It’s the world’s favourite indulgence – so where did it come from?
Chocolate is probably the world’s favourite treat, and medical research is starting to admit – grudgingly – that dark 70% chocolate might – just might be good for us.
But until the 1600s, no-one in Europe had ever tasted this exotic food.
Xocolatl! or Chocolate as it became known, was brought to Europe by Cortez, after a voyage to the Americas. His sailors had seen how natives gathered the cocoa beans growing on trees, ground them up and made them into a prized spicy brew with water and chillis.
This wasn’t exactly to Spanish tastes, but their cooks soon turned it into the drink we know today by mixing the ground roasted beans in milk, with sugar and vanilla, offsetting the spicy bitterness of the brew the Aztecs drank.
But it was some time before a Quaker called Fry developed the ingredients into a simple-to-eat chocolate bar that we rely on for a quick snack, for comfort food etc.
The first chocolate factories opened in Spain, where the dried fermented beans brought back from the new world by the Spanish treasure fleets were roasted and ground, and by the early 17th century chocolate powder – from which the European version of the drink was made – was being exported to other parts of Europe. The Spanish kept the source of the drink – the beans – a secret for many years, but the Cocoa beverage made from the powder produced in Spain became popular throughout Europe, and eventually it arrived in England.
The first Chocolate House in England opened in London in 1657 followed rapidly by many others. Like the already well established coffee houses, they were used as clubs where the wealthy and business community met to smoke a clay pipe of tobacco, conduct business and socialise over a cup of chocolate.
Eventually things went full circle when English colonists carried chocolate (and coffee) with them to England’s colonies in North America. Today, the U.S.A. and Canada are now the worlds largest consumers Chocolate and Coffee, consuming over half of the words total production of chocolate alone.
Originally the public took chocolate as a drink, but Joseph Fry, head of the chocolate firm founded in Bristol in 1728, is credited with turning the cocoa powder into a solid block – and so invented the chocolate bar.
In Britain it was Quakers that made chocolate popular. Because of their pacifist beliefs, they were forbidden from practicising professions such as law or medicine. So Quakers turned to business, and founded many famous firms such as Clarks Shoes, Huntley and Palmers biscuits, Wedgewood, etc.
Today, some of the most famous brands in confectionery in the world developed from Quaker enterprises. You only have to look through the famous names such as Fry, Cadbury, Fox, Terry’s and Rowntree to see the hold they had on the industry. Now Cadbury has been taken over by Kraft Foods, and Rowntree ( who invented Kit Kat bars) are part of the giant Swiss Nestlé corporation – but their names remain.
These firms still survive today, and even though they are now part of multi-national corporations, Bourneville, the village built for the Cadbury workers, still has no pub (Quakers don’t drink), and the Rowntree Foundation is one of Britain’s most influential charitable bodies.
By the end of the 17th century fashionable ladies would drink chocolate in bed each morning, so silversmiths made special chocolate pots for serving the drink. These were similar to a coffee pot, but with a long stirrer in the lid, as the drink separates when left standing. Because of this unique feature, chocolate pots go for higher prices than coffee pots, and dealer Daniel Bexfield recently sold a German one from Augsburg, made in 1796, for £6,750.
One of the most famous chocolate houses in London was founded in 1693 by an Italian immigrant Francesco Bianco. He anglicised his name to White, and called named his house in Chesterfield Street ‘Mrs. White’s’ – probably after his wife. This was very much a political gathering place for the Tory party (at one time it was known as the Tory Party unofficial headquarters), and, being in the middle of Mayfair, it was frequented by the aristocracy who lived nearby.
Eventually, around 1778, White’s moved to larger premises at 37-38 St. James’s Street , also in Mayfair, and became an exclusive club, whose members today include dukes, Rothschilds, Prince Charles, etc. Ironically (remembering its original name) it is men-only, and recently David Cameron resigned because they wouldn’t agree to admit women.
During the early 1800s Beau Brummel would sit in its famous bow window (still to be seen today near the top of St. James’ on right hand side), watching friends pass by in the street. Sitting in this same window, Lord Alvanley once bet £3,000 with a friend on which of two raindrops would first reach the bottom of the bow window panes. Gambling was still popular at White’s, and there was even a book in which to record bets.
During the 19th century chocolate began to be sold by apothecaries in Britain, as it was considered a medicinal tonic. Up until then people had often drunk ale or beer, so chocolate was bound to be better for them.
In Austria hot chocolate was definitely one of life’s pleasures, but here the story takes a twist. When statesman Prince Metternich was entertaining important guests, he ordered the creation of a special dessert, warning his chef, “take care that you do NOT make me look a fool tonight”. But the chef fell ill, and it was a 16-year-old apprentice, Franz Sacher, who came up with the superb Sacher-Torte.
Consisting of two layers of dense, chocolate cake with a thin layer of apricot jam in the middle, and dark chocolate icing on the top and sides, he served it with whipped cream, and the cake was a hit. (see photo above).
Eventually his son built the Hotel Sacher in 1876, where this cake was served in the restaurant. But someone stole the recipe, and until 1965, Hotel Sacher was involved in a long legal battle with the pastry shop Demel, who said they had the “Original Sachertorte.” Eventually Sacher won the legal battle, and Demel’s cake has to have its layer of apricot jam under the chocolate cover, not in the middle.
In 1763 a businessman opened a chocolate shop in Turin, Italy, opposite the Church of Consolata. No-one knows why, but unusually for that time, he had women run it, when normally they would have only been waitresses. The shop thrived, the tradition still lives on, and today it is still run by women.
The shop became famous for the special Bicerin drink they invented. At that time the Church was strict about fasting (no food) during Holy Days, but as chocolate wasn’t considered a food, customers flocked after Church services to drink their special concoction of made layers of coffee, chocolate, milk and syrup, carefully poured over a spoon, and served in a glass called a bicerin – hence the name today of the drink, and the chocolate shop.
Throughout its history, making chocolate was very much a family tradition, and the same family names are still to be found across Europe. Dutchman Coenraad van Houten patented a method for extracting the fat from cocoa beans and making powdered cocoa. Joseph Fry made the first chocolate bar for eating in 1847, followed in 1849 by the Cadbury brothers. And in Switzerland Daniel Peter experimented with milk as an ingredient, assisted a neighbour, Henri Nestle, and developed the familiar Swiss Milk Chocolate.
Even the Draps family, famous for the Belgian Godiva chocolates, are still involved. Some time ago they sold their company to Campbells Soups – who in turn sold to a Turkish company. But today they have a charming Chocolate Museum off the Grand’ Place in Brussels, where you can see chocolate being made, and Madame Draps has some of her fabulous collection of chocolate pots on show.
Pour into cake tin, bake in oven for 35-40 minutes (insert skewer or small knife in to test)