Etymologists trace the origin of the word “chocolate” to the Aztec word “xocoatl,” which referred to a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. The Latin name for the cacao tree, Theobroma cacao, means “food of the gods.” Many modern historians have estimated that chocolate has been around for about 2000 years, but recent research suggests that it may be even older.
In the book, The True History of Chocolate, authors Sophie and Michael Coe make a case that the earliest linguistic evidence of chocolate consumption stretches back three or even four millennia, to pre-Columbian cultures of Mesoamerica. Anthropologists from the University of Pennsylvania recently announced the discovery of cacao residue on pottery excavated in Honduras that could date back as far as 1400 B.C.E. It appears that the sweet pulp of the cacao fruit, which surrounds the beans, was fermented into an alcoholic beverage of the time.
It’s hard to pin down exactly when chocolate was born, but it’s clear that it was cherished from the start. For several centuries in pre-modern Latin America, cacao beans were considered valuable enough to use as currency. One bean could be traded for a tamale, while 100 beans could purchase a good turkey hen, according to a 16th-century Aztec document. Both the Mayans and Aztecs believed the cacao bean had magical or even divine properties, suitable for use in the most sacred rituals of birth, marriage and death. According to Chloe Doutre-Roussel’s book, The Chocolate Connoisseur, Aztec sacrifice victims who felt too melancholy to join in ritual dancing before their death were often given a gourd of chocolate (tinged with the blood of previous victims) to cheer them up.
Sweetened chocolate didn’t appear until Europeans discovered the Americas. Legend has it that the Aztec king, Montezuma, welcomed the Spanish explorer Hernando Cortes with a banquet that included drinking chocolate. Chocolate didn’t suit the foreigners’ tastebuds at first –one described it in his writings as “a bitter drink for pigs” – but once mixed with honey or cane sugar, it quickly became popular throughout Spain.
By the 17th century, chocolate was a fashionable drink throughout Europe, believed to have nutritious, medicinal and even aphrodisiac properties. But it remained largely a privilege of the rich until the invention of the steam engine made mass production possible in the late 1700’s.
In 1828, a Dutch chemist found a way to make powdered chocolate by removing about half the natural fat (cacao butter) from chocolate liquor, pulverizing what remained and treating the mixture with alkaline salts to cut the bitter taste. His product became known as “Dutch cocoa” and it soon led to the creation of solid chocolate.
The creation of the first modern chocolate bar is credited to Joseph Fry, who in 1847 discovered that he could make a moldable chocolate paste by adding melted cacao butter back into Dutch cocoa. By 1868, a little company called Cadbury was marketing boxes of chocolate candies in England. Milk chocolate hit the market a few years later, pioneered by another name that will sound familiar– Nestle.
In America, chocolate was so valued during the Revolutionary War that it was included in soldiers’ rations and used in lieu of wages. Chocolate manufacturing is more than a 4-billion-dollar industry in the United States and the average American eats at least half a pound per month.
The main types of chocolate are milk chocolate, semi-sweet chocolate, bittersweet chocolate and unsweetened chocolate. These types of chocolate may be produced with ordinary cacao beans (mass-produced and cheap) or specialty cacao beans (aromatic and expensive) or a mixture of these two types. The composition of the mixture, origin of cacao beans, the treatment and roasting of beans and the types and amounts of additives used will significantly affect the flavor and the price of the final chocolate.
The higher the cacao (kuh-KOW) content number, the less sugar. Vanilla and lecithin usually make up less than 1 percent.
Sweetened chocolate with high content of cocoa solids and no or very little milk may contain up to 12% milk solids. Dark chocolate can either be sweet, semi-sweet, bittersweet or unsweetened. If a recipe specifies ‘dark chocolate’ you should use semi-sweet dark chocolate.
Sweet Dark Chocolate
Similar to semi-sweet chocolate, it is not always possible to distinguish between the flavor of sweet and semi-sweet chocolate. If a recipe asks for sweet dark chocolate you may also use semi-sweet chocolate. Contains 35-45% cocoa solids.
This is the classic baking chocolate which can be purchased in most grocery stores. It is frequently used for cakes, cookies and brownies and can be used instead of sweet dark chocolate. It has a good, sweet flavor. Contains 40-62% cocoa solids.
A dark sweetened chocolate which must contain at least 35% cocoa solids. However, good quality bittersweet chocolate usually contains 60% to 85% cocoa solids depending on the brand. If the content of cocoa solids is high and the content of sugar is low, the chocolate will have a rich, intense flavor. Bittersweet chocolate is often used for baking/cooking. If a recipe specifies bittersweet chocolate do not substitute with semi-sweet or sweet chocolate. European types of bittersweet chocolate usually contain very large amounts of cocoa solids and some of them have quite a bitter taste.
