I am a total chocolate fan. Well, perhaps I should say, I have a sweet tooth that demands something creamy and decadent. I’m not really a chocolate connoisseur, and I prefer milk chocolate to dark, which apparently, proves I’m don’t have a sophisticated pallet. Whatever. If it’s sweet and creamy and sinful, I love it.
This made me wonder; what was candy, and more specifically, chocolate, like in Regency England? Or were my poor heroines in my Regency romance novels all doomed to life without chocolate?
People of Regency England had quite a variety, actually. These were not the chocolate drops such as we can buy today and were not like a box of Russell Stover or Godiva chocolates. But there WERE candies, among them, chocolate. In Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen and Table from 1300 to1789, culinary historian Barbara Ketcham Wheaton cites a respected 1750 cookbook that specialized in desserts:
“There are also some chocolate candies: the still familiar diablotins — flat disks of bitter chocolate, thickly sprinkled with nonpareils, chocolate “olives” (which we call chocolate truffles), and a conserve of chocolate, which turns out to be very like fudge.”
There were also ices much like our Italian Ice, ice creams, and custards flavored with chocolate, though of course Wheaton adds that “dipped chocolates… were not invented until the nineteenth century.”
Unfortunately, there aren’t any chocolate recipes included in the two dozen or so Wheaton reprints. Although this is a book about France and not England, many French chefs employed by aristocrats decamped for England after the revolution, so it makes sense to use it as a resource for writing Regency Romance Novels.
“In 1657 the first chocolate house was opened in London by a Frenchman. The shop was called the The Coffee Mill and Tobacco Roll. They served what would look to us like hot chocolate. Costing 10 to 15 shillings per pound, chocolate was considered a beverage for the elite class. 1674 – Eating solid chocolate was introduced in the form of chocolate rolls and cakes, served in chocolate emporiums. (So they were what we refer to as candies, although they did not refer to them as such, but rather “rolls” from my understanding)
1730 – Cocoa beans drop in price making it within the financial reach of those other than the very wealthy.
The French were known for always being savvy in their cooking and were invited into British society before the French Revolution. In 1657 the first chocolate house was opened in London by a Frenchman. The Brits were reputedly horrible cooks and even today, most culinary schools are extensions from French culinary cuisine. When the Brits did roasts during medieval times, the French already had fine cuisine. The French like to think they were born with it.
Chocolate houses preceded the coffee and tea houses, and many people drank chocolate hot. In fact, many researchers say that up to the through the Regency period, chocolate was a drink and that it was not much used in cooking and not eaten by hand. However, I have also discovered that since we have more access to more records and period papers, many old “facts” have been exploded. I think a large part the information about chocolate is in need of a footnote. I have only tasted modern block baking chocolate and not 18th century chocolate but I don’t imagine plain chocolate was any sweeter then than now.
We are still discovering their food habits as documents, diaries, and so forth, are still being discovered. As far as chocolate not being sweetened since its induction, the Spanish started adding cane sugar and flavorings such as vanilla and spices to cocoa beverages which caught on across Europe at the very beginning of the 1600’s. So early cooks realized the potential of chocolate with sweet. And I’m certain people experimented on their own, which of course unless it was recorded no one would know about. The problem with a lot of recipes back then is that most of them had ingredients but lacked amounts, as it was assumed how much was needed/used. Which makes it difficult to replicate, obviously.
Chocolate had to be sweetened and they did find ways to sweeten it, (honey is eons old, after all,) even though supposedly it was more bitter than we would like. Sugar was also sold in bulk and was not as refined as it is today. Chocolate as we know it today had to await further refinements of sugar and chocolate as well as stabilizers or emulsifiers and that this later development is the time from which most historians date eating chocolate. I like my chocolate pretty sweet which is why I like milk over dark. There are those that prefer it very dark and hardly sweet at all.
Drinking chocolate was probably similar to drinking coffee. Some people prefer black coffee; others like theirs fairly sweet with cream. It always amazes me that anyone would like chocolate without sweetener, but they did, and some even said they could not drink it any other way. Maybe the caffeine in chocolate gave a rush people craved just as they get from coffee.
Without a doubt chocolate is indeed an art. Refined sugar is key, cocoa butter is key and temperature is key. The temperature of your own fingers and body affected rolling, molding and shaping. Trial and error was the name of the game back then, even more than today. Perhaps England’s damper and colder climate affected the candy. When one considers all that had to be done to the chocolate and the quality of the sugar, it’s a wonder they made chocolate anything.
In my Regency romance novels, I often show my heroines drinking chocolate, and sometimes mention that they like to sweeten it. It’s what I’d do, so I have them share my opinion on chocolate.
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 pinch salt
1/3 cup boiling water
3 1/2 cups milk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
Simmer, stirring frequently for at least 5 minutes but don’t let it boil or scald. Take off heat and add:
1/2 cup half and half or cream (cream is richest, of course)