Nothing fits better in the cold season than a hot beverage that warms us from the inside. It's even better if it's slightly sweet, just like a hot chocolate. This delicious classic – we also like to call it Hot Chocolate – is an absolute must on cold days. We encounter this sweet temptation in our everyday lives time and time again – whether in liquid form as a drink, as a small cake at the bakery, or even as a chocolate bar while shopping.
A Bittersweet Discovery
The cacao plant, which is the primary ingredient for our coveted chocolate, originally comes from Latin America. Here, the plant became a part of the local agriculture of the Maya and Olmecs at an early stage. In 1984, a vessel was discovered in a Maya tomb dating back to around 750 AD. It depicted a woman pouring liquid from one vessel to another – the Maya thus created more foam from chocolate, which they considered a delightful part of the drink. Laboratory analysis of this vessel revealed traces of caffeine and theobromine, both components of cocoa.
Evidence of agricultural cultivation of the trees suggests that the local indigenous people were already using large-scale plantations for these relatively delicate and demanding plants around 2,500 years ago. However, our modern chocolate bars were foreign to the Americans of that time. Let's briefly imagine what it would be like if we were to drink our sweet beverage the way the indigenous people did back then: Instead of boiling processed cocoa beans in warm milk, the Maya brewed their ground beans with hot water – quite reminiscent of our nowadays beloved coffee, isn't it?
That's how the Maya's drink, known as "Xocolatl," actually tasted somewhat similar to our coffee today, bitter and astringent in flavor, quite different from, for example, our sweet drinking chocolates from Hammond’s.
Cocoa beans were often offered as offerings to the gods by the Maya, similar to other local agricultural products. They held such high value that the bitter beans were even accepted as currency and were more valuable than gold. It's no wonder that the Maya referred to their beverage as the "Drink of the Gods," right?
The cocoa plants and their beans only became known in the 16th century with the arrival of the Spanish in Central America and their subsequent global trade involving American resources. But even with the Spanish arriving in the New World, the precious potential of this sweet delight was nearly lost. Christopher Columbus himself is said to have disapproved of the beans. Therefore, we are all the more pleased that other Spanish explorers saw the potential of the beans and paved the way for our current indulgence.
How Did Our Beloved Chocolate Bar Come About?
The Spanish conquerors initially found the taste of the cocoa bean inedible, so they simply changed the recipe of the drink. The Spaniards sweetened the still bitter drink with raw sugar cane, and they also enjoyed their chocolate hot instead of cold, adding spices from the Old World such as cinnamon and anise. The foam from the chocolate, once an important component, was no longer produced. Instead of pouring the chocolate from one vessel to another, the Spaniards used a wooden whisk to froth the chocolate.
This novel and, above all, sweet beverage caused a true sensation in Europe. Cocoa houses offering hot chocolate emerged in all major cities, similar to the more well-known coffee houses of today. Hot chocolate became a universally beloved drink of the European elite – especially when mixed with exotic spices like chili, cardamom, or cinnamon.
The very first chocolate factory in all of Europe opened in 1728 in the English city of Bristol. At “Fry & Sons,” everything was still produced by hand, as machinery for chocolate production did not exist yet. It was the Dutch who made that possible. In 1828, a hydraulic press was developed, allowing for the creation of a new type of low-fat cocoa powder. This powder could be mixed with water much more effectively for drinking chocolate.
It was once again “Fry & Sons” who, in 1847, mixed this innovative cocoa powder with sugar and melted cocoa butter instead of warm water, then poured the resulting thick paste into molds. This marked the birth of the chocolate bar.
Sweet Moments on Bitter Days
We've all experienced it - heartache, it feels like our heart is breaking into many pieces that no one can collect. However, a miracle remedy has the power to glue these small pieces back together - chocolate has surely provided comfort to each of us at some point, hasn't it?
For example, it might have been a best friend who showed up at your doorstep with a huge box of chocolate ice cream, prepared with tissues and two spoons. Quickly, all worries were forgotten as you sat laughing on the living room floor, surrounded by tissues and warm blankets, with the almost empty chocolate ice cream in the middle.
Back then, it might have also been mom and dad trying to cheer you up. You had a bad day at school or were sometimes sad without a specific reason. What could be better in such a situation than a steaming cup of hot chocolate with mini marshmallows? Nothing at all, because with every sip, your worries diminished, and a warm, cozy feeling gradually spread within you.
Today, it might be the emergency chocolate bar hidden away, waiting to cheer you up after a tiring day. But it could also just be a small piece of chocolate with which you reward yourself after a long day. This sweet remedy for sorrow never fails to bring a smile to our faces.
Does Chocolate Really Make Us Happy?
The fact is that cocoa in chocolate contains tryptophan, an essential amino acid that cannot be produced by the body. So, we need to consume it, and our body converts it into serotonin, which brightens our mood and makes us happy. However, chocolate doesn't contain more tryptophan than other foods, and the concentration is too low to have a significant effect. Therefore, it's not the ingredients that make us feel joyful. But then, what is it?
What actually makes chocolate make us happy is that it helps us unconsciously recall positive memories. Neural networks in our brain are activated by chocolate, reminding us of positive experiences associated with consuming it. So, for instance, chocolate can make us happy again even when we're feeling sad.
Sweet Moments Just for Us
Chocolate doesn't only help with sorrow, as we also give it as gifts to our loved ones in various forms to bring them a little joy. Take, for example, chocolate cake, a moist cake that isn't too sweet, thanks to the delicious baking bars used in its new creation – a true delight for every chocolate fan in the family.
