To Make Chocklate Cream

It’s hot out. Each year when swampy summer hits Philly, I start to make a list of recipes that do not require me to turn on the oven. So I was pleasantly surprised when I saw this recipe for “Chocklate Cream” on the Shakespeare’s World Twitter feed in the midst of many delicious tweets associated with the ongoing Recipes Project “What is a Recipe?” virtual conference. It may be 85F today, but this morning I had milk and eggs in the fridge, chocolate and sugar in the cupboard and this mousse-like pudding only required stirring on the stove.

This recipe is from the Folger Shakespeare Library MS v.b.380. The manuscript is associated with Anne Western and was likely compiled and used in the late-seventeenth and early-eighteenth centuries.  The few pages I’ve looked at are loaded with recipe attributions and efficacy notes. This particular recipe is accompanied by two names: “{anne Western” in the margin and the source “Mrs Reaps” at the end. The phrase “(probatumest)” or “it is proven” suggests that the recipe was tested and worked well.

The Recipe

To Make Chocklate Cream

Boyle apint of milk then scrape in a quarter
of apound of Chocklate lett it boyle togeather
then take it off & sweaten itt with fine sugger
then beat up 4 youlks of Eggs with one white
very well & strane it in to your milk, then sett it  {Anne
on a Charcole fire keep itt sterring always one      Western
way tell tis thick, then serve it in Chany Dishes
or gelly Glasses Mrs Reaps (probatumest)

This decadent chocolate concoction sets into a nice pudding or mousse texture in small ramekins, my version of the “Chany”/China dishes or “gelly Glasses” suggested in the original. Expensive and richly flavored, a chocolate dish like this would have been a quite a treat. I’ve also written about early modern chocolate recipes here (with Alyssa) and here (with John Kuhn).

Our Recipe

I halved the original proportions and made a batch of 4 generous or 6 slightly smaller servings. I also used a mix of baking chocolate and 80% chocolate (because that’s what I had around) and sweetened the mix to my taste. Add more or less sugar depending on your chocolate selection and your personal sweet tooth.

1 c milk
1/8 lb chocolate (mixed unsweetened baking and 80% dark chocolate, or more to taste) *Revised: Recipe tested with 1/2 lb chocolate*
1/4 c sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk

Shave or chop your chocolate into small pieces that will easily dissolve in hot milk. (In this heat, chopping worked better than shaving in my kitchen.)

Whisk together your egg yolk and whole egg.

Bring the milk to a boil.

Lower the heat to medium, add the chocolate, and stir. Commit to stirring clockwise or counterclockwise for the entire preparation. The mixture will thicken quickly.

Add your sugar and taste. Add more sugar by the tablespoon or teaspoon to adjust the flavor.

Lower the heat to low and stir in the eggs. Stir until the mixture is consistent and glossy.

Pour into small containers to set and serve (ramekins, bowls, glasses, etc). Allow to cool before eating.

The Results

A rich, tasty dessert that I’ll be making again.  It’s exactly the kind of easy, crowd-pleasing dessert that you can prepare in advance. A bit of vanilla or fresh fruit on the side would take this to a whole other level. Let us know what you try.

Advertisements

Margaret Baker’s sacke possett & fine biskett, or a year with Folger MS V.a.619

It’s an interesting experience to spend months with a single recipe book. This year I collaborated with an undergraduate student, Rachael Shulman, on a year-long research project centered around Margaret Baker’s recipe book which is held at the Folger Shakespeare Library (MS V.a.219). Working with the Early Modern Recipe Online Collective (EMROC) transcription interface maintained by the Folger’s Early Modern Manuscripts Online project (EMMO), Rachael and I began with transcription basics, preliminary readings, and went from there. We transcribed together and separately, we read widely and developed our own projects from the manuscript, and we’re still working on a series of blog posts (stay tuned) and an article from our shared inquiry. This spring, Rachael was awarded an award for Information Literacy by the Pennsylvania State University Libraries for her poster presentation at the annual research fair. It’s been energizing to see this manuscript through Rachael’s eyes as well as my own.

