The History of Chocolate

Apr 20

Chocolate was first consumed by Central and South American peoples sometime around 2000 years ago. The seeds of the cacao tree which grew in the rainforests of Mesoamerica were ground and used to make a bitter hot beverage which was used for both medicinal purposes as well as a vehicle for various religious and cultural rituals. Chocolate first made its way to Europe sometime around 1521 when the Spanish conquered Mexico and discovered its use amongst the peoples of the area.

When first introduced to European people chocolate was primarily considered a commodity largely used by the wealthiest and most elite of European nobles who could afford to import it. Soon Europeans began adapting the hot bitter beverage by adding sugar, cinnamon and other spices to sweeten the concoction.

Commercial use of chocolate didn’t develop until the mid-1800’s when the first candy bars were developed. The Industrial Revolution brought mass production to the chocolate industry and today chocolate is a multi-billion dollar industry with chocolate being produced all over the world.

Most people will be interested to know that ground chocolate nibs, the final derivative that is removed from the chocolate bean, are separated into two forms, cocoa butter and chocolate liquor. These two forms are subsequently mixed with other ingredients in varying proportions to make the various types of chocolate, i.e. dark chocolate, milk chocolate and white chocolate, which isn’t chocolate at all, but rather cocoa butter mixed with milk, sugar and vanilla.

Choosing chocolate for a recipe is a matter of determining what type of chocolate you are looking for. Most recipes call for semi-sweet chocolate while dark chocolate, chocolate which generally has 70% chocolate liquor in the chocolate with limited sugar and no milk products, is usually reserved for consumption as candy. Always look for a high quality chocolate that comes from a reputable chocolatier and has less preservatives, sugar and milk by products. Many gourmet chocolates are now available at grocery stores. While these chocolates are more expensive than basic baking chocolates, the difference in the final products obtained by using them are well worth the price.

The following is a recipe for a dessert that will be served at a special chocolate dinner being hosted at the Chestnut Street Inn on August 25, 2007. These custards are smooth, not too sweet and absolutely delicious!!

Chocolate Espresso Pots de Cremes
Serves 6
Prep Time: Approx. 20 mins.
Cook Time: 35-40 mins.

6 Egg Yolks
2 Tbl Granulated Sugar
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 1/3 cup whole milk
2 tsp instant coffee
1 tsp vanilla extract
6 oz. semi sweet chocolate
Pinch Salt

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Place cream, milk, coffee, vanilla, chocolate and pinch of salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Melt chocolate and heat until the milk and cream mixture begins to simmer around the edges. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the sugar and a pinch of salt. Slowly whisk in the chocolate/cream mixture, being careful not to scramble the egg yolks. Strain the egg/chocolate mix through a fine mesh sieve into a large measuring cup. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep the mixture from coagulating. Line a large pyrex baking dish with paper towels. Place 6 ramekins in the baking dish. Pour the mixture into baking dishes, spreading the mix evenly until all the mixture is used up. Fill the baking dish with boiling water approx. 1/3 full. Cover with aluminum foil in which small holes have been punched with either a fork or a skewer. Place in the oven and let bake approximately 35-40 minutes or until the pots de crèmes have just set. Remove from the oven and uncover. Let sit approximately one hour or until cooled. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator at least 3 hours.

These can be made approximately 3-5 days in advance.

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