As published in the Feb 2016 issue of Powell River Living Magazine.
Ah, chocolate; delicious, decadent, delectable and soothing. So where did this delight come from?
The history of chocolate
The origins of chocolate go back at least 4000 years, which derived from the evergreen. Theobroma (means ‘food of the gods’) cacao tree,. The plant is believed originated in the Amazon or Orinoco basins in South America. The Aztecs attributed its creation to their god Quetzalcoatl who as the legend goes descended from heaven on a beam of a morning star carrying a cacao tree stolen from paradise.
The Aztecs valued the cacao bean so much that they used it as currency. They also used the cacao beans to prepare a thick, unsweetened drink, laced with ground chilies called chocolatl ; a liquid so prestigious that it was served in golden goblets.
The Aztecs created what we now know as chocolate by fermenting, drying and roasting the beans and then grinding the kernels to produce cocoa mass, chocolate liquor.
Although Christopher Columbus was the first to come across the beans around 1502, Herman Cortez is credited with introducing them to the Western World a little over 40 years later. Cortez was fascinated with the Aztecs bitter spicy beverage; however, he was more impressed by the fact that the beans were used as currency. He established in the name of Spain a cacao plantation, where “money” could be cultivated.
When he returned to Spain, he took some of the wonderful beans back to his king.
He had a suspicion that if the Aztecs bitter beverage were blended with cane sugar, it would be more agreeable to European tastes. He was right and the drink became quite the delicacy. The Spaniards mixed the beans with pepper, sugar, vanilla, nutmeg, clove, allspice and cinnamon, became the drink of nobility – a secret Spain managed to keep from the rest of the world for almost 100 years.
When the French get hold of it, they immediately acclaimed it as a marvelous aphrodisiac and by adding heavy taxes on it, further enhanced its status as a drink for the rich.
In the 17th and 18th century England, the drink became so popular that many chocolate houses opened up competing against the traditional English pub.
From cacao bean to chocolate
The cacao tree, which ranges from 15-20 feet high, is planted in moist, tropical climates. There are three varieties of the cacao tree Criollo, Forastero and Trinitarios; each grown different part of the world.
The ripened pods shaped like small footballs; in the color of red, orange or gold. They are allowed to ferment in their own heat while developing their flavor and characteristics. When the fermented beans turn to a rich brown color they are ready for drying. After drying they are shipped to chocolate factories all over the world.
Like coffee, it develops its color and the fullness of its flavor when it’s roasted. The degree of care given to the roasting has considerable influence on the quality of the end product; either cocoa powder or chocolate.
The roasted and husked beans, called “nibs” then pass through a grinder and the heat generated by this process causes the cocoa butter to melt and form a fine paste called “chocolate liquor” which gets molded into cakes. At this point some of the cakes go through hydraulic press which removes most of the cocoa butter and become cocoa.
To some of the cakes more cocoa butter added and become bitter chocolate we know as cooking or baking chocolate.
Cocoa butter is a very a remarkable fat, it will keep for years without becoming rancid. There are many pharmaceutical demands for it. Because of this high demand, in inferior chocolate the cocoa butter is replaced by other fat.
The best sweet chocolate is made by combining the melted bitter cake with 35% cocoa butter, fine sugar, sometimes vanilla and milk – depending on the type of chocolate desired. So read your label. The list of ingredients should be short like: Chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, sugar, lecithin (emulsifier) and vanilla.
White chocolate was first introduced in Switzerland after World War I. It is more expensive than dark because it contains more of the expensive cocoa butter. It offers a subtle hint of chocolaty taste, but it isn’t a true chocolate because doesn’t contain the chocolate liquor. To purchase white chocolate you’ll have to look for Belgium made like Callebaut.
The North American white chocolate contains no chocolate or cocoa butter at all but is prepared from vegetable fats, coloring and flavors.
Cocoa is pulverized from the dry cocoa cakes which after processing still contain 10% fat for regular cocoa and up to 24%. The Dutch type is the heaviest in fat content.
Chocolate Zucchini Cake
- ½ cup soft butter
- 1 cup sugar
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup buttermilk (or mix ½ c milk with 1tbs lemon juice)
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 21/2 cups flour
- 4 tbsp cocoa powder (Dutch preferably)
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp powered cloves
- 2 cups grated zucchini, drained
- 1 cup chocolate chips
- Cream together butter, sugar, oil, eggs, buttermilk and vanilla.
- Sift and mix dry ingredients, flour, cocoa, baking powder & soda, salt, cinnamon and cloves.
- Stir dry ingredients into creamy mixture.
- Fold in zucchini and chocolate chips.
- Pour into greased bunt or chiffon pan, or two small loaf pans.
- Bake at 350F for 45-60 minutes, till tester comes out clean.
- Dust with icing sugar or top with chocolate glaze.
(Makes about 1 1/4 cup)
- 7 oz semisweet chocolate
- 1 tbsp butter, unsalted
- ¾ cup sugar
- 1/3 cup strong coffee
- Melt in dbl boiler over hot, not boiling water chocolate and butter.
- Cook sugar and coffee to thread stage (230F).
- Pour syrup in slowly, stirring constantly until mixture coats back of the spoon.
- Pour the glaze over the cake.
(Makes 24 biscotti)
- 1 cup dried cranberries
- 3 tbsp orange juice
- ¼ cup butter, soft
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 2 cups flour
- 1/3 cup cocoa powder
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¾ cup chocolate chips
- Combine cranberries and orange juice in small pot and heat over med heat until softened.
- Cream butter, sugar and eggs in a large bowl, add cranberry mixture and stir.
- Add remaining ingredients except chocolate chips, and mix well.
- Mix chocolate chips in. Dough will be stiff.
- Turn out onto lightly flowered surface and kneed xix times.
- Shape into two 16” (40cm) long, 11/4” diameter (3cm) log and place on greased baking sheet.
- Bake in 350F oven for 30 minutes.
- Cool on wire rack for 10-15 minutes.
- Reduce oven temperature to 275F.
- Cut rolls diagonally into ½” slices.
- Arrange on same baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes.
- Turn slices over and turn off oven.
- Let stand in oven for 30 minutes until crisp.
Dip this into your hot chocolate or coffee for a real treat.