Saturday, 23 July 2011

Chocolat by Joanne Harris

I have spent the last week scouring my bookshelves for novels which feature food as a tool of communication, inspiration and temptation. I have also visited my favourite online bookstores - Booktopia and Fishpond -  to see what is new in this genre and of course, bought a few. Oh dear. This week's offering is Chocolat.

Chocolat was first published in 1999 and was made in to a movie by the same name starring Johnny Depp and Juliette Binoche. The author has freely admitted that her hobbies include "priest baiting and quiet subversion". The storyline uses the well known temptations of chocolate to challenge "bait and subvert"  faith and morality in a small rural town in France.

"We came on the winds of the Carnival..." p1 is the first hint that change within a small community is afoot. The bringer of that change is the main character Vianne Rocher who is the daughter of a witch who has been taught the art of turning bad luck in to good. She has also been instilled with "gypsy wunderlust" by her mother. Together with her young child Anouk, Vianne arrives in the small town of Lasquenet, in France. It is Shrove Tuesday and a Carnival is heralding in the start of Lent.

The picturesque town is both parochial and patriarchal. Its 200 inhabitants are dominated by the severe priest Cure Renaud, the imposing church and Town Square isolated amidst expansive farmlands. Here, Vianne, a self taught chocolatier sets up a chocolate shop called Le Celeste Praline in a dis-used bakery opposite the church, the gauntlet is thrown and traditonal values are questioned.

"I sell dreams, small comforts, sweet harmless temptations to bring down a multitude of saints, crash, crash crashing down amongst the hazels and nougatines" p62

The story alternates, chapter by chapter, between the viewpoints of Vianne and her nemesis Cure Renaud who becomes increasingly alarmed and obsessed with trying to keep his flock safe from the temptations of indulging in chocolate during Lent.

Inside the chocolate shop we meet Guillame who is distressed by the priest's view that his dying dog does not have a soul, an elderly woman Armande who rejects the priest's counsel and orchestrates her own passing and Josephine who denounces her marriage vows and leaves her bully husband. As each parishioner moves closer to their own truths, Cure Renaud becomes increasingly more watchful and controlling.

By Easter Monday, the winds have changed once more and Vianne hints at her departure. The Cure has met his downfall and the chocolatier has worked her magic.

Whole paragraphs within the story are devoted to mouthwatering descriptions of truffles, gingerbreads, crystallized fruit, marzipan birds, clusters, seashells and sugared violets. Enjoy!

"... he bought a cornet of Florentines and a cup of chocolate"

Easy. Serves 10

1/2 cup sultanas
2 cups cornflakes
100gm slivered almonds
100gm chopped glace cherries
2 tablespoons mixed peel
2/3 cup sweet  condensed milk
250 gm dark chocolate


Preheat oven to 170C and line two large baking
trays with non stick paper.
Combine all ingredients except the chocolate in a large bowl. At this point you may also like to add optional ingredients such as glace ginger, allspice or nutmeg. 
Place spoonfuls of mixture on to the trays leaving space for the Florentines to spread while cooking OR alternatively press the mix in to egg rings for a more uniform look. 
Bake 10 minutes until lightly golden and leave on a wire rack to cool and harden. 
In the meantime dissolve chocolate in a bowl over a pot of boiling water and when melted spread on the underside of the biscuits and refrigerate. 
If you get tired of filling egg rings with biscuit mix, do as I did and press the mixture in to a lined baking dish and when cooked cut in to squares or fingers.

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