by Margaret Mendel
My dad was crazy about chocolate covered cherries and every Valentines Day my sisters and I would go to the local drugstore and buy him a box of these sweet treats. Mom, a frail, delicate woman, favored milk chocolate with nuts or dark chocolate with coconut and we gave her Hershey or Mounds bars, all of which she ate sparingly, nibbling the bar as though she were a bird pecking at a treasured crust of bread. Nothing says “I Love You” like something made of chocolate.
Cocoa was indigenous to the Americas and has gone through many changes since the Spanish explorers first watched Aztec kings drink from solid gold goblets a beverage made from crushed cocoa pods. Back then a chocolate drink was bitter with a thick consistency frequently seasoned with chili peppers.
The explorers brought the cocoa pods back to Spain but the beverage was not well received at first. The Spanish had no idea how to grind the cocoa pods fine enough to make a satisfying drink. Also, cocoa has a high fat content and thick greasy foam sat on top of the drink if the brew was not prepared just right, making the beverage taste quite unpleasant.
The chocolate drink was so unpopular with some people that in 1575 Giroamo Benzoni in his book, “A History of the New World” said that chocolate was, “a drink more for pigs, than a drink for humanity.”
What’s interesting is that even though the cocoa concoction was distasteful to some, purveyors of chocolate kept trying to perfect a more palatable drink. Eventually with further conquests, the Spanish armadas returned home with spices such as cardamom, cinnamon and sugar from the West Indies. Innovative cooks added these new ingredients to the cocoa beverage making the drink more desirable. In fact, cocoa became so popular that aristocratic women, while sitting in church, had servants bring them hot cups of chocolate. This luxurious sipping of cocoa became so disruptive for the priests that drinking chocolate was forbidden during the religious services.
Spain did not want to share its discovery of cocoa pods or the chocolate drink with the rest of the world, and kept it to themselves for quite a few years, but when a Spanish princesses married into English Nobility, she brought servants and her cocoa.
The process of making the chocolate goodies that we enjoy today did not come onto the scene until after 1730 when Walter Churchman applied to George II for a patent for a water engine that would enable him to grind cocoa pods more finely. The industrial revolution was in full swing at that point and so many innovations occurred in the production of cocoa that by the 1800’s chocolate was no longer a luxury only enjoyed by the wealthy and soon became a beverage that anyone could drink.
In 1847 Joseph Storrs Fry, the great-grandson of a long time chocolate processor, developed a system that created a chocolate ‘paste’ that could be molded into various forms, and the first ‘eating’ chocolate was developed.
The chocolate industry has gone through major changes since the Spanish explorers arrived back home with their exotic bounty of cocoa pods. But my sisters and I didn’t know this history when we bought the Mounds bars for our mother on Valentine’s Day. We didn’t know that the candy bar she so carefully ate was first sold commercially in 1920, only a couple of years before she was born. And we had no idea that our father’s favorite sweets first went on the market back in 1864 while his great grandparents were still recovering from the potato famine in Ireland.
Viva el chocolate!!!
VERSITILE CHOCOLATE GLOBS
6 oz. bittersweet chocolate, chopped
¼ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
½ cup powdered sugar
¼ cup coconut flakes
1 cup nuts, (your choice) finely ground
1 teaspoon Vanilla extract
1. Melt chocolate in a double boiler or a heatproof bowl over hot, but not simmering, water. Stir occasionally until chocolate is melted and no lumps remain. Remove bowl from the heat and let cool to body temperature. (You can test this by sticking your little finger into the chocolate mixture, if it is warm and comfortable to the touch, then the chocolate is ready for the next stage of the process.)
2. Cream butter; add powdered sugar, vanilla and beat until smooth and fluffy. Stir in melted chocolate. Add nuts, ¼ cup coconut flakes; mix thoroughly.
3. Using a melon baller or a teaspoon form the mixture into balls about the size of walnuts.
4. At this point, the chocolate balls can be rolled in any one of the following: chocolate flakes, coconut flakes, cocoa powder, finely ground nuts, sprinkled with a slight pinch of sea salt, dipped in melted chocolate.
5. Place candies on a plate and refrigerate for at least an hour before serving. These candies keep for up to one week in an airtight container.
VARIATIONS TO THIS RECIPE:
Replace the ¼ cup of butter with ¼ cup of peanut butter, or almond butter.
Add 4 tablespoons of Bourbon Whiskey into the final stage of the mixing process, incorporating well.
Use finely chopped nuts instead of coconut flakes.
Use several finely ground amaretto cookies in place of the coconuts.
The idea is to have fun with these CHOCOLATE GLOBS.