- Virginia Johnson
Going to college in Williamsburg in the mid-80s meant the occasional treat at Marcel Desaulnier’s legendary restaurant The Trellis. Its fine dining was a little out of our league except occasionally, but they had a special service for dessert and drinks in the evening on the patio, which was an easier indulgence for a date night. Being the 80s, the White Chocolate-Raspberry Balloon (white chocolate ice cream with a delectable fruit sauce) was a hit, as was its most famous dessert, Death by Chocolate, and its more modest cousin, Chocolate Temptation.
Death by Chocolate was layer upon layer of delicious chocolate. Each layer varied in taste and texture, and the result was beautiful—and usually split several ways. My husband and I occasionally get back there, and we often do stop at The Trellis. But somehow it’s not the same. It’s not so much the passage of time as a change in chefs.
They don’t have the same vision as Marcel Desaulniers. Their food is good. But it’s different. Fortunately, Chef Marcel has written a number of cookbooks, including several focusing on those beloved desserts. While The Trellis’ cuisine was (and is) American, it was informed by Continental cookery and used fresh, local ingredients before that was a widespread thing.
But back to chocolate, Chef Marcel’s I’m Dreaming of a Chocolate Christmas has a lot of “Wow” factors to its recipes, but they are in the taste and appearance—not the method, which he describes as simple and straightforward. With a great deal of confidence and not so much fussing, he has devised recipes which may look exquisite but do not require a significant amount of fussing. He tested and retested these winners with his non-cooking wife. They should work and work well. He even tried to get the recipes to use as few pots and pans as possible to make clean-up less of a chore.
You’ll find Chocolate Fruitycakes you will want to eat. The Chocolate Almond Brown Sugar Cake is not complicated, but it can be even less complicated when the two tasks of baking and icing are spread out over two days. Chocolatey Fudge Cake is an old-fashioned tribute to the chef’s mother. But if you want to go fancy, try Chocolate Hazelnut Elagantes (hazelnut meringues with hazelnut bark, dark chocolate mousse and dark chocolate ganache and garnish) or Chocolate Gingerbread Cake with Chocolate Ginger Buttercream, which is less involved than the Elagantes but also has amazing flavor.
Written in a very friendly fashion, I’m Dreaming of a Chocolate Christmas has appendices with information on basic cooking techniques, and every recipe has its section on “Chef’s Touches,” giving a few wise words to make the dish even more successful.
Marcel Desaulniers has moved on from The Trellis, opening MAD about Chocolate Café with his wife in Williamsburg in 2012. Visit him there if you can, but in the meantime, check out this book and his others for a taste of a delightful night in Williamsburg anywhere and anytime.
On this video, Marcel and Julia Child create two of his desserts: Plum Cakes (with a chocolate drizzle) and Chocolate Mint Nightcaps.