In the seventeenth century, most cakes of chocolate contained a small proportion of the cocoa nib, but consisted mainly of sugar and other spices. They were coarse, and were to remain so until the nineteenth-century invention of the cocoa press by Van Houten. The fact that there are differences in the quality of the beans had been noted early in chocolate’s history. For the King’s chocolate, Stubbe chose beans from Caracas and Nicaragua. He also said that, to make excellent chocolate, care was needed at each stage in the processing. The beans must be carefully sweated on mats, fermented and cured. The level of roasting must be carefully supervised; in fact, very little has changed in these two areas. By the 1660s the Spanish court had abandoned the use of five-star anise, nutmeg and maize. Stubbe followed this practice, so the basic chocolate ingredients of the Spanish and English courts were not dissimilar to the cocoa of today, although the drink would still have been a very fatty one.
The seventeenth-century method of manufacture was very much a cottage industry. The cocoa ‘nuts’ were dried either in a digesting furnace or in a kettle over a fire. This was done gently, stirring and turning carefully, because chocolate becomes bitter if burnt. The nuts were peeled, beaten to a powder and then browned over the fire, as was the spice in a separate process. The hulls were beaten separately and added to the ordinary chocolate, but left out of the best. Finally the spices and cocoa were mixed together and ground further, with a little gentle heat underneath the stone grinding-table. Some makers used iron tables, but they heated too quickly and were much more difficult to control than stone ones. There were many small manufacturers, each doing his own thing, which meant that there were great variations in recipe, method and final product. Needless to say, the huge-scale industry of today produces a much more uniform and predictable product.
The way that a cup of chocolate was made during the seventeenth century varied in the different countries of Europe. In Spain, loz of chocolate, 2oz of sugar and 8oz of water were heated and whipped to a froth. In France, the drink was made with either water alone or half milk, half water. English chocolate-houses made it with milk or with egg (sometimes yolk, sometimes white). Coffee-houses too sold chocolate at twopence a dish. Chocolate sweetmeats were made of chocolate, orange-flower water, sugar, ambergris, white of egg and gum dragant (or gum tragacanth, more commonly known as gum Arabic).
The earliest cookbook giving a general recipe including chocolate was published in 1691. Massialot, a seventeenth-century French writer, in his Royal and Bourgeois Cooking, included an Aztec recipe for widgeon (wild duck), using chocolate to thicken the sauce.
© 1993 Chantal Coady. All rights reserved.