I’m thankful to the Abington College Undergraduate Research Activities program (ACURA) for supporting our collaboration and for funding our trips to the Kislak Center at UPenn and the Folger to look at an array of recipe books. I’m especially thankful to the Folger for allowing Rachael to see Baker’s manuscript in person after she’d spent endless hours looking at it on a computer screen. I’m excited to continue working on this project with Rachael, and other students, in the fall.

While Rachael’s research has focused on Baker’s medicinal recipes (which make up the majority of the volume), I decided to prepare two of Baker’s culinary recipes a few months ago.  I opted for a posset and a biscuit.  Alyssa and I have previously made possets and biscuits, but these versions stood out to me. We’ve made a “Could Posset” and a “Lemon Posset,” but not a “Sacke Posset.” We’ve made the seeded herbal biscuits “Little Cakes” and transformed Naples Biscuits into “Artificial Potatoes” and “Bisket Pudding,” but these “Fine Biskett” seemed like a nice addition to our repertoire.

Recipes

Sacke Possett

To make a sacke possett;
Take one pound of almonds beate them very small
with as much sack as will keep them from oyling
then take one pinte of creme put in your suger into
it sett it one a chafing dish of cols till it be redy
to boyle; then put in your almons sturringe it very
well soe serue it to your table;

Our Recipe

*Quartered from the original

1 c ground almonds
2 T sherry
1/2 c heavy cream
1/4 c sugar

Combine the almonds and sack in a small bowl.

Put the cream and sugar in a small pot and heat until they almost reach a boil. Stir in the almond-sack mixture.

Serve immediately.

Fine Biskett

to make fine biskett

take 1 pound of fine suger 2 pound of fine flower 8 or
10 eggs put amoungst it a penny worth of anneece seede &
a few coriander seede beat all well in a bason together &
make it up into cakes after it is baked you may cut it in slicee
& candy that wth suger if you please,

Our Recipe

*Quartered from the original

3/4 c sugar (4 oz) plus additional sugar to sprinkle on the biscuits
1 3/4 c flour (8 oz)
2 eggs
1t fennel seeds
1t coriander seeds

Preheat your oven to 350F.

Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl.

Form the dough into pleasing biscuits. I rolled half the dough into a log and sliced thin cookies. I shaped the remaining dough into cookies.

Place on a baking sheet greased with butter or spray (or covered with baking parchment). Sprinkle a little bit of sugar on the biscuits.

Bake 15 minutes or until the biscuits are golden brown at the edges.

The Results

Neither of these recipes would make my all time favorites list.

The sacke possett taste like a strange, boozy protein shake. The viscus texture was especially unappealing, although it might have improved if I’d used almond milk instead of the ground almonds I had in my fridge.

I loved the flavorful spices in the fine bisketts, but the dense, floury texture of the biscuit overall showed the lack of butter or cream in the recipe. On the other hand, Rachael prepared a vegan version of this recipe and was very pleased with her results.

The most important part of this process — in the archive and in the kitchen — has been the collaboration between me, my student, and Margaret Baker’s manuscript across time and space.

Let me know if you try any of these recipes and improve on them!

To make selebub

The day after Christmas I opened my laptop and started transcribing a page of Constance Hall’s recipe book, Folger Shakespeare Library MS V.a.20. I did this every day for twelve days as part of an Early Modern Recipes Online (EMROC) holiday Transcribathon. I transcribed sitting next to my sister-in-law,  in the early morning hours before a pre-semester faculty meeting, after yoga, and at the end of a long day of preparation for the Modern Language Association conference. It was nice to pause amidst the festivity, work, and routine to transcribe a few pages of Constance Hall’s book. It’s not that I never complete transcriptions anymore – I transcribe lots of recipes for this site  and other related projects – it’s just that  I usually skim physical or digital recipe books looking for recipes I’m excited to cook, rather than transcribing everything on a page, fussing over abbreviations, musing about alternate spellings, and puzzling through tricky lines. Transcribing daily reconnected me to my research for this project in a new way, honed my skills, and, of course, added many recipes to my long “to cook” list.

hall-cropped

The EMROC blog has a wonderful post with background information about Constance Hall and her manuscript.

