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Chocolate-loving innkeeper serves special savoury and sweet dishes

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The traditional heavy breakfast of bacon, eggs and toast isn't Barbara Passino's idea of what to serve guests staying at her inn in California's Napa Valley.

"Often breakfast has to be good for you which has such a dull ring to it," says the owner of Oak Knoll Inn. "So we started to focus on having a multi-course breakfast starting with a fruit course of some kind and something savoury."

The fruit starter could be a fruit pizza, then on to a serving of chocolate banana strudel washed down with chocolate mint tea.

As you can guess, Passino is crazy about chocolate and food in general. She took cooking classes with Marcella Hazan in Venice, Italy. In 1992 she and her husband John bought the bed and breakfast.

Because of her love for chocolate, "it is always on the menu somewhere."

Researching the history of chocolate with renowned Mexican food expert and teacher Susanna Trilling in Oaxaca, where chocolate is used as a savoury ingredient, Passino decided to write a cookbook.

The result is the newly released "Chocolate for Breakfast," (Hoberman, $40 hardcover).

Not all the 100 recipes contain chocolate as an ingredient, but there are some unusual ones that do.

Here, for Valentine's breakfast, is Passino's romantic version of pancakes.

Chocolate-Chocolate Pancakes

410 ml (1 2/3 cups) flour

75 ml (1/3 cup) unsweetened cocoa powder

10 ml (2 tsp) baking powder

1 ml ( 1/4 tsp) salt

75 ml (1/3 cup) granulated sugar

250 ml (1 cup) chocolate chips

2 eggs

10 ml (2 tsp) vanilla

75 ml (5 tbsp) butter, melted and cooled

300 ml (1 1/4 cup) (plus 50 ml/ 1/4 cup more) milk

Raspberry Sauce

1.25 l (1 pint) raspberries

30 ml (2 tbsp) sugar

50 ml ( 1/4 cup) water

50 ml ( 1/4 cup) raspberry liqueur (or Grand Marnier or cognac)

To make pancakes:

Put the flour, cocoa, baking powder, salt and sugar through a sieve placed over a large mixing bowl. Add the chocolate chips to the dry ingredients. Beat the eggs and vanilla together. Add melted butter, then milk and continue to blend. Pour the liquid mix over the dry ingredients and stir thoroughly. It should be about the consistency of a really good chocolate milkshake.

Place a platter in the oven and turn the heat to 95 C (200 F). As you make the pancakes, put them on the platter so they stay warm until you are ready to serve.

Place a griddle or large skillet over moderate heat and brush the surface with a little melted butter. Using a ladle, drop batter onto the griddle to make pancakes about 5 to 7.5 cm (2 to 3 inches) across. Cook until the edges begin to look dry and bubbles appear on the surface. Flip gently and cook for another minute on the other side.

To make raspberry sauce.

Place half of the raspberries in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir in the sugar, water and liqueur. When the raspberries start to collapse and liquefy, turn the heat down to low and cook until they are very soft. Pour through a strainer to remove seeds, pushing against the solids to extract all of the juice. Add the remainder of the raspberries to the juice and stir. Set aside until the pancakes are done.

Serve 3 to 5 pancakes per person, topped with the raspberry sauce and berries.

Makes about 30 small pancakes.

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