Chocolate inspires strong passion around the world and, and we have Mexico to thank for starting us on a lifelong dependency to this wonderful thick, rich and sweet stuff. Mexico, I thank you, you have my eternal gratitude – gracias. Just for fun, and to see the extend of this passion (obsession) I googled “ode to Chocolate” and came up with over one million hits, and found the following poem, which sums up my feelings nicely:
Ode to Chocolate
Oh Chocolate, how beautiful
and tasty you
are. You melt in my
mouth & dribble down my
I can smell you,
Oh Chocolate so
fine. My favorite kind of candy
is you, chocolate
beautiful, tasty thing
world, Oh chocolate
by M.C. Fitzpatrick
The earliest known use of cacao – the source of chocolate – was between 1400 and 1100 BC. Long before the flavor of the cacao seed (or bean) became popular, it was the sweet pulp of the chocolate fruit, used to make a fermented (5% alcohol) beverage, which first garnered attention to the plant.
That famous chocolate beverage of the Mayan and Aztec kings, served at special ceremonies and feasts, came later. This drink was of cacao beans, often mixed with chillies, herbs, honey, and flowers. The liquid was frothed to a foam, and consumed both by inhaling and sipping. Today, chocolates from around the world vary in taste, flavor, texture, and potency depending on their country of origin. I’ve reviewed chocolate drinks of a few countries around the world, and I found:
Mexico is considered by many the birth place of chocolate in the form of the drink “chocolatl,” a luxurious drink which was available as early as 400 AD. An outsider, in the form of Hernán Cortés Pizarro, a Spanish conquistador, was first exposed to the drinking at an audience with Moctezuma, Emperor of Mexico. Impressed by the delicious drink, chocolatl, Hernán brought cocoa trees and the chocolatl recipe back to Spain introducing this drink to European. (Mexico → Spain) The drink was made from liquefied cocoa beans, and spiked with chili pepper, vanilla, and annetto. Today, chocolate is a highly valued commodity for Mexicans, and is most often made into a hot chocolate drink. In fact, hot chocolate is considered the national drink of Mexico and almost everyone drinks it daily, flavored with some pepper and spices.
Mexican hot chocolate for me is a bright yellow cardboard container with the picture of someone’sgrandmother on the front. Discs of sweetened chocolate, with a hint of cinnamon, ready to be added to warm milk. That addition of cinnamon is genus.
I suspect a lot of drinking chocolate in Central America is packaged this way; my husband came back from a surf trip to El Salvador, last year, with similar tablets, and while they had a milk chocolaty taste, it was very sweet and sandy in texture without any other spices – no cinnamon here.
Mexican Hot Chocolate:
Recipe adapted from David Guas, executive pastry chef for Ceiba Restaurant in Washington, D.C.
- 2/3 c milk
- 1 c heavy whipping cream
- 4 oz. semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 1/8 of a vanilla bean, slit
- 2/3 of a cinnamon stick
- 1/3 tsp almond extract
Combine milk, cream, cinnamon sticks and vanilla in a 1 quart stainless steel pot and bring mixture to a boil. Have prepared chocolate in a mixing bowl. Allow the heated liquid to steep for 5 minutes, then pour over the chopped chocolate. Stir the chocolate mixture until the chocolate is completely melted and smooth.
Serve immediately. Stir mixture until warm. Serves four.
Chocolate was introduced in Spain by Hernán Cortés Pizarro. Hernán brought the coca trees, and the recipe back to Spain, where for nearly a century, the Spanish kept “chocolatl” a secret from the rest of Europe and only the royal family and close court members consumed this richly delicious drink. In 1631, the first recipe for a chocolate drink was published in Spain by an Andalusian physician, Colmenero de Ledesma, and soon other chocolate recipes were created, making chocolate a fashionable drink enjoyed by rich Spaniards. To increase its appeal, the Spanish sweetened it with sugar, and our love affair began. Today, Spaniards prefer their chocolate as a hot drink that is thick and creamy, and served with churros.
1 c water
½ c butter
¼ tsp salt
1 c flour
¼ c sugar
¼ tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
Heat oil in a 1 to 1-½ inches deep pan to 360° F.
To make the churro dough, heat water, butter and salt to rolling boil in 3-quart saucepan; stir in flour. Stir vigorously over low heat until mixture forms a ball, ~ 1 minute; remove from heat. Beat eggs until smooth and then add to saucepan while stirring the dough mixture.
Spoon mixture into cake decorators’ tube with a large star tip. Squeeze 4″ strips of dough into hot oil. Fry 3 or 4 strips at a time until golden brown, turning once, about 2 minutes on each side. Drain on paper towels. (Combine the sugar and the optional cinnamon); roll churros in sugar or dump the sugar on the pile of churros.
Note: Spanish churros are not made with cinnamon, but it certainly addes a nice flavor.
4 oz dark chocolate, finely chopped
2 c milk
1 T cornstarch
4 T sugar
Place the chocolate and half the milk in a pan and heat, stirring, until the chocolate has melted. Dissolve the cornstarch in the remaining milk and whisk into the chocolate with the sugar. Cook on low heat, whisking constantly, until the chocolate is thickened, about five minutes. Add extra cornstarch if it has not thickened after 5 minutes. Remove and whisk smooth. Pour and server in cups or bowls for dunking churros. Served warm.