A bitter chocolate which is only used for baking. The flavor is not suitable for eating. Use it only if a recipe specifies “unsweetened chocolate”. It contains almost 100% cocoa solids and about half of it may be fat (cocoa butter).
Sweet chocolate which normally contains 10-20% cocoa solids (which includes cocoa and cocoa butter) and more than 12% milk solids. It is seldom used for baking, except for cookies. An ounce of milk chocolate can contain 75 percent less cacao and twice as much sugar as the darkest chocolate.
Chocolate made with cocoa butter, sugar, milk, vanilla and sometimes other flavorings. It does not contain any ingredients from the cacao bean and, therefore, has an off-white color. In some countries white chocolate cannot be called ‘chocolate’ because of the low content of cocoa solids. It has a mild and pleasant flavor and can be used to make Mousse, Panna Cotta and other desserts.
Here are some healthy recipes without too many calories to indulge your chocolate sweet tooth:
Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen cookies.
- 1 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup boiling water
- 1/2 cup peanut butter
- 1/4 cup butter, softened
- 1/2 cup sugar or sugar substitute equivalent to 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup refrigerated egg substitute or 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour or Eagle Brand Ultra Grain flour
- 1 1/4 cups regular rolled oats
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate pieces or chunks
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment.
In a small bowl combine raisins and boiling water; set aside.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, combine peanut butter and butter; beat on medium speed for 30 seconds. Add sugar or sugar substitute, egg product, cinnamon, vanilla and baking soda. Beat until combined. Add the flour; beat until smooth. Stir in the oats.
Drain the raisins; stir raisins and chocolate pieces into oat mixture.
Drop dough by rounded tablespoons onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake about 12 minutes or until lightly browned, reversing pans in the oven after six minutes.
Transfer to wire racks; let cool.
Chocolate Swirl Cheesecake
- 1/2 cup finely crushed graham crackers
- 2 tablespoons butter, melted
- 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
- 3/4 cups fat-free milk
- 28 ounces of reduced-fat cream cheese (Neufchatel), softened
- 18 ounces of fat-free cream cheese, softened
- 18 ounces lowfat sour cream
- 1/3 cup sugar or sugar substitute equivalent to 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted and cooled
- Chocolate curls (optional)
In a medium bowl stir together finely crushed graham crackers and melted butter until crumbs are moistened. Press mixture evenly onto bottom of an 8-inch springform pan. Cover and chill while preparing filling.
In a small saucepan sprinkle gelatin over milk; let stand for 5 minutes. Heat and stir over low heat just until gelatin is dissolved. Remove from heat. Cool for 15 minutes.
In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat cream cheeses until smooth. Beat in sour cream, sugar and vanilla until well mixed; gradually beat in gelatin mixture. Divide mixture in half. Gradually stir melted chocolate into half of the mixture.
Spoon half of the chocolate mixture over chilled crust in pan; spread evenly. Carefully spoon half of the white mixture over chocolate mixture in small mounds. Using a narrow, thin-bladed metal spatula or a table knife, swirl chocolate and white mixtures. Top with remaining chocolate mixture, spreading evenly; spoon remaining white mixture over chocolate mixture in small mounds and swirl again. Cover and chill about 6 hours or until set.
To serve, using a small sharp knife, loosen cheesecake from side of springform pan; remove side of pan. Cut cheesecake into wedges. If desired, garnish with chocolate curls. Makes 16 slices.
Make-Ahead Directions: Prepare as directed, except cover and chill for up to 24 hours.
Chocolate-Amaretto Pots de Creme
Yield: 6 individual pots de creme
- 1 cup almond milk
- 2 tablespoons sugar or sugar substitute equivalent to 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons frozen light whipped dessert topping, thawed
- 2 ounces sweet dark chocolate, chopped
- 1 tablespoon margarine
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso coffee powder
- 4 egg yolks, lightly beaten, or 1/4 cup refrigerated egg substitute (see tip)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 teaspoon amaretto
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1 recipe Whipped Coffee-Almond Topping (below)
- Shaved chocolate (optional)
In a heavy small saucepan combine milk, sugar, whipped topping, chocolate, margarine, cocoa powder and coffee powder. Cook and stir over medium heat for 10 to 15 minutes or until the mixture boils and begins to thicken. Reduce heat to low. Cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Remove from heat.
Gradually stir about 1/3 cup of the hot chocolate mixture into the beaten egg yolks. Return the yolk mixture to the remaining hot chocolate mixture in the saucepan. Cook and stir over low heat for 2 minutes; remove from heat.
Stir in vanilla, amaretto and almond extract. Pour chocolate mixture into six small heatproof cups or pots de creme cups. Cover and chill for 2 hours or overnight or until set.
Spoon the Whipped Coffee-Almond Topping on top of individual servings. If desired, sprinkle with shaved chocolate. Makes 6 individual pots de creme.
