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Monday, July 6, 2009

Regency Chocolate

What was candy, and more specifically, chocolate, like in Regency England? They 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 chocolates. But there WERE candies. 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, ice creams, and custards flavored with chocolate, though of course Wheaton adds that (as we all know), "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. 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 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."

It was a known fact that the French were always savvy in their cooking and invited into British society way before the French Revolution. As an example with our chocolate discussion, in 1657 (way before the revolution) the first chocolate house was opened in London by a Frenchman. The Brits were reputedly horrible cooks and even today, most culinary schools are extentions 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.

I have read about the chocolate houses which preceded the coffee and tea houses and know that many had the habit of drinking chocolate. In fact, many authors say quite definitely 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 not so much exploded as 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.

Perhapse England's damper and colder climate affected the candy.

When one considers all that had to be done to the chocolate and the sugar it is a wonder they made any chocolate anything.

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 they 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 we know had to await further refinements of sugar and chocolate as well as stabilizers or emulsifiers or something and that this later development is the time from which most historians date eating chocolate. I like my chocolate pretty sweet. There are those that prefer it very dark and hardly sweet at all.

I would think drinking chocolate would be similar to drinking coffee. Some people prefer black coffee; others like theirs fairly sweet with cream. It always amazes me that anyone would like coffee without sweetener, but they do, and even say they could not drink it any other way. Maybe the caffeine in chocolate gave a rush people craved just as they do from coffee.

Without a doubt chocolate is indeed an art. Refined sugar is key, cocoa butter (the emulsifier we used, anyway) is key and temperature is key. Too cold, it screws you up, too warm, it screw you up. The temperature of your own fingers and body affected rolling, molding and shaping. Trial and error is what you use now, so back then, even more so.

So the next time you enjoy fine chocolate, spare a thought for the science, and art, that goes into its creation.


Linda Banche said...

Great post. I love chocolate, eating it and reading about it, too.

I've also seen the so-called "facts" that chocolate candy didn't exist in the Regency. Thanks for exposing that error. But with chocolate so hard to work with, I'm sure people drank chocolate much more then than we do now.

LK Hunsaker said...

Aside from the caffeine kick, the natural mood enhancers in chocolate would help encourage them to do the work of making it, I would guess. I was watching a show about Hershey PA and found it interesting that until Hershey built the factory here, chocolate was eaten in the States only by the wealthy.

People in the Regency era would have benefitted more from the unsweetened dark chocolate than we do by the sweetened milk chocolate, though!

Ella Quinn - Romance Novelist said...

When I was researching chocolate for a book that begins in Venice, I discovered chocolate cakes, and other desserts in Austria and Italy. A French man created the first chocolate disks, to which he added other flavorings. The company is still in existence.

This begs the question of if they were available in shops.

Wonderful post. I tweeted.