Hall’s lovely, calligraphic title page is dated 1672. I decided to try this recipe for “selebub,” or syllabub first because syllabubs were all the rage in the last decades of the seventeenth century when Hall compiled her manuscript.  Alyssa’s “Solid Sillibib” post offers an excellent account of this syllabub craze and she includes many transcribed recipes from other manuscripts as examples of the trend. I’m also tipping my hat to Gina Patnaik and Lili Loofbourow whose epic quest to make a birch whisk to stir their syllabub over at The Awl still leaves me in awe.

 

The Recipe

syllabub-cropped

To make selebubbe
Take 2 quarts of cream and sweet[en]
it and put it in to a bason and squise
in to lemons in to it and on of the p[eel]
put in a quarter of a pint of sack and
put in one drop of oring flower water
take out the lemon whip it with a cl[ean]
whiske and put it in your glasses halfe
this will fill seauen

Our Recipe

Since the recipe notes that it will fill seven syllabub glasses half full (serving seven), I quartered the recipe. These proportions produced a quart of syllabub. I also guessed on the sugar and used sherry for the sack.

2 c cream (1 pint)
1/3 c sugar
half a lemon: peel cut into long strips, then juiced
2 T sherry (for the sack)
1/4 t orange blossom water
Optional: extra grated zest (orange and/or lemon) to serve

Stir together the cream, sugar, lemon juice, sherry, and orange blossom water. Add the lemon peel. Let sit for 1 hour.

Remove the lemon peel. Whisk until a stiff foam forms using a standing mixer, a handheld mixer, or a whisk. Serve in small glasses or bowls.

 

The Results

The most decadent whipped cream I’ve ever tasted: This is my best effort at describing the syllabub. It’s sweet, but not too sweet. It’s slightly boozy, but grounded by the acidity of the lemon and the unavoidable creaminess of the, well, cream.

I want to spoon it over chocolate ice cream. I want to spread it on dense, rich cake. I want to serve it with poached or roasted fruit. Basically, I want to eat it in the least seventeenth-century way possible. I’m not especially interested in sipping or spooning it from a glass. I’m curious to see what happens with the rest of the batch over the weekend.

 

Carraway Bunns

When I was conducting research at the Folger Shakespeare library in June, I saw this recipe for “Carraway Bunns” in Mary Hookes’s manuscript recipe book V.b.342. I love caraway. I love buns, rolls, scones, biscuits, popovers, and trying out yeasted bread recipes (like these “Oven Cakes“). As I prepared to cook “Almond Jumballs” with paleography students at the Folger, I added this recipe to my running list along with the “Snow Cream” I tried in July.

img_5107

Last week I wanted to bake something warm, buttery, and doughy. (I felt a little bit like the woman in this Onion article.) As I transcribed this recipe, I realized that it was rather similar to my mother’s recipe for Herb Biscuits. Her rich rolls appeared on our Thanksgiving table smelling of sage, onion, and speckled with celery leaves. Seasoned with caraway instead, these buns were just the thing. Like a rich, yeasted biscuit (or scone), these buns are an excellent accompaniment to hearty fall dinner or a luscious snack with afternoon tea.

The Recipe

carraway-bunns

To make Carraway Bunns         32
Take two pound of fine flower, & three quarters of a pound
of fresh butter crumble the butter very small in the flower went
It with milke bloud warme, & Good Ale yeast halfe a pinte
Att least, Two Eggs well beaten when it is Made into a paste
lett it stand halfe an hower to rise before the fier, then take it
& spread it abroade worke halfe a pound of Carraway comfits
in it & cast in a little white sugar Make them up into Bunns
Lay them vpon paper, & Bake them quick when they are hard
Att Bottome then they are Enough.

The recipe calls for caraway comfits, or sugar coated caraway seeds. I’ve made fennel comfits before (see below), but coating these small seeds in sugar syrup is tricky, fiddly work that I wasn’t up for last week. I used regular caraway seeds instead and increased the sugar.

Our Recipe

While Alyssa wrapped up things at work and walked over to my place for our cooking date, I put together this rich dough and left it near the warm oven to rise. (I was roasting some broccoli for dinner.) Halved, the recipe made 5 small buns and 6 large buns.

