World on a Plate

Exploring culture. One plate at a time.

Category: Chocolate

Melts in Your Mouth…

Choco Second in a Series–Part one is here

Chocolate is a thousand year old mystery whose appeal is obvious but elusive. The flavor and texture as it melts in your mouth, the arousing of the senses. There is no substitute. It’s perfection, but, why?

Scientifically chocolate is a complex substance with a multitude of complex compounds. Fortunately you don’t need an advanced degree in pharmacology to love chocolate. Chocolate does make us happy when we eat it. It contains the highest concentration in any food of phenyl ethylamine, the chemical produced in the brain when a person is in love. Perhaps it’s this sensory experience combined with the chemical effects that initiates the affair.

More than 3,000 years ago, the Mayans and Aztecs enjoyed chocolate. Cocoa and hot chilies where combined to make a drink called "chocolatl". It was cold and bitter. Legend tells us the Aztec emperor Montezuma drank 50 cups of chocolate a day. It should also be noted that Montezuma drank a golden goblet of cacao beverage prior to entering his harem where he encountered a new partner every night. It may be here that the rumors of chocolate’s aphrodisiac qualities began.

The gold-seeking Spanish explorer, Hernando Cortez, came upon this drink during his travels and believed the drink had special powers, which could make people stronger. It was at this time that the conquering Spaniards changed the name of the emperor’s “cacahuatl” to “choolatl” and over time the name has evolved to what we know it as today. The following is taken from "Magic and Medicine Plants" by Readers Digest published 1986:

"In 1519, the Spanish explorer Harnando Cortez and his soldiers witnessed a strange ceremony at the court of the Aztec emperor, Montezuma. Seated high on a golden throne, observed by his subjects with reverent awe, the "living god" repeatedly drank from a golden goblet containing a beverage called chocolatl.

When the Indians honored the Spanish by offering them the bitter, dark brown drink, they explained that the beans from which it was made had come from paradise, and so each sip would bring wisdom and knowledge. So valuable were the beans to the Aztecs that they served as a form of currency: 4 beans could buy a wild turkey; 100 could purchase a live slave.”

Cortez praised chocolate effusively in a letter to the Spanish ruler, Charles V, and brought a supply of the beans home with him. Enthusiasm for the new drink, now made more palatable with the addition of sugar and vanilla (an improvement said to have been made about 1550 by the nuns of a Mexican cloister), spread to the French court. There it was considered an aphrodisiac and happily imbibed by those who could afford it. It was the English who added milk and sugar and dropped the chilies in the 17th century; with this new blend the drink quickly became popular with the social elite, who indulged themselves in fashionable chocolate houses, as did the Dutch, where aristocrats sipped the heavenly drink in privacy.

American’s fascination first began in 1765 when John Hanan brought cocoa beans back from the West Indies to Dorchester, Massachusetts to refine them along with the help of Dr. James Baker. It was here that the first chocolate factory in the country was established.

With growing interest and demand for chocolate among the American public the business of chocolate began. According to Nestle, these beginnings in the 1800s were successful not only due to popularity of the sweet but also attributed to four main factors: the introduction of cocoa powder in 1828; reduction of excise duties, improvements in transportation to facilitate the moving of the product from plantation to factory and the invention of chocolate suitable for eating.

The first chocolate came in tablets made of coarse-ground chocolate and sugar and possessed a bittersweet taste. This chocolate was sold to chocolates and pastry makers. The Cadbury Brothers are credited with displaying eating chocolate in 1849 at an exhibition in Birmingham, England. Three years later at Prince Albert’s Exposition in London citizens of the United States received their first tasting of bonbons, chocolate creams, hard candies, and caramels.

Although candy bars first appeared in England in the middle of the nineteenth century, it wasn’t’t until the last quarter of the century that the taste was refined for general eating. English Quakers offered drinking chocolate—along with beer—as a temperance drink. Some of the most famous names in chocolate were Quakers including Rowntree, Fry, Cadbury and Terry’s. Eventually the Swiss took over the market with their innovations in technology and commercial expertise from

Continue on for more / Snickers Cheesecake recipe

Image: Global Classroom

Read the rest of this entry »

Ode to Chocolate

Valentine All I really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt!"             Lucy Van Pelt, Peanuts

Brooklyn Blackout Cake. M&Ms, Death by Chocolate. Chocolate covered pretzels. Fresh strawberries hand-dipped in dark chocolate. Peanut butter chocolate pie. Fudge Brownies with warm chocolate sauce. Hershey’s Kisses. Chocolate Coconut Bars. Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Chocolate Streusel Bundt Cake. Triple Chocolate Brownies. Chocolate Chip Cookies. Chocolate Pecan Carmel Cheesecake. Chocolate Bread Pudding. No true chocolate lover can resist his or her ultimate temptation.

