I recently bought a block of American Heritage Chocolate, a gritty, stone-ground chocolate made in the colonial style, at the Genesee Country Village and Museum in Mumford, New York. I was excited about using it for this blog, but soon discovered that not many 18th-century English or American recipes actually called for chocolate.
Chocolate was widely consumed in colonial America — it was even part of military rations for American and British troops during the Revolutionary War. But until the mid-19th century, it was nearly always used for drinking, not baked in desserts or eaten on its own.
My first project was Chocolate Cream, which is sort of like pot de crème. Here is a circa 1700 recipe from an anonymous cookbook housed at the Virginia Historical Society:
Take a pt. of cream wth. a spoonful of chrapt [scraped] chocolate boyle tm well together mix wth it ye yolks of 2 eggs & thicken & mill it on ye fire thn pour it into yor. chocolate cups.
Colonial Williamsburg’s Historic Foodways program has a good modernized version of this recipe. But it’s insanely rich, too much so for my taste.
Then I tried chocolate port, a recipe from American Heritage Chocolate that calls for simmering ruby port and grated chocolate together with a little sugar. If you like chocolate martinis, you might love this drink, but my husband and I thought the port was better unadulterated.
Fortunately, I had just enough grated chocolate left to try Chocolate Puffs, which are a sort of meringue cookie. Here’s an 18th century recipe for them by Elizabeth Raffald, author of The Experienced English Housekeeper (London, 1769):
To make Chocolate Puffs Beat and sift half a pound of double-refined sugar, scrape into it one ounce of chocolate very fine; mix them together. Beat the white of an egg to a very high froth, then strew in your sugar and chocolate, keep beating it till it is as stiff as a paste. Sugar your papers, and drop them on about the size of a sixpence, and bake them in a very slow oven.
Raffald was an interesting woman. After working as a housekeeper at a great estate, she married, ran a confectionery shop, opened Manchester’s first employment agency for servants, helped start a newspaper, and published 13 editions of her cookbook. And had nine children! Here she is (I was half expecting she’d look like Mrs. Hughes from Downton Abbey):
I decided to alter Raffald’s recipe a little, increasing the egg whites and decreasing the chocolate to make the puffs lighter and more meringue-like. They are good and incredibly easy — much more so than in the 18th century, when the sugar had to be beaten and sifted and the egg whites whipped by hand.
2 egg whites
1 cup superfine sugar
1/2 ounce grated American Heritage or other dark chocolate
1. Preheat oven to 200°F.
2. Beat the egg whites until stiff, using an electric mixer. Add the superfine sugar gradually, beating well. Then, with the mixer speed on low, blend in the chocolate.
3. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper, dabbing a little meringue on the corners of the sheets to secure the paper to them. Drop about two teaspoons of batter per cookie onto the baking paper, leaving a few inches between each.
4. Bake for one hour. Remove cookies from paper immediately with a thin spatula. Makes about 24 puffs.
Note: American Heritage Chocolate is made by the Mars Corporation and can be purchased at Colonial Williamsburg, the Smithsonian, Monticello, Fort Ticonderoga, and at some of these historic places’ websites. But you can use any dark chocolate instead. You might want to add spices like cinnamon and nutmeg to approximate the 18th century flavor.