3 1/3 c flour (1lb)
12 T butter, room temperature (1 1/2 sticks)
1/2 c warm milk
1 envelope yeast
1/2 t salt (possibly increase to 1t)
1 egg, beaten
1t caraway seeds (possibly increase to 2t) OR caraway comfits
1T sugar

Heat milk. Sprinkle in yeast and let stand for two minutes.

Combine the flour and butter. You can do this in a mixer with a dough hook or in a sturdy bowl. Add the yeasty milk, then the egg, then the salt and dough should form. *Next time I will incorporate the sugar and caraway seeds in this initial mix.* Either keep running the mixer or turn the dough and any unincorporated bits out onto a floured board and knead for a few minutes. When the dough is smooth, cover with a towel and leave to rise in a warm place for an hour.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Punch down the dough and sprinkle in sugar and caraway seeds. *This is what I did with the test batch, but next time I’ll add these earlier.* Form buns and put on a greased baking sheet. I left these to sit for a few minutes before baking, next time I might give them a second rise of an hour or so.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until the bottom and top are both golden brown. Make a pot of tea while they’re baking. Devour.

The Results

Delicious, dense, buttery “buns.” They have the crumb of a good biscuit or scone from the butter and a hint of fluffiness from the yeast. But some bites were full of caraway and others were sharply sweet. Next time I’ll incorporate the seeds and sugar from the start.

I think there are a lot of ways to adapt this recipe as well. If you don’t like caraway, use fennel or sage or celery salt or orange zest. If you want to make these sweeter, increase the sugar and consider adding an egg wash and sprinkling sugar and seeds on the top to make a tasty and stunning crust. I’ll be keeping this one on my list.

Snow cream

It’s hot. The city of Philadelphia declared an excessive heat warning. Despite my undying love of summer, I’m thinking about snow.

2016-07-07 15.22.22

When Heather Wolfe, Sarah Powell, and I were selecting a recipe to cook with the paleography class at the Folger Shakespeare Library last month, Sarah added this recipe for “Snow cream” from Mary Hookes’s manuscript recipe book V.b.342 to our list. (Check out the Almond Jumballs we made here.) In my heat frenzy yesterday afternoon, I went digging through my email to track down the citation. The manuscript includes entries from circa 1675-1725 and was signed by Mary Hookes in 1680. It begins with an alphabetical index and contains a range of household recipes including perfumes, preserves, and cakes. I have much more work do to on this manuscript, but yesterday I had snow on the brain and decided to give this recipe a try. Rosewater flavored whipped cream? Almonds and strawberries? How could this be anything but delicious?

130843

The Recipe

snow cream

snow cropped, page 2
Snow cream
Take six quarts of cream season itt with Rose-
watter & sugar putt itt in to a pan, & take a whiske
and cutt offe the ends, & shake the whiske, too & ffrow,
in the Pan off cream, till itt rise like snow, then
take offe the snow with a skimer letting the cream
drayne from itt, then putt itt in to a Bason, the

bottom off itt being cover’d with currence, or strabarys,
& slis’d Almonds, continew shaking the whisk till
you have enough to ffill the bason, & ever as
you use itt, Take itt offe with the skimer.

Whipped cream makes snowy drift on a base of nuts and summer fruits, such as currants and strawberries. The name “snow” makes this relative of fool, berries and cream, and even strawberry shortcake seem unfamiliar. Recipes for snow are common in seventeenth-century recipe books and usually include both cream and eggs. The Oxford English Dictionary defines snow, as a cookery term, as A dish or confection resembling snow in appearance, esp. one made by whipping the white of eggs to a creamy consistency.” Ken Albala’s The Banquet includes examples of “snow” stiffened with rice flour, seasoned with rosewater, and served alongside other sweet and savory dishes. (He also gestures to the role of dairy dishes like snow in the development of ice cream recipes. We promise that when we find an ice cream recipe we’ll make one for you.)

IMG_5016

Our Recipe

I used a hand mixer to whip my cream. This tool, as well as modern dairy processing methods, decreased the need for skimming mentioned in the original recipe. I started with one cup of cream instead of six quarts. The recipe below serves three-four people, six quarts of whipped cream would feed a crowd.

1 cup cream
2T sugar
1/2t rosewater
1 cup strawberries, hulled and chopped
1/4 cup almonds, slivered or roughly chopped

Line a serving dish with the strawberries and almonds.