We are a nation of chocophiles. Those that can’t appreciate our obsession may call us chocoholics. There’s no curing the legions that save room for dessert no matter what the time of day. In fact the nearest 12-step program which many in this condition subscribe to is to never be more than 12 steps away from chocolate. We love chocolate in all shapes, sizes and forms. American’s consume $14 billion annually worth of the sweet. That averages out to about 12 pounds of chocolate for each one of us. That figure seems low. Some research reports state that Americans eat 100 pounds of chocolate every second. Is that possible? Whether it is or not the statistic places us firmly in eighth place in world consumption— half the level of the world’s leading chocolate lovers, the Swiss.

Many of us have personal stories that characterize what chocolate means to us. Our tastes varying from simple to sophisticated often as we mature and are able to educate ourselves through travel, dining and a general taste for culinary adventure. The protagonist of these tales is the star ingredient, chocolate appreciated for all its rich, almost earthy and sensual qualities.

My own love affair with chocolate began in a very American way with my first bite of a simple, chocolate bar—Hershey. No nuts please just the pure smooth milk chocolate with the letters carved into the top. I would eat alternately from the ends until the word “she” appeared. I would then tuck the rest away until later. I remember the validation I felt when I saw “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”. Now there’s a man after my own chocolate-covered heart. Evil and sinister as he was. Over the years chocolate has helped me handle many good and bad events in my life such as college exams, ex-boyfriends, bad bosses, Valentine’s days, new jobs, a loss of ten pounds. Chocolate has always been a reliable, trustworthy companion.

We marvel and fascinate when tempted by the richness and flavor of a dessert or candy containing chocolate. We adore chocolate. With gentle prodding conversations can rise to a buzzing swirl to include memories of past seductions with tales that begin with, “…the best I ever had…” or my ultimate chocolate fantasy is…” Nothing makes people smile with wordless bliss and child-like delight as this elixir.

Our enthusiasm for chocolate can range from elegant black tie affair such as a chocolate brandy trifle served on fine bone china to a simple early morning awakening over a strong brewed coffee accompanied by a flaky warm buttery croissant wrapped around warm, smoky bittersweet chocolate. Just the words can make our pulses quicken and mouths water. And the lengths we’ll go to acquire our fixes whether it’s through candy bars, cookies, cakes, pies, drinks, breads and sauces. If there’s a dessert on the menu, whether a corner deli or a five star establishment, with chocolate as the featured ingredient there’s always room. After all it could very well be better than all the rest that have come before.

Chocolate plays a central role in many of our lives to express gratitude, love, regrets, guilt, friendship, reward and celebration. In whatever form or shape chocolate can speak for us when we are at a loss for words. Chocolate given as a gift of achievement says you’ve earned it. A heart-shaped box of chocolate signifies how precious, coveted and exceptional one’s love is for the other. Each chocolate confection is a delicious and dramatic one-of-a-kind gesture. We commemorate really grand events with chocolate—birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, marriages, holidays, a perfect expression to celebrate and capture the spirit of the day. Small indulgences that carry you through life’s ups and downs with grand rewards.

First in a series this week.

Read the rest of this entry »

Aztec Gold

Choc

One of Mexico’s gifts to the world is chocolate.

Today Mexican chocolate is made from dark, bitter chocolate mixed with sugar, cinnamon, and sometimes nuts. The end result of cooking with this type of chocolate is a “grainy” less smooth product.

The Aztec people made a wide range of drinks from chocolate combining it with honey, nuts, seeds, and spices. Chocolate was so valued it was used by the Aztecs as both a food and currency.

During the Day of the Dead festival many a soul of the living is warmed during the long nights in the cemetery with a cup of chocolate. There are many variations to the drinking of chocolate in Mexico.

Atole (ah-toh-lay) is a warm, thick drink made dense with masa or more commonly today cornmeal. It is usually served with tamales. The chocolate-flavored version of this drink is called champurrado. This drink is a bit like hot chocolate but thickened with masa and flavored with piloncillo and aniseeds. The consistency of this pre-Hispanic beverage is similar to porridge. It is also served as a dessert with churros or with pan de muertos. The drinks are whipped together using a wooden whisk called a molinillo (moh-lin-nyee-oh) although a blender will do. Agua de chocolateis Mexican hot chocolate that is made by frothing together warmed milk or water with a disk of cinnamon-laced chocolate.

