Milestones in the 17th, 18th and 19th century of chocolate, taken from a fascinating book, The Essence of Chocolate: Recipes for Baking and Cooking with Fine Chocolate, that is part history, part recipe book, part engaging stories.
Why Is It Called Devil's Food?
"By the end of the 17th century, chocolate houses had spread from France and England to the Netherlands. By coincidence, the group of Pilgrims that would later sail to Plymouth Rock took up residence next door to one of Amsterdam's biggest chocolate houses in 1690. The Pilgrims, who stoned people for adultery and basically repudiated anything that looked enjoyable, watched as the chocolate-house patrons cavorted next door. A few nights was all it took to convince the Pilgrims the chocolate was the devil's work. They promptly christened chocolate "Devil's food," and outlawed chocolate in Plymouth colony. Years later, when a cake made of chocolate gained popularity in Amsterdam, the bakers took one look at the dark, obviously sinful cake, and named it Devil's Food. The name has stuck through centuries."
Chocolate and Amorous Pursuits
In his autobiography, The Memoirs of Jacque Casanova de Seingalt, Casanova notes that chocolate fans the flames of desire. "Chocolate is my favorite breakfast dish," he states, "and all the more so when it was made by a friend." A careful reading of his memoirs shows that Casanova offers chocolate as a bribe more often than he uses it as an aphrodisiac: he is able to get past chaperones quite effectively by offering "a dozen pounds of capital chocolate: I had brought it with me from Genoa."
Natural Cocoa Powder
In 1828, Conrad Van Houten created a mechanical press that squeezed the roasted nibs, pressing out the cocoa butter, instead of grinding the nibs into a paste as you would to make chocolate. Squeezing at 75% of the cocoa butter left a powder that could be stirred more easily into a drink. The cocoa powder kept indefinitely in a tin, and because it contained less fat, it was also easier to digest. Van Houten also came up with the idea of adding an alkali to the cocoa powder to soften the stringent flavors. This process also made the powder extremely dark – the key color component of a devil's food cake. But although Dutch processed cocoa, as it is called, may have been a good idea for low grade beans, we can't bear to add an alkali to cocoa powder made naturally from good beans, because the alkali removes much of the flavor and aromas, the good as well is the bad."
Peters and Nestlé Mix Milk with Chocolate
Chocolate is mostly a fat, because of its high cocoa butter content, but milk is primarily water. Chocolate and milk weren't combined until 1873, when Swiss chemist Henri Nestlé found a way to condense milk by removing the water. Two years later, when Nestlé employee Daniel Peters used Henri's techniques to mix chocolate with 20% milk solids, he and Nestlé got joint credit for inventing milk chocolate, which would become the most widely consumed form of cacao. The invention propelled Nestlé into its position as one of the world's 10 biggest companies. Through the 19th century, the Swiss dominated chocolate manufacturing, producing the equivalent of up to 12,000 pounds per Swiss citizen per year, most of it for export. If milk and chocolate taste as if they're made for each other, that's true on a molecular level as well. The fats and proteins of chocolate chemically combine well with the fats and proteins of milk."
"Brownies are an American creation, but they've changed quite a bit in the past century. When Fanny Farmer made brownies in 1896 in fluted marguerite molds, molasses accounted for much of the flavor and color of the cookie -like treats. Named after the "Brownies" or tiny elfin characters of Palmer Cox's popular cartoons and poems, chocolate brownies appeared in the 1897 Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog – but those brownies more closely resembled candy than the brownies we know. By the 1920s, the dense chocolatey squares would become popular across the United States."
Please enjoy the other blog posts on chocolate:
"Chocolate Comes to Europe in Surprising Ways"