Put the cream and sugar in a sturdy bowl. Using a hand-held mixer or a large whisk, whip the cream until it holds stiff peaks. Stir in the rosewater.

Add the whipped cream to the serving dish in large dollops.

Serve immediately.

The Results

Cool, sweet, and fresh, snow cream was exactly what I wanted to eat. Tufts of cream drenched the berry and nut base. The crunch of the almonds, the floral note from the rosewater, and the tang of the strawberries make for a chilly summer dessert. I could close my eyes and imagine snow.

I’d love to try this with black or red currants (and if you do I hope you will let us know). Feel free to substitute in any fresh berry or sliced fruit. Try a different nut or a mix of seeds. Swap out rosewater for orange blossom water or vanilla. This simple, refreshing dessert is highly adaptable in the modern kitchen.

Stay cool, dear readers, and let us know how  you fix your “Snow cream” this summer.

 

Cooking Almond Jumballs at the Folger Shakespeare Library

It’s time that we talk about paleography – the study of  handwriting. (Bear with me, we’re also going to make Almond Jumballs!) Without specialized training, Alyssa and I wouldn’t be able to read the historical recipes that we cook, research, and write about on this site. The archive of early modern manuscript recipe books is written in a mix of the two most common styles of handwriting:  secretary hand and italic hand.

Can you read these two recipes? The first hand has more italic features and the last one is a classic secretary hand.

If you’re looking for more resources, this website hosted by Cambridge University has a great online tutorial and the Folger Shakespeare Library hosts a resource guide here.

If you liked the experience of grappling with historical scripts, we encourage you to participate in Shakespeare’s World, a community transcription site developed by Zooniverse and the Folger’s Early Modern Manuscripts Online project.

Alyssa and I learned how to read medieval and early modern handwriting when we were graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania. We both participated in a student-run Paleography Workshop and I took a week-long course with Heather Wolfe, Curator of Manuscripts at the Folger Shakespeare Library  at the Rare Book School at the University of Virginia on “The Handwriting & Culture of Early Modern English Manuscripts.”  These experiences gave us the tools we needed to conduct our doctoral research and launch this project. In addition to providing you with tasty updated recipes and interesting background information, we have always included “semi-diplomatic transcriptions” of the original recipes completed to a high academic standard. Many of these recipes have never been transcribed before and posting them online in this readable form is one of our contributions to the field of historical food studies.

I’m currently in residence at the Folger Shakespeare Library working on my book project, but when my former paleography teacher Heather Wolfe asked me to talk about historical recipes with her Introduction to English Paleography course I jumped at the chance.  I love the “Chacolet” recipe we made this winter from a Folger manuscript and wrote about for the Collation blog. We also had a great time giving a talk at the library last December. Within a few minutes of discussion, Heather and I had settled on a cooking project in addition to a visit to her class. Last week I cooked “Almond Jumballs” from Folger Manuscript V.a.429, fol. 52v with Heather, members of her class, and library staff and interns.  It was a blast!

 

This manuscript contains the handwriting of three (or more) individuals and it was used in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Two sets of ownership inscriptions grace the  opening leaves (above).

Rose Kendall
& Ann Cater
there Book
1682

Anna Maria Wentworth
Her Book 1726

The opening pages of the book are beautifully planned and decorated with remarkable calligraphic flourishes. Although the red ink disappears from later sections, the manuscript is neat overall. The index at the beginning seems to have been updated as recipes were added.

The Recipe

127366 - cropped

Almond Jumballs

Take a pound of Blanched Almonds, and beate them small in a Morter, putt
in a little Orange fflower, or Rose Water, to keep them from oyling, dry them against
the fire, till they crumble like bread, then boyle as much Sugar to a pritty thick
Syrrup as will make it up like Balls. keep it by you, to make Jumballs when you
please, half a pound will make a great many, put half a pound of the Balls in
a Morter, with three quarters of a pound of Sugar sifted and as just as many
whites of Eggs as will make it so stiffe as not to runn out. when it shall be spouted
with a syringe, for the purpose if you have not that Instrument you may lay them one
Paper in what figure you please but the Sugar almonds and Eggs must be well
beaten togeither. If it should not taste enough of Orange fflower Water you
may put in more as you beat it. sett them in an Oven as hot as for Biskett

