Chocolate's beginnings were in central and South America among the Aztecs and the Mayans who used the cacao bean for money, and on very special occasions as a drink.
It seems that when Cortes landed in Mexico in 1519 he was welcomed by Montezuma and encountered the royal drink for the first time. Reports say it was frothy, highly-spiced and of a bitter taste but much admired for its energy-giving qualities. Cortes brought back some of these Mexican seeds (after destroying Montezuma and his court) which were planted in Africa on the way home. This led to the early chocolate drinks being shaped by the Spanish taste of adding sugar and vanilla. The first chocolate house in Britain is believed to have been in Bishopsgate (London), established in the mid-17th Century.
For many years chocolate was known of only as a drink, and made exactly as it had been in earlier times. Lumps of chocolate were broken, soaked in a little warm water until soft, more water added and the mixture simmered for a couple of hours before being left to go cold. Once this was done, the fat that floated to the top was skimmed off and discarded - the remaining liquid was mixed with milk and warmed. It was recommended that the concoction should be well-beaten when warming to promote the thickening process.
Why do we crave chocolate? The answer may lie partly in the texture and flavour but also the comfort that it seems to provide and its ability raise our mood. It is a real pleasure, and perhaps a guilty one. In honour of the Mexican roots of this world-dominating love affair with chocolate, here is a recipe for Mexican chocolate. It certainly takes time to prepare and creates a lot of washing up for three generous servings, but for special occasions is worth it.
- 600 ml of milk
- 300ml of double cream
- 50g of (good) plain chocolate
- 2 egg yolks
- Pinch of salt
- Half teaspoon of ground nutmeg
- Half teaspoon of ground cinnamon
- Pinch of allspice
- 5 tbsp of water
Put the milk and cream into a bowl over a pan of hot water and bring to the boil.
Add the spices and salt.
Simmer for one hour.
Just before serving, heat the chocolate and water in a small pan over a low heat until the chocolate has melted.
Take it off the heat and beat in the egg yolks.
Whisk in the spiced milk (the mixture should thicken).