They each offer endless variations on the basic ingredient, enough to delight and satisfy every palate!
Not too surprisingly, there is also a Chocolate Museum in Paris, Le Musée Gourmand du Chocolat, tucked away on Boulevard Bonne Nouvelle, just up the street from us. We recently paid a visit, and learned a whole lot about the 4000 year old history of chocolate from the Olmec civilization to the present day.
I'm sure I've seen botanical prints of the cocoa plant, with its delicate flowers and giant fruits.
But I'd certainly never seen inside a cocoa seed, never knew the beans run down the centre so neatly! Its Latin name used to be "amygdala pecunaria" up until 1737, when Linnaeus gave it the scientific name Theobroma cacao, which means "food of the gods" in Greek!
Even under its old name, the cocoa plant was already considered worthy of sanctity, as this Guatamalan Cocoa Goddess from about 300 AD attests.
Not only was the cocoa bean worshipped, it was also highly valued by the Maya as currency: you could buy a rabbit for 10 cocoa beans, a healthy slave for 100. Heavily guarded porters transported the beans throughout Mesoamerica.
If the idea of a highly spiced hot chocolate drink appeals, maybe you want to try out this recipe. I know a certain member of our family who would just love it (hint, his family is from the Yucatan!)
After the arrival of Cortés in Mexico, hot spicy cocoa became the favorite drink of the Spaniards living and fighting there. Before long, goblets were fashioned from the husks of the cocoa fruit, some of them beautifully decorated with silver.
Artists of the period, documented the new craze, like Jean-Etienne Liotard and his La Belle Chocolatière" from 1743.
Molds in all sizes and shapes appeared. I rather liked this giant Santa, imagining its centre being filled with creamy dark chocolate!
It didn't take long for mass production to produce brand names and advertisements that still exist today.
In the basement of the museum, a young chef gave a demonstration of how liquid chocolate is poured into molds, with all but a thin layer removed. The remaining thin layer spends fifteen minutes in the refrigerator to harden, before a caramel filling is piped into each mold. Back in the fridge for another fifteen minutes. A final topping is added, chilled once more, and a superb soft-centered, mouth-watering goodie emerges:
By now, I was ready to do some serious chocolate sampling. With my usual great good fortune, I had been invited to join some members of the American Women's Group, Paris to a hot chocolate tasting at Le Bristol, the super-posh hotel on rue Fauberg-St.-Honoré, recently famous as the Midnight in Paris hotel.
I trust your mouths are watering at the sight of this unctuous, powerful liquid! Ours certainly were, and it did not disappoint.
Vive le chocolat!