This recipe has it all: lots of manuscripts have recipes for “jumballs” (like the one we posted a while back), the script included some tricky letter forms, and the recipe required fairly simple ingredients and methods. We knew we could make it in the Folger’s on-site tea kitchen. While I went into the classroom with a general plan for how to prepare the jumballs (we’d already purchased ingredients, after all!), we did ask the students in the course to consider how they would translate this recipe into actual ingredients and steps. They asked great questions which forced me to rethink my draft recipe both at the start and while we were in the kitchen.

There are two especially interesting things about this recipe. First of all, it instructs you to make a flower-water flavored ball of almond paste from blanched almonds and sugar. Presumably this mix might have been a shelf-stable item. Then, when you’re ready to make the jumballs, the recipe instructs you to pipe the batter through a syringe or otherwise shape them elaborately. Although we made valiant attempts to shape our jumballs, our dough did not cooperate.  We even tried piping it through a plastic glove with a snipped finger since we didn’t have a pastry bag! As a result, the egg measurement in our recipe below asks you to add egg whites one at a time and pay attention to the consistency of the mix.

 

Our Recipe

Makes about two dozen cookies.

1lb blanched almonds or ground almonds
2T orange flower water (or rose water)
3C sugar (1C for sugar syrup, 2C for cookie formation)
4-5 egg whites

Preheat your oven to 350F.

Mix together ground almonds and flower water. Toast the almond mix for about 2 minutes. Remove when the mix starts to brown.

Make a “thick” sugar syrup. Bring 1C sugar and scant 1C water to a boil until the sugar is dissolved. This will produce about 1 1/2C sugar syrup.

Add the sugar syrup 1/2C at at time to the toasted almond mix. At this point you can form the mix into balls and divide into batches (if you prefer).

Raise the oven temperature to 400F.

Put the almond mix balls in a large mixing bowl. Stir in 2C sugar (for the whole amount).

Separate your eggs. You can either whip your egg whites to produce a slightly fluffier jumball or skip this step to create a chewier jumball (see results discussion below). Add egg whites to the almond sugar mix one at a time (approximate if whipped) until your dough is moist and pliable. You should be able to roll a piece of it into a log on a flat surface.

Taste the mixture and add additional flower water to taste. (We didn’t add any more at this point.)

Shape your dough into twists, letters, etc. Write your name, make a funny face, shape a flower, and have fun with it! Place your jumball shapes on two or more greased baking sheets.

Bake at 400F for 20 min until the jumballs are lightly browned.

The Results

Fresh from the oven the jumballs were chewy, sweet, and fragrant. A day later they were like hard macaroons. We were pleased with how they turned out. They were nothing like the buttery seed-filled shortbread-like Jumballs Alyssa and I made in 2014. Every recipe book seems to have a receipt for Jumballs and we look forward to exploring more versions with you soon.

Alyssa and I always learn when we cook together, but cooking with a group was a new experience for me. With so many people completing tasks and offering opinions, we collaborated to make a better version of the recipe. For example, we weren’t sure if we needed to whip the egg whites or not before adding them to the almond and sugar mixture. By dividing the almonds into two batches, were were able to try both approaches. After trying and tasting both versions, we decided that the  whipped egg whites added fluffiness, but because of the density of the almond mix they did not add enough buoyancy to make the step absolutely necessary. Others preferred the denser texture of the batch with the normal egg whites. My recipe above includes both options.

Here at Cooking in the Archives we believe that people can learn a lot about early modern recipes by reading them and cooking them. I can’t wait to here what else the Introduction to Paleography students find, try, taste, read, and learn as a result of this training.

