The first evidence of chocolate was found by chocaholics disguised as “archeologists” at the end of 2007. ☺ They found evidence at Puerto Escondido in Honduras and dated it to around 1100 to 1400 BC. The white pulp around the cacao beans was probably used as an alcoholic drink at first because it was such good source of fermentable sugar.
In 400 AD the Mayans already grew trees near their homes and made a bitter drink (xocatl) from it – it was used for both every day life and ornate ceremonies and was flavoured with vanilla, chilli and annatto. They believed it kept them awake and I’m sure scientists somewhere could provide evidence of this because it certainly keeps me awake when I’m late for deadlines.
At first it was an important luxury and later even used as currency. What I do find interesting is that it was used to cure diarrhoea! The beans were used for tax by the Aztecs (who also made a chocolate drink, but they called it nahuatl). Europeans did not get to know it until the Spanish had slaughtered most of the Aztecs, but it became wildly popular very soon. A thriving trade developed around it and despite the use of African and Mid-American slaves, it remained pricey, used by the rich and the doctors! It was also darned scarce. The first chocolate house was opened in London in the mid 1600’s only! With the industrial revolution machines were developed that allowed more people to get hold of it.
Today there are many kinds of chocolate, but one can divide it roughly into white (obtained by adding milk solids, usually vanilla and sugar to the cocoa butter/cocoa liquor mix) – because there’s no theobromine in the white chocolate, animals should be able to eat it – but, please I’m not a vet and it’s just a thought!!! Milk chocolate (rich in sugar, cocoa butter and milk solids has a minimum of 15% chocolate liquor for the Americans and 35% for the Europeans) and dark chocolate. Dark chocolate is produced by adding cocoa butter and sugar to the cocao mixture (a liquid obtained which is the beans are fermented and after they’ve been dried quickly to prevent mould). Cocoa beans are cleaned, roasted, ‘smashed’ and the shells are removed to obtain the nibs. The nibs, are also ground and melted and this is how the cocoa butter and the chocolate “liquor” is made! It is a rich source of antioxidants, thought to reduce the possibility of a heart attack if we eat it often enough in small quantities. I do so religiously.
Lastly, there is cooking chocolate – pure chocolate liquid, unadulterated chocolate that has a strong, deep chocolate flavor. I buy one for the kitchen and one for me every time.
The three main varieties of cacao beans used in chocolate are criollo, forastero and trinitario. Criollo (image of Maracaibo chocolate above) is the rarest and most expensive and found in Hawaii (where the best of the best is found), Central USA and the Caribbean. Forastero is the most commonly used and trinitario is a mix of the first two.
Chocolate goes through two processes to get it ready for the market: conching and tempering. A conche is a container of metal beads, which grinds the chocolate so that the refined and blended chocolate mix is in liquid form. Before the conching it is gritty and the process of conching makes the cocoa and sugar particles so miniscule and smooth that they are not even felt by the tongue.
In the final process, the chocolate is tempered to prevent crystallization. If the cocoa butter crystallizes out of control, crystals of differing sizes form and they make the chocolate seem mottled and matted – the chocolate crumbles when you break a piece off, the snap not even audible – it’s dull and grey, not at all appetizing!
In conclusion, I have a few really special recipes that have been passed on from friend to friend and always, but always work and are shockingly simple! Thierry – these are for you.
FLOURLESS CHOCOLATE CAKE!
400g Lindt 75% dark chocolate (of course you can use another brand)
6 large eggs
95g very dark sugar (muscovado is best)
2 tablespoons good brandy
25g thick cream
Preheat oven to 180 C
Grease and line spring-form cake tin
Melt chocolate the way you normally do and allow to cool
Now break the eggs into a heat-proof dish over a pan of simmering water. Add the brandy and sugar and whisk madly until it doubles in size
Take off heat and fold in cooled chocolate, then the thick cream and mix well
Put the mixture in prepared tin, place right at the bottom of the oven in a roasting pan filled half way with hot water. This steam helps to cook it evenly.
Bake for 40 minutes until skewer comes out clean.
The timing is essential and because each oven differs, the first time is nerve wracking!
I like it with whipped cream – berries are also good.
I always use Lindt, simply because I love it and they make 85% chocolates – the only one that satisfies my addiction. 🙂
COINTREAU CHOCOLATE TART
450 Lindt chocolate – 75% cocoa solids
250 ml milk
225g softened unsalted butter
2 egg yolks
175 g fine castor sugar
60 ml Cointreau (Grand Marnier is just as good)
Blind baked sweet, short-crust shell
Shaved dark chocolate shavings – use a thick slab or block to make good shavings
Unsweetened cocoa powder to garnish
Pour milk into a heavy-based pot on very low heat, add chocolate and stir constantly until chocolate just melts
Remove from stove and stir until both are well blended
Cream butter and sugar until light and pale, using electric mixer
Add yolks, one by one and mix very well
I said it was easy, didn’t I?
Oh yes, and my pic is courtesy of Lindt – I hoped they wouldn’t mind!
a massive tourist industry has grown around chocolate and much needed funds are starting to trickle into the cocoa producing countries that, after centuries of economic abuse, are starting to spend money on their own future – their children.