32, No. 4
Benjamin D'Acosta & The Chocolate Factory
by Tina Wasserman
I am not a chocoholic,
but when I do indulge, it had better be worth the calories and the energy
blast. You see, after I've had my share of chocolate sweets, I start zooming
around the house! It's that same caffeine buzz that made the Aztecs adore
their bitter chocolate drink. Montezuma purportedly loved this beverage
so much he drank fifty cups a day.
Cacao was first cultivated
by the Mayans in the 7th century. Nine centuries later the Aztecs would
create a beverage from ground and roasted cacao beans, mixing in corn,
vanilla, bitter chili, and sometimes honey. They introduced the dark elixir
to the explorer Hernando Cortez, who brought it back to Spain. But had
it not been for the expulsion and forced conversion of Jews from the Iberian
Peninsula in the late 15th century, chocolate as we know it today might
not have become the most favored flavor in the world.
de Andrade, a Portuguese "marrano" (secret Jew) who had settled on the
island of Martinique in the French West Indies in about 1650, established
the first cacao-processing plant. He then used his connections--particularly
his relatives in Amsterdam--to export cacao to Europe. Over time, he and
other Jews became significant players in the cacao trade, angering their
envious competitors, who convinced the French government to bar all Jews
from Martinique. Relocating in the late 1600s to the Dutch colony of Curaçao,
an island off the west coast of Venezuela, d'Acosta and other Jews reestablished
their business, now shipping cacao grown in Venezuela to Amsterdam for
chocolate production. In addition, they exported sugar and vanilla from
The introduction of
sugar to Europe would change the history of chocolate. With the notable
exception of the Spanish, most Europeans disliked the bitter-flavored
chocolate drink of the Aztecs. But when sugar replaced chilies as a key
ingredient, the drink caught on throughout Europe. And the availability
of vanilla, combined with sugar and cacao, piqued the creativity of pastry
chefs throughout Europe. The bakers in Bayonne--many of them Portuguese
Jews--would bake soufflé-like cake rolls which were light as air.
In Italy, Jewish bakers invented chocolate cakes known as tortes or tortas,
using ground nuts instead of flour; and in Vienna, 16-year-old Franz Sacher
created a rich, dense chocolate cake topped with apricot preserves and
smooth chocolate glaze that would become world famous. With the demand
for the ingredients of chocolate production ever growing, the Jews of
Curaçao flourished--so much so that they were able to contribute
some of their profits to the building, in 1762, of the oldest standing
synagogue in the United States, the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode
of chocolate in the United States alone exceeds 2.3 billion pounds a year.
The British, who invented the first chocolate candy bar in 1847, are the
top consumers, at thirty pounds per person per year. Ironically, the Spanish,
who introduced cacao to Europe, consume the least. Consider this: had
our Sephardic ancestors not sailed across the Atlantic in pursuit of religious
freedom and capitalized on their contacts with fellow Jews who had found
sanctuary in European port cities such as Amsterdam, Bayonne, and Livorno,
the international chocolate industry might never have existed! So whenever
I bite into a sweet chocolate morsel, I salute the courageous and industrious
Jewish pioneers who have had such an indelibly delicious influence on
the desserts of the world.
Budino Cioccolato is an
Italian dish with Iberian roots. The strong Portuguese influence is evident
in the addition of cinnamon and chocolate to what is in essence flan,
a classic Spanish dessert. How it became a staple of Italian cuisine is
unknown. Like the other recipes to follow, it makes for a scrumptious
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 1/2
- 1 3-inch
length cinnamon stick
- 3 ounces
dark sweet chocolate (Lindt Excellence or El Rey)
- 3 large eggs
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon
- Preheat the
oven to 350°F.
- To make caramel,
cook the sugar and water in a saucepan over moderate heat until the
sugar dissolves and caramelizes to a light golden brown.
pour enough of the caramel into the bottom of a ramekin (4-ounce porcelain
cup) or a 9-inch glass pie plate and then carefully rotate the cup or
plate to coat the bottom and sides with the caramelized sugar. If using
ramekins, repeat until another 5-7 cups are coated, keeping the pan
of sugar over a very low flame so it won't harden before you're finished.
- Heat the
milk, cinnamon stick, and chocolate in a small saucepan until the chocolate
dissolves. Do not let the milk boil. Keep warm over a low flame.
- Beat the
eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla in a 2-quart bowl for 3 minutes,
until the mixture thickens.
- Discard the
cinnamon stick and then add the milk mixture to the egg mixture, beating
constantly until they are thoroughly combined.
- Strain the
mixture into a large pitcher and then carefully pour the custard into
the prepared ramekins.
- Arrange the
ramekins in a 13"x 9" pan and then pour boiling water into the pan.
The water should come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
- Bake for
25-30 minutes or until the custard is firm and pulls away slightly from
the sides (or a thin, sharp knife partially inserted in the center of
the custard comes out clean).
