Early Chocolate Confections

Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

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For a couple of centuries, Europe knew chocolate almost exclusively as a beverage. The use of the cacao bean in confectionery was quite limited. The Englishman Henry Stubbe noted in his treatise on chocolate, The Indian Nectar (1662), that in Spain and the Spanish colonies “there is another way of taking it made into Lozenges, or shaped into Almonds,” and that people were aware of what we now know to be the effects of the caffeine in chocolate: “The Cacao-nut being made into Confects, being eaten at night, makes Men to wake all night-long: and is therefore good for Souldiers, that are upon the Guard.” Cookbooks of the 18th century generally included a handful of recipes that call for chocolate, among them dragées, marzipans, and biscuits, creams and ices and mousses. There are some remarkable Italian recipes for lasagna sauced with almonds, walnuts, anchovies, and chocolate, for liver with chocolate, and polenta with chocolate. And in the 18th-century French Encyclopédie, we find that chocolat was commonly sold as a half-cocoa, half-sugar cake flavored with some vanilla and cinnamon, and was not so much a delightful confection as an emergency meal—perhaps the first instant breakfast!