Also perfect as a small gift or token are brownies. Small pieces, easy to transport, great for gifting, and that heavenly taste! Who can resist this chocolate dream? Chocolate upon chocolate, yet we can never get enough of it. Brownies are also excellent for birthdays, especially when time is tight.
We mustn't forget the delicious chocolate chip cookies, a true classic at every family gathering. Whether small or big, everyone helps themselves here, because who can say no to these enticing cookies with delicious chocolate chips? Chocolate chips come in various flavors too – white chocolate chips, with a hint of mint, and even vegan chips with coconut sugar. So, there's truly something for everyone at any celebration!
As we can see, chocolate not only tastes delicious, but it also brings us all a little closer – at family gatherings, birthdays, as a quick dessert, or as a sweet offering for friends and acquaintances. Everyone appreciates such a delicious gift; it connects and creates beautiful moments with our loved ones.
But How Healthy Is Chocolate Really?
Cocoa initially contains numerous essential minerals such as magnesium, zinc, copper, phosphorus, and even twice as much iron as spinach. Chocolate is a true energy booster due to its content of plant-based fats and sugars. It provides our bodies with non-negligible amounts of protein, carbohydrates, and fiber that aid in digestion.
Furthermore, cocoa contains antioxidants that can help significantly lower blood cholesterol levels and protect cells – a kind of cellular rejuvenation.
In general, cocoa has anti-inflammatory properties, supports the circulatory and immune systems, brain function, and demonstrably reduces blood pressure. That's why, especially in older age, reaching for a chocolate bar occasionally might help with memory lapses – and not just for nostalgia and fond memories.
However, it's worth noting that except for the energy boost enhanced by sugar, nearly all of these health benefits come from the cocoa powder content of chocolate and not the cocoa butter.
Unfortunately, white chocolate doesn't fit here. Generally, it can be said that the darker the chocolate is – that is, the more cocoa powder it contains compared to other ingredients like cocoa butter and additives like milk, etc. – the healthier it is.
Fortunately, this value is easily recognizable for consumers, as the well-known percentage values that different flavors advertise refer to this proportion of cocoa powder included.
Dark chocolate usually contains 50 to 90% cocoa powder (although variations with up to 99% exist, sometimes sold as tiny stamp-sized squares), while milk chocolate usually has only 10 to 30%, but thanks to the added milk, it contains other essential substances like calcium, which aids in bone development.
Chocolate is for everyone, and yes, we really mean everyone. Vegan chocolate will convince anyone who tries it. Even here, there's more than one option; for instance, we offer five vegan chocolate chip varieties in our shop. For those who like to enjoy their chocolate with its full flavor and without sweetness, the Unsweetened and Extra Dark variations are a must! For our sweet tooth enthusiasts, we have you covered as well – with the Santé, Super Cookie Chips, and Semi Sweet options, every sweet and vegan dream comes true.
For those who want an even healthier version of this cocoa specialty, we recommend our cocoa-scented candles from Kringle and Country Candle.
The American Chocolate Dream
We all know it – the American Dream. But have you ever heard of the American Chocolate Dream?
What's chocolaty and originally from – like most delicious treats – America? That's right, these heavenly chocolate cakes, also known as Brownies. But who do we actually owe this invention to? There is one but also other urban legend claiming to tell the true origin story of the beloved baked good.
In one of these stories, a cook was challenged to bake a chocolate cake that would also fit in a lunchbox. Another story told of a librarian who had no baking powder on hand and also miscalculated the baking time of her cake.
However, the fact remains that as early as 1896 in the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, there was a recipe by Fannie Farmer for these little cakes called ´Brownies`. In 1907, cookbooks featuring "Bangor Brownies" appeared, which had particularly high amounts of eggs and chocolate in their recipe. Thanks to their ingredients, these brownies were referred to as "fudgy" since they had a gooey texture inside. That's how we still know and love our beloved brownies today.
Whether it was a coincidence or a planned masterpiece, no one can tell us for sure – nevertheless, we are all glad that we can bake this recipe anytime.
Are you still looking for a brownie recipe similar to the Bangor Brownies? Then we have just the right recipe for you to try:
- 650 g Extra Dark Chocolate Chips by Guittard
- 250 g butter
- 420 g sugar
- 6 eggs
- 2 tsp Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Extract by Nielsen-Massey
- 280 g flour
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 packet baking powder
First, preheat your oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
Take 400 g of your chocolate chips and melt them together with the butter – in a double boiler or in a microwave, it's up to you. Let the chocolate mixture cool down.
In the meantime, beat the sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract together until fluffy. Then slowly stir in the cooled chocolate mixture.
Combine the baking powder with the flour and salt, and gradually fold this dry mixture into the batter. Be careful not to overmix the batter, or your brownies might turn out too dense.
Now add the remaining chocolate chips to the batter and mix until they are evenly distributed.
Next, take your glass brownie pan or a deep baking sheet and line it with parchment paper. Pro Tip: If your parchment paper keeps moving around, just add a few drops of oil to the pan or sheet in a few spots. Then place your parchment paper on top, and voila, everything stays in place.
Evenly distribute your batter in the pan or on the sheet. If you still haven't had enough chocolate at this point, you can sprinkle finely chopped chocolate on top of the batter.
Place your brownies in the middle of the oven for 20-25 minutes. Don't worry, even if your finished brownies have formed a crust, they'll still be fudgy inside!
The journey of the tiny cocoa bean is truly remarkable, don't you think? From the cold and bitter drink of the Maya from the past, it has traveled the long way to a sweet chocolate cake of the present. Its long journey was not in vain, as we still adore it today, just as much as on the first day.
Now you can enjoy your little chocolate dreams in peace, because you've truly earned them!