“Isn’t the world full of wonderful things, Barnaby?” For those for whom I am hopelessly dating myself, that is a line from The Matchmaker/Hello Dolly. My “Day Well Spent” (the German play upon which Thornton Wilder based The Matchmaker) was actually a weekend, and spent in Portland, Maine, rather than New York City (where Cornelius and Barnaby get into such wonderful trouble, and where I normally spend my days in varying states of wonder). Early spring in southern Maine feels a lot like late winter, but last week, indoors at least, there was lots of new life bubbling up.
As I mentioned in my last post, I attended a Barry-Callebaut (www.callebaut.com) chocolate seminar weekend-before-last, and it was wonderfully informative and inspiring. The company chefs and teachers do a terrific job of understanding, exploring, and sharing the results of their experience. Now I am emulsifying my ganache in a different way, trying to be more patient, letting temperatures ease up and down gradually rather than shocking them, using refrigeration less, hoping to be a better teacher. It is exciting to learn the results of careful research. For example, there may actually be seven possible crystals that cocoa butter can form, not just six!
It occurred to me, with all this theory-and-practice going on, that it is not surprising that new discoveries are being made and new techniques perfected, considering that the science of chocolate is nearly in its infancy in the grand scheme of things. Though chocolate has ancient traditions as a beverage, as a fine confection it is barely more than a century old! With that in mind, I hoped readers would enjoy the following timeline that lays out the essential chocolate discoveries that bring us to modern couverture.
1828 The cocoa press is invented in Amsterdam by Casparus van Houten (Sr.). This simple hydraulic construction could squeeze out about half of the natural fat in the cocoa nibs, leaving behind a cake that could be ground into cocoa powder, much easier to dissolve in hot liquids than full-fat chocolate. So while the cocoa press was, on the surface, an advancement in chocolate the beverage, the isolation of cocoa butter was essential to the evolution of chocolate the confection. Plus, van Houten treated his cocoa powder with alkaline salts to make it more blendable, thereby adding a method (Dutch-process, alkalized, Dutched) that makes myriad cocoa – and chocolate – colors and flavors possible to this day.
1840 Belgian company Bervaerts produces arguably the first solid chocolate, in the form of pressed tablets, pastilles, and figures.
1846 The first chocolate bar is marketed by English chocolate manufacturer J. S. Fry & Sons. Pure chocolate liquor (the natural yield from the cocoa beans) and sugar will only produce a crumbly mass that, pressed into a bar, produces a very coarse product. In the years that followed the chocolate bar’s debut, producers learned that with the addition of some extra cocoa butter, as isolated by van Houten’s cocoa press, it is possible to create a relatively smooth cake.
1865 In Italy, chocolate is first blended with hazelnut praline paste to produce gianduja.
1875 Daniel Peter figures out how to combine his chocolate with Henri Nestlé’s condensed milk, and milk chocolate is born.
1879 Swiss chocolatier Rodolphe Lindt invents the conche. This mixing machine, originally conch-shaped, makes it possible to blend the basic chocolate bar ingredients over a period of days until the particles are tiny and smooth, with the added benefit that some undesirable acid compounds evaporate away during the process, improving the flavor as well. Chocolate as we know it is now possible for the first time in history.
1921 White chocolate comes on the market.
Once the basic materials existed, then it was a fairly straight shot to molded chocolate, molded filled chocolates, truffles, etc. The groundwork was set in the Nineteenth Century, so that the Twentieth could become the great chocolate century, with chocolate on every table, in every food shop and confectionary, in most market bags, and in lots of pockets, too. So where are we now? Still at the dawn of creation, as far as I am concerned. The whys of chocolate chemistry have been poorly understood until recent years, and there is still much to do and learn. With lots of thanks to Barry-Callebaut, I am hoping to help push the envelope and watch where we all go from here.