I have been writing about the past holidays and how in just a moment in time that we have lost some of the simple joys. For those of us who live in colder climates, hot cocoa represents a simple yet decadent treat in winter. A great little gift would be to mix up a batch of homemade instant cocoa and package it in old mason jar or tucked into a pretty cup and saucer!
Thank the Mayas for the cold chocolate drink. They ground cocoa seeds into a paste and mixed it with water, cornmeal, wine, and chili peppers. (Cold "hot" chocolate!) They then poured the drink back and forth from a cup to a pot until a thick foam developed. (Are you paying attention, Starbucks?) Chocolate was available to Maya of all social classes although the wealthy drank chocolate from elaborately decorated vessels, but at least everyone could enjoy!
When the Spaniards returned with cocoa to Europe, the drink became fashionable with the Spanish upper class. Cocoa was even given as a dowry when the Spanish Royal Family married European royalty. Since the cocoa beans only grew in South America, it was a rare commodity.
Sweet-tasting hot chocolate was then invented, leading hot chocolate to become a luxury item among the European nobility by the 17th century, and Paris lead the craze as the French court touted chocolate as an aphrodisiac. In 1657, the first chocolate house opened in London. (Again I ask...are you paying attention, Starbucks?) In 1674, chocolate was combines with cakes and rolls for the first time.
In 1828, Coenraad Johannes van Houten developed the first cocoa powder producing machine in the Netherlands. The press separated the greasy cocoa butter from cacao seeds, leaving a purer chocolate powder behind. This powder, much like the instant cocoa powder used today, was easier to stir into milk and water. As a result, another very important discovery was made: solid chocolate. By using cocoa powder and low amounts of cocoa butter, it was then possible to manufacture bar chocolate. The term "chocolate" then came to mean solid chocolate, rather than hot chocolate.
The Baker Chocolate Company is the oldest producer of chocolate in the United States. The company was initially established when a physician named Dr. James Baker met John Hannon in Massachusetts. Irishman John Hannon was penniless but was a skilled chocolatier, a craft which he had learned in England and which was, until now, exclusive to Europe. With the help of Baker, Hannon was able to set up a business where he produced “Hannon’s Best Chocolate” for 15 years. In 1779, Hannon went on a trip to the West Indies and never returned. His wife sold the company in 1780 to Dr. Baker who changed the name to Baker Chocolate Company.
- 3 cups nonfat dry milk powder
- 2 cups powdered sugar
- 1½ cups cocoa powder, dutch-process or natural
- 1½ cups white chocolate chips or finely chopped white chocolate
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Whisk together all ingredients in a large bowl. Working in two (or more) batches, depending on the size of your food processor, pulse the ingredients in a food processor until the chocolate is finely ground. Store the dry mix in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
- To make hot cocoa, put 1/3 cup of the cocoa mix in a mug and stir in 1 cup of hot milk. Top with whipped cream or miniature marshmallows, if desired.
Now, if you want the "true" hot chocolate, here is a recipe that will truly warm your chocolate soul...
- 1 quart (1l) half-and-half or whole milk
- 8 ounces (230g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
- 4 ounces (115g) milk chocolate, finely chopped
- tiny pinch of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2. Whisk in the remaining half-and-half or milk, heating until the mixture is warmed through. Add the cinnamon.
3. Use a hand-held blender, or a whisk, and mix the hot chocolate until it’s completely smooth. Serve very warm.
"Chocolate is a divine, celestial drink, the sweat of the stars, the vital seed, divine nectar, the drink of the gods, panacea and universal medicine." - Geronimo Piperni, quoted by Antonio Lavedán, Spanish army surgeon,1796