- Remove from
the water bath and cool. Before serving, invert the ramekins on a plate
and allow the caramel sauce to coat the custard and plate. Serves 6-10
- When caramelizing
sugar, never stir the sugar mixture after the sugar has dissolved. Stirring
can cause the thickened syrup to crystallize and form a sandy mass.
- Using a cinnamon
stick steeped in liquid imparts the flavor of the spice without the
grittiness of the powder.
The first non-drinkable form of chocolate consumed in Europe was in
the form of little soufflé-like cakes or rolls. The following is
one of the earliest modern recipes for flourless chocolate cake.
- 5 large eggs,
- 6 ounces
dark, sweet chocolate (Lindt Excellence, Surfin, German's Sweet, or
- pinch of
- 1 teaspoon
- 3 Tablespoons
coffee or 3 Tablespoons water & 1 teaspoon instant espresso
- 1 cup heavy
- 1 Tablespoon
- 1 teaspoon
- Lightly oil
a 15" x 10" jellyroll pan. Cut a piece of waxed paper or parchment paper
to fit precisely on the bottom of the pan. Lightly oil the top of the
paper. Set aside.
- In a medium
bowl, beat the sugar into the egg yolks until the mixture is pale yellow,
light, and creamy.
- Break the
chocolate into pieces and combine with 3 Tablespoons of liquid in a
small saucepan. Place this pan into a larger pan filled with 1 inch
of water. Cook over a medium flame and stir until the chocolate melts.
Do not let the chocolate mixture get too hot. Set aside to cool slightly.
- Add the cooled
chocolate to the egg-yolk mixture and beat slightly. Add the salt and
the vanilla. Stir well.
- Beat the
egg whites until stiff. Gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate
mixture until well combined.
- Spread the
mixture carefully and evenly over the prepared pan.
- Bake at 400°F
for 5 minutes. While the pan is still in the oven, reduce the oven to
350°F and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
- Remove the
cake from the oven, cover with a damp cloth or paper towel, and cool
for 5-10 minutes (if the cake is too warm it will melt the whipped cream).
- Remove the
cloth carefully and loosen the cake from the sides of the pan. Cover
the pan with clean waxed or parchment paper and invert the cake onto
this piece of paper. Gently peel off the piece of oiled paper.
- Beat the
heavy cream in a bowl over another bowl of crushed ice or use a metal
bowl which has been placed in the freezer for 15 minutes (this will
prevent the cream from turning yellow or oozing some of its water content
while it sits). When the cream has slightly thickened, add the sugar
and vanilla. Continue beating until the cream is stiff and spreadable.
- Spread the
cake with whipped cream and, with the help of the paper on the bottom,
roll it up from either the long or the narrow side. Sift with confectioners'
sugar (which will cover any fissures). Serves 8-10.
- Add a small
amount of coffee to bring out the flavor of chocolate (it will not make
the mixture taste like mocha).
- Egg whites
that are at room temperature will yield a larger volume when whipped
than will cold egg whites.
I adapted the following recipe, which has its roots in the port town
of Trieste, Italy, from Claudia Roden's Book of Jewish Food. Many
Jewish ships traded between Trieste and Livorno, opening trade from the
New World to the Far East. In addition, the use of almonds is indicative
of Spanish Jewish influence. Almond cultivation was among the primary
occupations of Mediterranean Jews, and it was the Spanish Jews who first
replaced flour with ground almonds in baking their tortas.
- 7 ounces
dark, bittersweet chocolate
- 1 cup of
lightly roasted slivered almonds
- 3 eggs
- 2 Tablespoons
orange liquor (Hallelujah from Israel or Grand Marnier)
- Preheat oven
to 350°F. Place 24 paper cups in mini-muffin pans. Set aside.
- Break the
chocolate into approximately 1/2-inch pieces and place in a processor
work bowl, along with the remaining ingredients (or chop the chocolate
and nuts with a knife to create 1/16-inch pieces and then combine).
- Pulse the
processor on and off until the mixture forms a relatively smooth paste
(it will still be a little coarse).
- Fill the
mini-muffin papers 2/3 high and bake for approximately 10-12 minutes,
until the tops are crisp but the insides are still soft.
- Serve warm
or allow the muffins to come to room temperature before storing them
in an airtight container. Makes 24 mini cakes. Enjoy!
- Always use
the pulse function when processing nuts or chocolate. This will throw
the food up as it is cut rather than risking some portion of the food
turning into a paste while the rest is not completely broken down.
- When a recipe
calls for eggs, always use large eggs (24 ounces per dozen). Using jumbo
eggs (30 ounces per dozen) in the above recipe would add the equivalent
of an extra egg and change the consistency of the finished product.
Tina D. Wasserman, a member of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, Texas, has
been teaching at her own cooking school for more than thirty years and
writes a kosher cooking newsletter on the Internet.
About These Recipes?
will be delighted to assist you. E-mail AskTina@urj.org.
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