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.
Which made me wonder; what was candy, and more specifically, chocolate, like in Regency England?
As it turns out, they had quite a variety of chocolate, actually. These were not like a box of Russell Stover or Godiva chocolates, but according to “In Savoring the Past: The French Kitchen and Table from 1300 to 1789,” culinary historian Barbara Ketcham Wheaton cites a cookbook from 1750, there WERE chocolate candies. “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…dipped chocolates… were not invented until the nineteenth century.”
The Coffee Mill and Tobacco Roll was a popular shop that served chocolate but the chocolate they served was a hot beverage that people drink like coffee. Some people prefer black coffee; others like theirs fairly sweet with cream. From my research, it appears that most people drank chocolate black. It always amazes me that anyone would like coffee without sweetener, but apparently a lot of people liked their chocolate the same way. Maybe the caffeine in chocolate gave a rush people craved just as they do from coffee. Due to the cost of cocoa beans, chocolate was a drink mostly enjoyed by the wealthy until about 1730 when the price of cocoa beans dropped.
The Spanish started adding cane sugar, vanilla and spices to cocoa beverage. Since plain chocolate is pretty bitter, this practice quickly caught on across Europe. People probably experimented on their own, but the problem with a lot of old recipes is that most of them had ingredients but lacked measurements which makes it difficult to replicate, obviously. Since honey is so old, they probably sweetened chocolate with that first, but I’m sure they used sugar, too. It just wasn’t refined like it is today. In fact, it came brown and lumpy more like our modern day brown sugar or raw sugar.
I’d like to research this further, because I’m sure the French, who were noted as amazing chefs even from the medieval times, had a lot to do with perfecting the art of chocolate. If I find anything of note, I’ll share it in a future blog post.
Chocolate is indeed an art. I’m told by those who make candy that there are 3 keys to making chocolate: refined sugar, cocoa butter, and temperature. If you get it too cool, it fails. If you get it too warm, it fails. The temperature of your own fingers and body affected rolling, molding and shaping. I discovered this when I took up cake decorating. There is a great deal of trial and error today and I’m sure it was even more so back in those days.
So the next time you enjoy fine chocolate, spare a thought for the science, and art, that goes into its creation. And send some my way 🙂
My sources: http://regencyredingote.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/regency-chocolate-mdash-pale-thick-and-frothy/
And comments from my awesome writer friends from The Beau Monde.