Transcription Answers

The first example is from UPenn Ms. Codex 626 (32r) “Hopestill: Brett, Her Booke: 1678”

A sawce for a hare

Rost beef suit in the hares
shred when put in
belley: then bake it when shee is
Rosted and then put the graue
to it and sum butter and stis
Sum nutmig in and salt

The second example is from UPenn Ms. Codex 1601 (7r)

To boile Chickens on sorrell sops.
Truss your chickens & boile them in water
& salt, verie tender, then take a good
handfull of sorrell & beate itt stalke &
all, then straine itt & take a manchet
& cutt itt in sippetts & drye them before
The fire, then putt your green brouth

Chacolet from Rebeckah Winche’s Receipt Book at the Folger Shakespeare Library

We wrote a version of this post for the Folger Shakespeare Library’s research blog, The Collation. You can read it here. A special thank you to the Folger and everyone who came out to our Free Folger Friday lecture in December and got a sneak peak at these recipes.

Dear readers, we finally found a chocolate recipe to share with you! Since we launched this project we’ve been looking for chocolate. Alyssa and I love chocolate, our friends and family who taste our recipes love chocolate, and we were pretty sure you would love a historical chocolate recipe, too. We knew hot chocolate or drinking chocolate existed in early modern England, but it took us a while to find a recipe. Chocolate was a luxury good and not necessarily something that would have been found in the households of the people who were writing the manuscripts we’re working with. Drinking chocolate finally became more affordable and widespread in the late seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

The Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington DC has a wide range of culinary manuscripts, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of their holdings. In October we participated in a Transcribathon sponsored by Early Modern Recipes Online Collective and the Early Modern Manuscripts Online Project. Reading through Rebeckah Winche‘s receipt book, Folger MS V.b.366, we found this recipe for “Chacolet.” As the coordinators of the Transcribation noted, the manuscript has a dated inscription, “Rebeckah Winche 1666,″ that conveniently locates the book in a seventeenth-century English household.

The recipe for “Chacolet” describes the process making hot chocolate from whole cocoa beans. Europeans may have encountered cocoa beans, but many would also have encountered chocolate in processed cakes that resemble the final product of this recipe as Sarah Moss and Alexander Badenoch suggest in Chocolate: A Global History. Moss and Badenoch also remind us that our modern chocolate bars are still more than one hundred years away at the time that this recipe was copied down. Only in the nineteenth century did chocolatiers develop the modern machines and processes, like conching, that utterly transformed this rare bean into smooth, modern chocolate (57, 61). Our friends at The Recipes Project have also written some great posts about chocolate consumption. Amy Tigner has two posts about it here and here, and Amanda E. Herbert describes how she teaches with chocolate here.

The Recipe

folger image chacolet, croppedChacolet

the ingredienc

# ounces
cacao – 1 – 0
cinamon – 0 – 3,2 part of an ounc
spanish peper – o- 20 part of an ounce
sugar – 0 – 10th pf a pound
uanilles 3
musk & ambergrees 3 granes

take th cacao nuts which must be very godd
put aside all the brooken ^(to be done after) put them in a coper or
iron frieng pan neuer used for any pech ouer
a a good moderat fire & stir them continualy
Yt all may be alike tosted
to know wen thay are enough take some in your
hand if thay crumble easily thay are enough or if
thay crack & leape in the pan
the spices must be beaten fine & sevied & all but
the vanelles mixed with the suger iuste as the use
then
break the cacaos upon as stone
clener them from the husks
when it is in a mas like dooe grind it ouer againe
wth all the strength possible then strew in the suger &
spice mix it well to gether & grind it agane twice
ouer
lastly put in the vaneles mix’d wth sye the suger grinding
it till it looke like batter when it is cold you mak
make it in to what forme you pleas
the stone must stand ouer fire all the while it is
a grinding
it is not fitt to use till it has bene 3 munths made

One interesting feature of this recipe is that it looks much more like a modern recipe than other recipes in Winche’s book or in the archive of historical recipes we’ve been exploring in general. Most of those are written as narrative paragraphs that combine measurements and instructions. This one looks more like what we’ve come to expect recipes to look like in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries: it begins with a list of ingredients with amounts – cocoa beans, cinnamon, Spanish pepper, sugar, vanilla, musk, and ambergris – and then includes a methods paragraph explaining what to do with these ingredients.