The Philippines probably does not spring to mind as one of the world’s great sweet spots for chocolate. But a local culinary gem, this deliciously velvety drink called chocolate de batirol, is gaining in popularity. This beverage was developed in the 18th century when the Spanish settlers, specifically the friars, arrived in the Philippines. Lets see, Mexico → Spain→ Philippines (I am starting to get the hang of this). The country’s national hero Jose Rizal mentions the drink in Noli Me Tangere (Touch Me Not), his great novel of Spanish colonial repression published in 1887. He says: ‘Filipinos are taking a greater interest in their culinary roots. There’s a romantic ideal of doing things the old way on special family occasions.’
Tucked in the Cordilleras highlands in the northern Philippines, is Choco-Late de Batirol at Camp John Hay near Baguio City, part of a community of restaurants and cafes reviving the tradition of chocolate de batirol. ‘This is slow food,’ says Choco-Late’s owner Jojo Castro highlighting what makes this beverage special. ‘We roast the cocoa beans and prepare the chocolate in traditional copper pitchers called tsokolateras, mix in ground peanuts to give the drink a grainy texture.’ Connoisseurs say it is the mix of ingredients and preparation that makes this hot chocolate outstanding.
The drink is described as having a mildly nutty taste with a hint of bitter dark chocolate. It is so rich that a small demitasse cup are used. Chocolate lovers buy the high-grade drinking cocoa in rock-solid blocks of cocoa powder (along with milk and sugar) called tableas. Those in the know say that the best tableas come from the provinces and are often made by small family business. The fuss that goes into making chocolate de batirol certainly gives it an old-world aura harkening back to this country’s rich Hispanic culinary heritage.
The first ever chocolate house was opened in London during the 17th century. During June 1657, if you happened to be walking down the streets of London you might have stumbled across the following advertisement in the Public Advertiser, informing the London public that
“in Bishopsgate Street, in Queen’s Head Alley, at a Frenchman’s house, is an excellent West India drink called chocolate to be sold, you may have it ready at any time, and also made, at reasonable rates.”
Since then, the use of cocoa and chocolate was recognized in England, and numerous chocolate manufacturers were established. However, the price of chocolate at that time was very steep making it a drink for the rich. Also, at that time, the Spanish chocolate manufacturers still monopolized the English chocolate market. Mexico → Spain→ England (thank goodness, they couldn’t keep a secret)
To me, English chocolate is Cadbury, I realise that’s not the case, strictly speaking, but if I was asked to name an English brand off the top of my head, Cadbury would trip off my tongue.
Cadbury’s Chocolate started as a one-man grocery by John Cadbury in 1824, but in 1831 he became a manufacturer of drinking chocolate and cocoa. By 1831 the business had expanded so that he needed to move premises. He rented a small factory in Crooked Lane, which became the foundation of Cadbury. In 1866 John’s son, George, brought to England a press that removed some of the cocoa butter from the beans, bringing about a smoother, more palatable drinking chocolate.
The US is one of the biggest chocolate producers and distributors in the world. Chocolate production boomed during the Industrial era when the first chocolate factory opened in 1765. Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States of America, who was a great lover of hot chocolate, once wrote in a letter to John Adams in 1785, “The superiority of chocolate, both for health and nourishment, will soon give it the same preference over tea and coffee in America which it has in Spain”. His prediction proved correct because now chocolate is popularly consumed by most Americans, and its demand only grows.
- 6 T unsweetened cocoa powder
- 6 T sugar
- 2 ½ c milk
- 2 ½ c light cream
- ½ tsp vanilla
- Cinnamon, whipped cream and orange zest
Add sugar and cocoa to milk and heat in a saucepan until dissolved. Add the cream, cinnamon and vanilla. Heat until almost boiling. Mix well and serve, topped with whipped cream and a bit of orange zest.
Chocolate did not get a warm welcome in the French market when it was first introduced during the sixteenth-century, with the French referring to it as a “noxious drug” and a “barbarous product.” Thankfully, they changed their minds, with some entrepreneurial French merchants anticipated chocolate being the next big thing – boy, where they right. In a previous post, I wrote about chaude chocolat and included a recipe.
You knew it was only a matter of time before someone came up with the tasty combination of chocolate + coffee = mocha goodness. The Italians, specifically the Pietmontese of Turin, developed a drink, in the 18th century, made of espresso, drinking chocolate and whole milk layered in a small rounded glass. This drink is called a bicerin in Piedmontese. The word bicerin is Piedmontese for “small glass”. It is believed to be based on the seventeenth-century drink called the Bavareisa. The distinction is that in a bicerin the three components are carefully layered in the glass rather than being mixed together as in a Bavareisa.
The Caffè Al Bicerin has served the drink in Torino’s Piazza della Consolata since the eighteenth century, and some authorities believe that the drink was invented there. Others believe that it originated around 1704 in the Caffè Fiorio which still stands on what is now Via Po. In 2001, bicerin was recognized as a “traditional Piedmontese product” – it doesn’t get more official than that.
In Latin America, hot chocolate is typically consumed as an after dinner drink or a special treat. The days requiring special goblets are gone with regular mugs or tea cups as de rigeur. Each country customizes their chocolate drink with a unique twist making it their own.
Columbia and Ecuardor
Chocolate caliente con queso, is a common drink, which is hot chocolate with a slab of fresh cheese placed on the top and left to melt. It sounds unusual, but the salty flavor of the cheese pairs perfectly with the sweet chocolate flavor. Possibly an acquired taste, but folks who try it are pleasantly surprised.
Peruvians may require a little extra chocolate syrup to their warm chocolate milk, the enhanced sweetness makes it more of a dessert, but I am sure no one complains.
Here, hot chocolate is served in a variety of ways, but the most popular being the submarino, consisting of steamed milk in a mug with a chocolate bar on the side. The bar should be submerged into the milk and will quickly disappear, melting into the liquid. A quick stir and a dash of sugar make it extra creamy.