Tejate is a pre-Hispanic Oaxacan specialty. Said to have been drunk by Zapotec kings it is refreshing, invigorating, aphrodisiacal, and medicinal; it is a cold drink made of dark chocolate, toasted corn, cacao, cinnamon, and the seeds and the pit of a fruit called mamey. It is surprisingly tasty.

Most of us like chocolate cake. This recipe from Rosa Mexicano, home to great fresh-pomegranate margaritas is a Mexican twist on chocolate cake.

Photo credit: Freshly ground chocolate on the metate, Oaxaca. {JBrophy (me)}

Read the rest of this entry »

IMBB #9-Terrines

Cpbterrine

“A terrine is noting more than a fancy meat loaf cooked in an earthenware or other ovenproof dish, chilled and served cold.” so says Madeline Kamman in The Making of a Chef. Then why am I overwhelmed with the thought of taking this on? Doesn’t it involve pate? She goes on, ” a pate is a terrine mixture baked in pastry…a sasucisson is a terrine mixture shaped into a large sausage by stuffing it into a natural skin or a plastic cook-in bag; it is generally poached.” Oh dear. And finally, ‘a galantine is a very large cooked sausage, the forcemeat of which contains the meat of one or several birds or other meats. The skin of one of the birds is used as a container for the forcemeat.” Bring it on home Madeline, “There is no beating around the bush: They are much work.”

So began my research for this IMBB with this round hosted by Derrick at An Obsession with Food. So if a terrine is just the cooking vessel there had to be in this day and age an introductory terrine recipe out there. I wouldn’t have to skin a rabbit, a hare pluck a duck or pheasant. Thankfully no, but I did learn that a 3 pound rabbit yields 1 generous pound of meat.

After sorting through dozens and dozens of simple terrine recipes I ended up with a mildly involved one, Chocolate Peanut Butter Terrine, uncovered at Godiva.

One more hurdle to jump, the pan. At Sur La Table at the Ferry Marketplace the sales person tired to pass a Bûche de Noël mold off as a terrine pan. I argued and scoffed. This is a half circle. He said, same thing. No, no it’s not. Thirty minutes later I was in the restaurant supply store combing the aisles and came across a flattened pan with hinges. It wasn’t inexpensive at about $35.00 but it was less then the enameled cast iron version I fancy.

What demystified the terrine for me is thinking about it from the sugar side of the equation and connecting the mousse to the equivalent of a pate. For a first attempt at a terrine I think I did okay. The mousse was a perfectly smooth consistency. I was thankful for the hinged pan as it made unmolding it fairly simple. It should be noted that making sure that when filling the terrine that the corners are checked.

This recipe will be fairly simple for the experienced and a good challenge for those with confidence. Also I didn’t use Godiva chocolate. As I recently went to a French imported food warehouse sale and bought 10 pounds of bittersweet Valrhona I had more than I needed on hand. I also think I got off easy, next time I’ll ratchet up the challenge and take on terrine of Pears and Foie Gras from Madeline Kaman’s book or the Dry-Cured Magret with Duck Liver Mousse, Chinese Cinnamon, and Black Vinegar Reduction.

Read the rest of this entry »

SHF:ISTBE # 1

Hmna

Domestic Goddess has launched a new effort, Sugar High Fridays. I forget what the balance of the acronym stands for but the SHF sums it up enough. The first effort involves cooking with white chocolate. I’m a purist. I’m not a huge fan of white chocolate. It’s not really chocolate. At times it can be elegant particularly when paired with fruits. But next to the complex and sexy dark chocolate well, bah.

But I do like a group challenge so here I am with the only way that I do like white chocolate, Macadamia Nut White Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Macadamia nuts are a rich, buttery tasting nut. They are so high in fat and calories that I only think of them as very, very special occasion only type of eating. I associate macadamia nuts with trips to Hawaii. Every where you go throughout the islands there are huge displays of macadamia nut products, gift packs of dry roasted nuts, chocolate covered nuts, macadamia nut brittle and cookies.

Surprisingly Australia, is the world’s top producer, followed closely by Hawaii, Africa then Guatemala, according to a recent USDA report.

