From Divine To Sinful: Chocolate
To mark World Chocolate Day, FudgePots presents its story of chocolate. Chocolate is a unique foodstuff in that it began its history as a gift from the gods, but is now often seen as devilishly sinful . . .
Chocolate has always enjoyed a special place in cultures lucky enough to obtain a supply. Cocoa-drinking Aztecs believed it was the most divine gift a god ever bestowed upon us; chocolate-deprived Ancient Greeks had to make do with fire. Some people think the Aztecs got it right. (Incidentally, both beneficent gods — The Aztec Quetzalcoatl and the Greek Prometheus — were banished for giving away such heavenly prizes.)
For three millennia, ‘chocolate’ existed in liquid form only. It was drunk by the Olmecs and Mayans of South America (the world’s first chocoholics). The Aztecs’ favourite drink contained ingredients we might balk at today — chillies, cornmeal and mushrooms, among others — so it may not be surprising that its name, xocalati, literally meant ‘bitter water.’
Adventurous Spanish sailors were the first Europeans to bring cocoa home with them, and the first to hit on the trick of transforming the bitter powder with sugar. Spain kept the good news to itself, however, for over 100 years. It took the engagement gift of a princess to launch chocolate across Europe: in 1643, Princess Maria Theresa of Spain gave her intended — Louis XIV of France, the Sun King and darling of the age — a chest of cocoa beans. France promptly descended into cocoa-mania, helped by amorous French courtiers extolling its aphrodisiac powers.
Within a dozen years, London coffee-houses were serving hot chocolate. These drinks were spiced with ingredients like cinnamon, cloves and vanilla. One such house (not a French pâtisserie) first baked chocolate into cakes and rolls. Eventually, chocolate-houses set up to rival the coffee-houses.
Thus far, chocolate had been an elite treat. But from around 1730, prices began falling, helped by the advent of the steam engine, chocolate-making machinery and spreading cocoa plantations.
Solid chocolate made its first appearance in Italy, around 1800. J.S. Fry & Sons put the first British chocolate bar on sale, at a price cheap enough for mass consumption, in 1847. The Cadbury brothers arrived on the scene two years later.
Since then, chocolate has only ever increased in popularity. Notably, UK chocolate sales doubled in 2005-07, partly due to a new demand for high-quality dark or plain chocolate. The first ever UK chocolate fashion gala was presented by Salon du Chocolat at Olympia, London, in 2013: the models wore clothes, hats and accessories made partly or, in a few cases, entirely of chocolate.
To return to our historic theme, it’s worth pondering on the link between the foil-wrapped chocolate coins we enjoy at Christmas, and the cocoa beans once used by the Aztecs as currency. Chocolate has always symbolised wealth.
Today, the average Brit eats the equivalent of three chocolate bars a week. Chocolate's reputation has fallen to ground a little since its original discovery: it is no coincidence Americans call their most chocolatey of chocolate cakes 'Devil's Food Cake.' It’s a sin!
COOKING WITH CHOCOLATE
Chocolate comes in two cookable forms: bars and cocoa powder. A cooking bar must be at least 60% cocoa. It makes no difference whether it is labelled bitter, dark, plain, luxury, pâtissier’s or cooking. If you want the best, Valrhona is probably it. When choosing chocolate, go for flawless, glossy specimens.
**To melt chocolate, place it in a bowl set over a pan of cold water and gently heat to a slow simmer. Stir, stir, and stir again to keep the chocolate silky smooth.
CHOCOLATE FUDGE SAUCE
You can heat any flavour of FudgePots fudge, with a little water, in a saucepan to create hot fudge sauce — FudgePots use all-natural ingredients that don't degrade when recooked, so it is perfectly safe to do this. Enhance chocolate ice cream with our Ginger Snap fudge; or for an ultimate Chocolate Nut experience, pour melted Chocolate fudge over vanilla ice cream, and scatter chopped hazelnuts on top. NB hot fudge gets very hot; take care when pouring.