Since we launched Cooking in the Archives in 2014 we’ve been looking for chocolate. We love chocolate, our friends and family who taste our recipes love chocolate, and we were pretty sure that the readers of our historical food website would love chocolate recipes from the archives as well. 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 has a wide range of culinary manuscripts, and we’ve barely scratched the surface of the Library’s holdings. In October of 2015 we participated in a Transcribathon sponsored jointly 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 Transcribathon 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 of 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.1 Our friends at The Recipes Project have also written some great posts about European and American chocolate consumption: Amy Tigner has two posts about the subject, and Amanda Herbert describes how she teaches with chocolate.
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 recipes 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.
Here is the transcription of the recipe pictured above:
cacao – 1 – 0
cinamon – 0 – 3,2 part of an ounc
spanish peper – o- 20 part of an ounce
sugar – 0 – 10th of a pound
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
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
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
it is not fitt to use till it has bene 3 munths made
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 we 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, we produced a hot cocoa mix with an even consistency. However, we 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. We also decided to leave out the rare, funky, and/or glandular musk and ambergris.
When we tasted the cocoa nibs version we were totally blown away. It was much spicier than we 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, the cocoa powder version was less spicy. The texture was smooth and creamy. We could drink either of these on any cold day!
By making this recipe two ways we were 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 grind 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 we 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.
Below is our modernized recipe for “chacolet” starting with cocoa powder. Let us know if you try it!
Rebeckah Winche’s Chacolet 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, and 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.”)
- Sarah Moss and Alexander Badenoch, Chocolate: A Global History. London: Reaktion Books, 2009. p. 57, 61.
- At the beginning of the book, there is a page that lists all of the abbreviations used (much like a modern cookbook!). Here, we learn that the “tt” symbol (that almost looks like a #) is for “i pound”—that’s a lot of cacao!
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Delicious! The pepper adds a grace note to the beverage. I used just over a teaspoon of cinnamon which seems perfect to my taste. Happy Christmas!
Roxann Sorenson — December 13, 2017