In the early 1900s a sugar plantation manager from the Big Island, visited Australia and was impressed by the beauty of the tree. He brought the seeds back to Hawaii where he planted them at Kapulena. For the next 40 years, the trees were raised primarily as ornamental trees and not for their fruit. It wasn’t until the 1950s and a lot of research hours later that were focused on cultivation did the nut reach commercial production.

Today most of Hawaii’s macadamia nuts come from the Big Island of Hawaii. The biggest commercial producer is Mauna Loa with the U.S. being the biggest consumers followed by Japan.

Photo credit: Hawaiian Macadamia Nut Associates

Recipe: Macadamia White Chocolate Chip Cookies

Read the rest of this entry »

Power Nut

nuts1Due to the recent eating fascination of all things low carb nuts are now the new power food. Most are low in unsaturated fats and are a good source of protein, fiber and give a boost to energy levels. Hazelnuts in particular are a versatile nut. I like them best of all because of their distinct somewhat sharp taste.

Historians believe this nut to have originated in Asia which would make it one of the oldest agricultural food crops. Greeks and Romans once prized hazelnuts for their medicinal properties. The Celts equated hazelnuts with concentrated wisdom and poetic inspiration. Lore tells us that St. Patrick rid Ireland of serpents with a rod or branch of hazel. Magician’s wands are traditionally made out of the wood of this tree. There’s a lot of power and strength here.

Fast forward to today and we’re calling hazelnuts well, filberts. Let’s set the record straight. They are not the same but are close cousins. The misnomer may be thought by some historians to have originated from the Old English name, “full beard,” because of the long husk that entirely covers the nut in some varieties. Others thought the name was derived from St. Philibert; August 22, the day dedicated to the saint corresponds to the time, in England, of the ripening and harvesting of the earliest filberts er, ah, hazelnuts.

No matter, what we do know for sure is that there are over 100 known varieties grown throughout the world with the majority grown in Black Sea coast area of Turkey. In the United States, Oregon accounts for 99% of all hazelnut production in the United States primarily in the Willamette Valley. The best, though I’ve never tried them, come from Italy’s Piedmont region.

According to the Hazelnuts Growers of Oregon the nuts are high in dietary fiber, calcium, magnesium, iron, potassium, vitamin E, and 80 percent of its total fat is monounsaturated. These “good fats” are believed to lower LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels. They also do not contain cholesterol.

Medical documents from about 1,800 years ago detail remedies using hazelnuts. An ointment of burnt hazelnut shells and bear suet was smeared on balding heads; a common cold remedy has the nut mixed with black pepper and a persistent cough was treated with a ground hazelnuts and honey. Not sure if there is any worth in this treatments.

Most of the magic of hazelnuts today is in its most frequent use–baking and confections—particularly in concert with chocolate.

For the record when you’re shopping in your local nut house be it the grocery or virtual shop Oregon nuts are reddish-brown, and the Turkish nuts are more chestnut-brown. It is acorn-shaped and about the size of a grape. The nut’s dark papery skin should be removed by toasting the nuts in a 325°F oven for about 8 to 10 minutes until their skins begin to crack. Watch carefully and closely and smell. When you start to smell them it means the oils are being released. Remove them and transfer the hot nuts to a kitchen towel and vigorously rub them together to remove most of the skin. It’s okay if there is some skin left behind. Let the nuts cool before incorporating into the recipe. It’s convenient too if you do prepare more nuts than you need as they can store easily the fridge or freezer. The baking expert Flo Braker, the author of several definitive books on baking, suggests freezing the roasted hazelnuts as the skins will easily flake off. It works, you just need to anticipate doing it.

My first introduction to hazelnuts came in the form of Nutella. This chocolate-hazelnut spread is to Italians what peanut butter is to Americans and vegemite is to Australians. According to company history, Nutella spread, was created in the 1940’s by Pietro Ferrero, a pastry maker and founder of the Ferrero company. One of the world’s largest chocolate producers it’s treats include Kinder Surprise Eggs, egg-shaped chocolates with tiny toys inside, Mon Cheri chocolates, Rocher chocolates, and Tic Tac breath mints.

Nutella, created during a wartime cocoa shortage, due to war rationing making chocolate a delicacy limited to a lucky few. So Ferrero mixed cocoa with toasted hazelnuts, cocoa butter and vegetable oils to create an economical spread of chocolate which he called “pasta gianduja” (pasta jon-du-ja).

But sole credit can’t be bestowed on Pietro. According to an 1996, Atlantic Monthly article Corby Kummer

Read the rest of this entry »