The Discovery of Cocoa

There can’t be many people who can resist the temptation of a delicious bar of chocolate. It’s one of life’s great pleasures and, if you ask me, it should be given out free of charge just to make people’s lives that little bit more enjoyable.

Sadly, we have to pay for it, but it’s worth every penny. The cocoa bean, from which we derive this delectable treat, has a long and wonderfully romantic history, stretching back over 2,000 years. It has featured prominently in every era since, as people have sought, craved and devoured this delicacy.

The cocoa bean was first discovered in the sultry forests of Central and South America. Like many of these things, I wonder how on earth anyone realized that these strange looking pods could be harvested and processed into something edible and I guess we’ll never know the answer to that. We can only be grateful that whatever process of trial and error they went through eventually led to chocolate.

I suppose we shouldn’t be too surprised at the ingenuity of those who first created chocolate, as it was the ancient civilizations of the Maya and Aztecs who are credited as being the original chocolatiers. These people were innovators extraordinaire and if anyone was likely to reveal the sumptuous secrets of the cocoa pod, it was them. Their secret wasn’t safe for too long, however, as the Spanish conquistadors took some of the pods (amongst other things) back home with them and the magic of chocolate spread to Europe.

Cooking With Chocolate — Tips and Hints

Melting Chocolate

1. Melt in a Double Boiler
This is the best method for melting chocolate. Put the chocolate in the top of a double boiler; put water in the bottom pot and heat until the water is hot, but not boiling. Stir the chocolate until it is melted. If you don’t have a double boiler, place a heat proof bowl in the top of a pot whose top is smaller than the bowl. Put water in the pot, but don’t let it touch the bottom of the bowl. Stir until the chocolate is melted.

2. Melt in the Microwave
Place the chocolate in a glass custard cup or glass measuring cup. Microwave on high for 20 seconds. Remove and stir. Repeat as needed until the chocolate is not quite throughly melted, then stir so the chocolate’s own heat completes the melting process.

Tempering Chocolate

1. Chocolate that is to be used for dipping and molding must be tempered. Chocolate that is used in baked items, frosting, puddings or other such desserts does not have to be tempered.

2. For home tempering, you can purchase a small home tempering appliance for about $150. You only have to put the chocolate into the machine.

3. For home tempering done by hand, these are the steps:

* Shave about 4 ounces of the chocolate called for in a recipe.
* Chop the rest of the chocolate very fine.
* Melt the chopped chocolate in the top of a double boiler over hot, not simmering, water. Do not let the water touch the chocolate. Stir constantly until the chocolate is melted and has reached a temperature of 100-105 degrees on a candy thermometer.
* Remove the top of the double boiler off the bottom pot.
* Stir the shaved chocolate into the mixture, one tablespoon at a time to bring down the temperature of the mixture to 86 degrees.
* If chocolate is too warm or too cold, it will not be shiny and will not set properly.

Storing Chocolate

1. Store chocolate wrapped in brown paper or aluminum foil in a cool, dry place (65-70 degrees). Plastic wraps and storing in the refrigerator may cause the chocolate to develop moisture, which can ruin chocolate for cooking. Temperatures over 78 degrees will cause the chocolate to melt. Should the chocolate get too warm and develop “cocoa butter bloom,” grayish discoloration or “sugar bloom,” sugar rises to the surface and chocolate becomes grainy, melting will restore the original color. Generally, chocolate stored at the right temperature will retain freshness for over a year.

2. Store cocoa powder in a tightly closed container to retain freshness almost indefinitely.

Chocolate Substitutions

1. For one (1 ounce) square unsweetened chocolate
Substitute 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa and 1 tablespoon shortening.

2. For one ounce semisweet chocolate
Substitute 3 tablespoons semisweet chocolate chips or 1 (1 ounce) square unsweetened chocolate and 1 tablespoon sugar.

3. For one cup (6 ounces) Semi-sweet chocolate
Substitute 6 tablespoons cocoa, 7 tablespoons sugar,1/4 cup shortening

4. For one bar (4 ounces) sweet baking chocolate
Substitute three tablespoons cocoa plus 4 1/2 tablespoons sugar, 2 2/3 tablespoons shortening