, and recipes.

The book's layout is unique: Open it like a traditional book, and you learn about chocolate and read a variety of chocolate recipes. Flip the book over and open it from the "back," and it's like you're starting an entirely new book, this one all about vanilla.

Each recipe clearly states what special equipment you're going to need, what parts can be made ahead, and how long you can store, freeze and keep each dessert.

"Many people see things in terms of black and white," Gand writes, "but I always seem to see things in terms of chocolate or vanilla. ... I wrote this book to pay homage to America's two favorite flavors, to share some of the chocolate and vanilla recipes that mean the most to me and that I really love to make, and to help indulge the chocolate and vanilla lovers in your lives."

One recipe featured on the show calls for melted semi-sweet chocolate. Can you just go out and buy chocolate chips? NO. According to Gand, chips have less cocoa butter than chocolate bars, and were designed solely to keep their shape when baked. They tend to be sweeter and have less chocolate flavor.

So, you want to go out and buy a bar of nice chocolate. But this can actually be a bit confusing. For starters, manufacturers can use "bittersweet" and "semi-sweet" interchangeably. To be labeled as either, the chocolate must contain at least 35 percent of cacao solids. Most quality chocolate bars list this percentage on the front, and it varies from 35 percent all the way up to 72 percent. The one you choose is really up to your taste buds. The higher the percentage, the darker the color, the less sweet the taste, and the stronger the chocolate flavor of the finished dessert.

Gand prefers melting chocolate on the stove instead of in the microwave. She explains that she doesn't like not being able to monitor the chocolate closely, and she feels there's a good chance she'll burn it.

Gand calls vanilla "the lingerie of baking." It's an invisible essential, the thing you put on before anything else, but when given the spotlight, it's as sexy and alluring as chocolate.

While many people may be mystified and perhaps even intimidated by the vanilla bean, Gand says vanilla extract is just fine to use in all baked goods, and really "captures the essence of the bean." Of course, you want to be sure to buy pure vanilla extract, not imitation vanilla. And while grocery store brands can be quite good, keep in mind that you get what you pay for.

Vanilla beans are great if you want to infuse a liquid with vanilla, or if you want to see those little specks of vanilla seeds (think vanilla bean ice cream!). Gand prefers to buy loose beans so she can touch them and see if they are supple. You should almost be able to wrap a bean around your finger.

Many recipes call for splitting the vanilla bean and scraping out the seeds, but Gand doesn't think that's necessary. Instead, she just splits the bean and allows the seeds to come out on their own.

"As an added bonus," she writes, "once you've infused a vanilla bean into liquid, the bean can be removed, rinsed and stored in the refrigerator to be used a few more times. It's not a one-shot deal, but continues to give off flavor three to four more times. Even when it seems to have finally become exhausted, it can still be plunged into sugar to make vanilla sugar."

If you put your beans into some sugar and store it in an air-tight container, the aroma and flavor will permeate the sugar. The longer you leave the beans in there, the more flavor it will impart.

Vanilla sugar is delicious whipped into whipped cream. Gand also calls for vanilla sugar in her recipe for "Mary's Butterballs." These are very simple cookies made of sugar, butter and flour that are rolled into balls and baked.

For Gand's recipes, go to Page 2.