Tip: If you use egg substitute, the mixture will be softer set.
Whipped Coffee-Almond Topping
- 1 teaspoon amaretto
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/8 teaspoon instant espresso coffee powder
- Several drops of almond extract
- 1/4 cup frozen light whipped dessert topping
In a small bowl stir together amaretto, vanilla, instant espresso coffee powder and several drops of almond extract, stirring until coffee dissolves. Fold in frozen light whipped dessert topping.
Yield: 16 slices
- 1 1/2 cups hazelnuts or walnuts, toasted
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 cups refrigerated egg product or 3 eggs
- 1/3 cup granulated sugar
- Chocolate curls (optional)
White Mocha Filling:
- 18 ounce container frozen fat-free whipped dessert topping, thawed
- 2 ounces white baking chocolate (with cocoa butter), chopped
- 1 tablespoon instant sugar-free, fat-free Suisse mocha or French vanilla-style coffee powder
- 1 tablespoon fat-free milk
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8 x 1-1/2-inch round cake pans. Set pans aside. In a medium bowl combine nuts, flour and baking powder; set aside.
In a blender or food processor, combine eggs and sugar; cover and blend or process until combined. Add nut mixture. Cover and blend or process until nearly smooth, scraping side of container occasionally. Divide batter between the prepared pans; spread evenly.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool cake layers in pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. Remove from pans. Cool completely on wire racks.
Place one of the cake layers on a serving plate. Spread top with half of the White Mocha Filling. Top with remaining cake layer and remaining filling. Loosely cover. Chill frosted cake for 2 to 24 hours. If desired, garnish with chocolate curls. Makes 16 slices.
White Mocha Filling:
In a small saucepan combine white baking chocolate, instant coffee powder and milk. Cook and stir over low heat until melted and smooth. Remove from heat. Stir in 1/2 cup of the whipped topping (whipped topping will melt). Cool mixture about 5 minutes. Fold melted mixture into remaining whipped topping.
Tip: To toast nuts, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place the nuts in a shallow baking pan. Bake about 10 minutes or until toasted. Cool nuts slightly. If using hazelnuts, place warm nuts on a clean kitchen towel. Rub nuts with towel to remove loose skins.
Mocha Cream Puffs
Makes 20 cream puffs
- Nonstick cooking spray
- 3/4 cup water
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon instant coffee crystals
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 eggs
- 1 recipe Mocha Filling (see recipe below)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Coat an extra large baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray; set aside.
In a medium saucepan combine the water, butter, coffee crystals and salt. Bring to boiling. Add flour all at once, stirring vigorously. Cook and stir until a ball forms that doesn’t separate. Cool for 5 minutes.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating with a wooden spoon after each addition until smooth. Drop into 20 small mounds onto prepared baking sheet. Bake about 25 minutes or until brown.
Cool on wire rack. Split puffs; remove soft dough from insides.
Using a pastry bag fitted with a star tip or a spoon, pipe or spoon Mocha filling into cream puff bottoms. Add cream puff tops.
Make-Ahead Directions: Prepare and bake cream puffs; cover and store at room temperature for up to 24 hours. Prepare Mocha Filling as directed; cover and chill for up to 2 hours. Fill cream puffs just before serving.
- 1/2 of an 8-ounce carton lowfat vanilla yogurt
- 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon instant coffee crystals
- 1/2 of an 8-ounce container thawed light whipped dessert topping
In a medium bowl combine yogurt, cocoa powder and instant coffee crystals. Fold in thawed light whipped dessert topping. Cover and chill until serving time.
Fudgy Almond Cookies
- 1/3 cup butter, softened
- 3/4 cups packed brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon instant espresso coffee powder
- 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 2 egg whites
- 1/3 cup plain lowfat yogurt
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
- 2 ounces white chocolate baking squares (with cocoa butter)
- 1/2 teaspoon shortening
- 36 whole almonds, toasted
In the large bowl of an electric mixer beat butter on medium to high speed for 30 seconds.
Add brown sugar, espresso powder and baking soda; beat until combined, scraping side of bowl occasionally.
Add egg whites, yogurt and almond extract; beat until combined. Beat in cocoa powder.
Beat in as much of the flour as you can with the mixer. Using a wooden spoon, stir in any remaining flour. Cover and chill dough for 1 to 2 hours or until easy to handle.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place balls 2 inches apart on ungreased or parchment lined cookie sheets.
Bake for 6 to 8 minutes or just until edges are firm. Transfer cookies to a wire rack; cool.
In a small saucepan combine white chocolate and shortening; heat and stir over low heat until melted and smooth.
Spoon a little melted white chocolate on top of each cookie. Press an almond on top of the white chocolate on each cookie. Let cookies stand until white chocolate is set.
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