Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Chocolate Almonds: An 18th c. "Eating Chocolate"

Chocolate Almonds

If you were to travel back in time to the 18th century or early 19th century and walk into a chocolate shop, you might be surprised to find that chocolate was usually prepared for sale in cakes or tablets meant to be grated and then dissolved in water to make a hot chocolate drink. While there were certain recipes such as chocolate tarts, creams, and meringue biscuits in which chocolate was used as an ingredient, the idea of eating a bar of chocolate candy was not popular because chocolate then was a bit coarse, dry, and maybe even a little gritty. Things changed over the course of the 19th century when new technologies were discovered to knead the chocolate with a melanguer (1850s) and then with its improvement, the conch machine (developed in 1879 by Rudolph Lindt).  These types of machines were able to knead the chocolate to make it more malleable, more stable, less acidic, and gave chocolate a smoother, more velvety mouth-feel than any prior finished chocolate product.

Additionally, until the middle part of the 19th century, chocolatiers did not temper their chocolate. Tempering develops the beta crystals in chocolate to make the finished product more stable, make it shrink a bit so it can be removed from moulds easily, gives it a nice shiny appearance, and results in a satisfying snap when a piece is broken off of it.  Tempering chocolate seems to have started only by the middle of the 19th century when the technological ability to isolate and manipulate the cocoa butter in chocolate was achieved.

Therefore, these technological advancements of the 19th century ushered in the era of chocolate that was meant to be eaten as opposed to chocolate that was meant to used as an ingredient in a recipe or more importantly, to be made into a drink. Having said all of that, some 18th and early 19th century recipes for chocolate pastils or candies can be found. While some of the recipes do give instructions to melt the chocolate, these recipes do not instruct the reader to "temper" the liquid chocolate. These recipes usually instruct the reader to either just simply melt the chocolate or, more commonly, to just grate it up and add a natural stiffener called gum tragacanth (a.k.a gum dragon) to help bind the grated chocolate together. Orange flower water is often used as the vehicle in which to dissolve the gum. The orange flower water definitely imparts a distinct orange perfume-like flavor in the chocolate marking it with a   true flavor the 18th century.

Here is a list of some early period chocolate candy recipes:

  • 1733: To Make Chocolate Almonds (Mrs. Mary Eales's Reciepts, Confections to Her Late Majesty Queen Ann, London)
  • 1739: To Make Chocolate Almonds (The Compleat Housewife by E. Smith, London)
  • 1770: Chocolate Pastils; Chocolate Conserves, and Chocolate Dragees (The Court and Country Confectioner, by an Ingenious Foreigner Now Head Confectioner to the Spanish Ambassador in England, London)
  • 1777: Chocolate Almonds (The Lady's Assistant, 3rd edition by Charlotte Mason, London)
  • 1827: Chocolate Harlequin Pistachios, Chocolate Candy, Chocolate Drops in Moulds, Vanilla Chocolate Drops, Cocoa Nuts in Sugar (The Italian Confectioner, by William Alexis Jarrin, London )
  • 1844: Lemon or Chocolate Drops (The Lady's Own Cookery Book, and New Dinner-Table Directory, by Lady Charlotte Campbell Bury, London)

The Recipe: Chocolate Almonds 
Source: E. Smith, The Compleat Housewife: London, 1739

I chose this recipe because it is a very typical type of recipe for a chocolate candy in the 18th century. I also like E. Smith's cookbook because an edition of it was printed in 1742 in the North American colonies at Williamsburg, Virginia.

Modern Recipe Adaptation

1/2 Ounce Gum Tragacanth (Gum Dragon)
1 Ounce Orange Flower Water
10 Ounces Taza Mexican Chocolate, Broken Up Into Chunks
  • Use this brand or another stone-ground chocolate to try to mimic the texture of 18th c. chocolate
  • I prefer the dark or vanilla types with no less than 60% chocolate in them.


1. Soak the gum in the orange flower water until a paste is formed. Set aside.

Gum Tragacanth (Dragon)

2. In a food processor, grate the chocolate until it is powdery.

3. Add the soaked gum paste to the chocolate powder in the food processor and pulse until it is evenly distributed throughout the chocolate.

4. Place the chocolate mixture onto a board or countertop lined with parchment paper. Using your hands, divide the chocolate into about 6 small sections and knead each section until it becomes a pliable dough.

The chocolate mixture will look powdery like this until you work it with your hands.

5. If you have a chocolate or candy mould, you can use it to form shapes with the chocolate. If not, you can roll the chocolate into small balls.

Here is the chocolate almond mould I used to make the "chocolate almonds":

Almond Shaped Candy Mould

Pack the chocolate mixture into the mould. Use a small spatula or knife to help pry out each of the "almonds".

The finished chocolates are quite refreshing in flavor, given all of the orange flower water used. If you do not like the strong perfumed flavor, you can use just plain water or part water/part vanilla extract.

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