Since the recipe’s formatting and instruction was somewhat familiar, our process of updating focused more on the ingredients. Now, it’s hard to find whole cocoa beans in their husks in a specialty grocery store, let alone a basic supermarket. At a health foods stand in Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia Alyssa and I found cocoa nibs: dried and chopped pieces of cocoa beans. This form of chocolate is popular with bakers seeking to add crunch to chocolate chip cookies and raw foods enthusiasts looking for alternatives to processed chocolate. By grinding the cocoa nibs first by hand in a molcajete and then in a coffee grinder we often use for spices, I produced a hot cocoa mix with an even consistency. However, I decided to prepare Rebecca Winche’s “chacolet” two different ways: with cocoa nibs to get closer to the original cocoa beans and with cocoa powder, a pantry staple today. I also decided to leave out the rare, funky, and/or glandular musk and ambergris.

Our Recipes

starting with cocoa nibs

1/3 c cocoa nibs
1 1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 c sugar
1 t vanilla extract

To make the hot chocolate mix:

Heat the cocoa nibs in a shallow pan for about two minutes. When they begin to look glossy, add the cinnamon and crushed red pepper and stir to combine. Remove from heat.

Now it’s time to grind your cocoa nibs and spice mix. We started this process in a molcajete and then transferred the mixture to a coffee grinder that we also use for grinding spices. In the coffee grinder the mixture turned into a solid paste. A dedicated spice grinder or a small food processor would also do the trick.

Return the cocoa and spice mix to the pan. Add the sugar and vanilla extract. Stir over a low heat for 2-4  minutes until the sugar is completely integrated and the mixture is uniform in color and texture. Some clumps will form, especially at the bottom of the pan.

Transfer the cooled mixture into a jar and label with the date. Store in a cool, dry, dark place.

To make hot chocolate:

Heat one cup milk over a medium heat until steamy. Add 3 T hot cocoa mix. Whisk over heat for another minute or two until it begins to simmer and mix is completely dissolved. (We owe this part of our instruction to Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for “decadent hot chocolate mix.”)

starting with cocoa powder

1/3 c cocoa powder
1 1/2 t cinnamon
1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 c sugar
1 t vanilla extract

To make the hot chocolate mix:

Add all the ingredients to a shallow pan.  Stir over a low heat for 2-4  minutes until the sugar is completely integrated and the mixture is uniform in color and texture. Some clumps will form, especially at the bottom of the pan.

Transfer the cooled mixture into a jar and label with the date. Store in a cool, dry, dark place.

To make hot chocolate:

Heat one cup milk over a medium heat until steamy. Add 3 T hot cocoa mix. Whisk over heat for another minute or two until it begins to simmer and mix is completely dissolved. (We owe this part of our instruction to Smitten Kitchen’s recipe for “decadent hot chocolate mix.”)

The Results

When I tasted the cocoa nibs version I was totally blown away. It was much spicier than I  expected and had a nutty, chocolate taste. The oils and larger granules from the cocoa nibs gave the mixture a unique texture. The cocoa powder version had a more concentrated chocolate flavor. Despite the fact that both versions have the same amount of chili flakes, this one was less spicy. The texture was smooth and creamy. I could drink either of these on any cold day!

The original recipe also made a curious suggestion: to wait three months before using the chocolate. Since I still had some of the cocoa nib mix in my cupboard a month after I first tested the recipe, I decided to test this point. The flavors had deepened and mellowed. The chocolate flavor in this cup of cocoa was deep and, in the whole, less spicy than the bath I made fresh. Feel free to store your hot cocoa mixes in a jar or plastic container in a cupboard for use throughout the winter and spring. Let us know if it changes over time!

By making this recipe two ways I was first and foremost negotiating the realities of a modern kitchen – it’s a lot easier to take cocoa powder, that marvel of modern chocolate processing, down from the pantry shelf than to cocoa beans or even cocoa nibs. But despite the different starting points, the side-by-side taste testing of the two versions showed remarkable similarities– the mix of chocolate and warming spices is the real flavor-profile of the recipe and that remained consistent. When Alyssa and I cook in historical archives we’re often confronted by the possibilities and limits of how much of the past we can taste. Accessing these recipes gives us the opportunity to try dishes that early modern cooks tried centuries ago – not just to read about them, but to make them and savor them. We cannot duplicate their exact taste profile, but we can approximate it and do so in ways that make sense for our own modern kitchens.