A sweet bit of history: Chocolate

From sugary white to bitter dark, chocolate is the sweet treat we simply can’t get enough of. But where does it come from and what is its history?

Chocolate can be traced back the ancient Maya of Mesoamerica (what we now know as South America). Cocoa was a household staple to the Mayans readily available to everyone. This thick and bitter drink accompanied most meals and was often teamed with honey or chili peppers – a far cry from the sweet confectionary we’re used to today. Later on, in the 13th century, the Aztecs moved in and dominated Mesoamerica. They believed cacao was a gift from the gods and was considered more valuable than gold and was even used as currency. As the status of chocolate reached new heights it began to be enjoyed mostly by the wealthy.

It’s widely disputed how chocolate made its way to Europe, but it is generally thought it first arrived in Spain, where it was adored by the Spanish who swiftly began importing it in the 1500’s. Before long, chocolate fever had swept across Europe and was in high demand with the upper classes. Europeans, however, didn’t care for the bitter Aztec version so began adding sugar and spices, making it a fashionable luxury.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that chocolate become readily available and affordable to the masses. In 1828 a Dutch chemist developed the cocoa press that inexpensively separated the cocoa butter from the roasted cocoa beans, making cocoa powder accessible to all. The powder was mostly enjoyed as a hot drink with milk until 1847, when British chocolatier J.S Fry and Sons moulded the first chocolate bar made out of sugar, cocoa butter and chocolate liquor. But it was Swiss chocolatier Daniel Peter who thought to add dried milk to cocoa to create the chocolate we all know and love today, milk chocolate. A few years later he teamed up with his friend Henri Nestle and the rest is history.

So why not raid the cupboards and rustle up a batch of homemade chocolate chip cookies this Mother’s Day. Or better still, master the art of tempering, moulding and (let’s be honest) eating chocolate in the comfort of your own home with The Art of Chocolate Making, taught by Paul A Young. This four-week course begins anytime from the 27th of March and could be a great way to see out the current Corona crisis.

Salted dark chocolate chip cookies

Makes 16-18 cookies / Hands on time 20 mins / Total time 30 mins / V

INGREDIENTS

125g salted butter, at room temperature 125g golden caster sugar 2 heaped tbs condensed milk 50g Green and Black’s Organic 70% Dark Chocolate, roughly chopped ½ tsp vanilla extract 150g self-raising flour Sea salt flakes

METHOD

1. Preheat an oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F/gas mark 4. Using an electric whisk in a large bowl, cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Add the condensed milk and the vanilla extract and continue to whisk until incorporated.

2. On a chopping board using a large knife, roughly chop the chocolate. Add to the mixture and sift the self-raising flour over the top. Using a wooden spoon, mix together by hand until you have a well incorporated cookie dough.

3. Line two baking trays with baking paper and using a teaspoon, scoop up a ball of the dough, roughly the size of a walnut. Roll the dough in your hands until you have a ball and place on the baking tray. Space the cookie dough out evenly (be sure not to over crowd the baking trays, the cookies will expand in the oven).

4. Using the back of a tablespoon, press down on each ball gently to squash it out a little to help form a round disk. Bake in the oven for 8-10 minutes. Cool slightly on the tray, before carefully transferring to a cooling rack using a spatula. Sprinkle with a tiny pinch of sea salt flakes and serve with a good cup of tea.

Corrie Heale

Freelance food writer / vegetarian food blogger and recipe writer. corriesrabbitfood.com @corrieheale

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