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Fernet-Branca Chocolate Chunk Cookies #CooktheBooks


For the October-November selection of Cook the Books, Simona from Briciole invited the group to read Cooking with Fernet-Branca by James Hamilton-Paterson. You can read what she wrote here. Join the fun, if you wish, because you still have almost two months before the deadline.

I'll start with this: I don't really have a sense of humor. I kept shaking my head as I read this, especially the recipes, and thought, "This has to be a joke, right?" Then I ran some of the passages by my trio who all just said - satire! Fine. Still, this is one of the strangest books I've read in a long time.

Cooking with Fernet-Branca tells the story of two expatriates. Gerald is an English snob and amateur cook who makes his living as a ghostwriter; Marta is a composer from an organized crime family in a (made up?!?) former Soviet Republic country. They are next door neighbors living on a mountaintop in Tuscany and appear to despise each other despite their constant meetings and interactions. And, like the rest of the book, the ending was completely out of left field.

Gerald's inventive recipes punctuate the novel. Think Mussels in Chocolate, Lampreys in Sherry, Otter with Lobster Sauce, Garlic and Fernet-Branca Ice Cream, Oyster and Turnip Profiteroles, and Alien Pie that is made with smoked cat and a drop of kerosene. Inventive might be a stretch because most of them sound just horrendous.

Here's his commentary on the Mussels in Chocolate: "You flinch? But that’s only because you are gastronomically unadventurous. (Your Saturday evening visits to the Koh-i-Noor Balti House do not count. These days conveyor-belt curry is as safe a taste as Mozart.)

2 dozen fresh mussels, shelled and cleaned 
Good quantity olive oil 
Soy sauce 
100 gm finely grated Valrhona dark chocolate   

You will need quite a lot of olive oil because you are going to deep-fry the mussels, and no, that bright green stuff claiming to be Extra-Special First Pressing Verginissimo olive oil with a handwritten parchment label isn’t necessary. Anyway, how can there possibly be degrees of virginity? Olive oil snobs are even worse than wine snobs. You’re far better off, not least financially, with ordinary local stuff that has been cut in the traditional fashion with maize oil, machine oil, green dye etc. Heat this until small bubbles appear (before it begins to seethe). Toss in a good handful of fresh rosemary. Meanwhile, dunk each mussel in soy sauce and roll it in the bitter chocolate. 

(Unlike the oil, the chocolate must be of the best possible quality. If it even crosses your mind to use Cadbury’s Dairy Milk you should stop reading this book at once and give it to a charity shop. You will learn nothing from it.) Put the mussels in the deep-fryer basket and plunge them into the oil. Exactly one minute and fifty seconds later lift them out, drain them on kitchen paper and shake them into a bowl of pale porcelain to set off their rich mahogany colour" (pages 4-5).

You get the idea and can imagine those other bizarre combinations, right? I try not to react with 'ewww' or 'yuck', when it comes to food, but that was a constant thought as I read this book.


I had a bottle of Fernet-Branca on my shelf, so I sipped while I read this strange book. Let me tell you a little bit about this libation in case you are unfamiliar. It's an amaro, a bitter alcohol that is served as a digestif. But it originated in the mid-nineteenth century by an herbalist in Milan who marketed it as a cure for worms, cholera, and even menstrual cramps.

While I am a huge fan of amari, this is probably my least favorite formulation. Though its ingredient list tops two dozen and is quite intriguing, including Chinese rhubarb, Indian galanga, French gentian, bitter aloe, cinchona, chocolate, quinine, angelica as well as iris, saffron, and myrrh. It's distilled, blended, and aged in oak barrels for a year.

One of my favorites is St. George's Bruto Americano. You can read a bit more about that bottle in this post: Down the Gentian Rabbit Hole with Bruto Americano.

Gerald and Marta always seem to have a bottle of Fernet between them. He comments in a passage, "I find myself sitting at the table sniffing cautiously at the Fernet, a drink whose charm is discreeter even than that of the bourgeoisie, being black and bitter. I’d always thought people only ever drank it for hangovers" (pg. 6).

Fernet-Branca Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Since I definitely was not about to attempt any of Gerald's recipes, I thought I would use it as an extract in a cookie. It was subtle enough to be intriguing. Another example of this might be my Spicy Peanut Butter Cookies made with Sriracha. You might be looking at the cookie and thinking that I'm a hypocrite, but I swear they aren't as off-putting as they sound. 

Ingredients makes 2 dozen cookies 

  • 1-1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 10 Tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 2 Tablespoons maple syrup
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 Tablespoons heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon Fernet-Branca
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips plus larger chunks for finishing 
  • 1/4 cup chocolate covered espresso beans
  • Also needed: #40 scoop, cookie sheet, parchment paper


Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Set aside.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda.

In a large mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugars. Add in the maple syrup, egg, heavy cream, Fernet-Branca, and vanilla. Mix again until well-combined. Add in the dry ingredients and stir until completely moistened. Fold in the chocolate chips and chocolate covered espresso beans.

Using a scoop, place dough balls on prepared sheets about 2 inches apart. Press a larger chunk of chocolate into the top of the rounds. This is optional, but I love to see that shard of chocolate on top of the finished cookies.

Bake for 10 to 11 minutes until the cookies are browned on the top and around the sides. Remove from the oven and let cookies cool on the sheet for 3 minutes before transferring to a wire rack.

Cookies will crisp as they cool.

That's a wrap for my #CooktheBooks offering. I can't wait to see what our next four book selections are. Stay tuned for more foodie book fun.


  1. I have the book to read but I am not sure I will try any of his flavour combinations either!

    Your cookies look good!

  2. I am still struggling through this book.


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