Chocolate pudding was once considered an obligatory dish to be served at Christmas and New Year’s Eve, but not in our family. It was one of the desserts my mother frequently made. Perhaps, consequently, I fell in love with chocolate. But then, who hasn’t?
Chocolate is believed to have originated in civilizations that pre-dated the Mayan and flourished in the Veracruz and Tabasco provinces of Mexico. Cacao cultivation had expanded with succeeding civilizations but could not be grown everywhere. The bean became a commodity of trade, warfare, and a currency centuries before the Spanish arrived. Columbus brought beans back to Europe on his 3rd voyage, but never realized that a drink was made from them. Not until 1526 did the Spanish understand the full value of these “black almonds.” Nevertheless, by the 1600s the Spanish court was well-known for its prowess in preparing chocolate drinks with these beans for “medicinal purposes.”
The beans found their way to Florence, Italy where a drink named Ciocolatto was sold in little earthenware beakers. It reached its highest fame in Italy in 1773 despite a pope’s order to suppress its use-by his Jesuits. Chocolate was also in vogue at the French court at Versailles where it was enjoyed often flavored with chili — back in the old-Mexican style. It was quickly blamed for the obesity of Parisian women after French confectioners began flavoring the court’s biscuits with it. Chocolate appeared in London in 1657 in a shop owned by a Frenchman selling recipe books on its use. Chocolate houses sprang up everywhere, at which self-styled radicals discussed politics over a cup of hot cocoa. It became the drink for the rich, but before the end of that century, chocolate had found its way into the American colonies.
In 1828, a Dutchman invented a press that removed 2/3 of its fat to produce a powdered cocoa. The process was called Dutching. The excess cocoa butter was added to ground beans creating a paste which was molded into bars. In 1800 chocolate had been sold and eaten only in slabs. Around 1842 names with which we are familiar began their ascendancy. Bars were marketed by the Cadbury Brothers of England. Rodolphe Lindt increased the amount of cacao butter in his chocolates making his irresistible. Henry Nestlé created the chocolates and drink we still love so much. And Milton Hershey’s love for confection led to his founding the Lancaster Caramel Company after seeing the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. It’s better known as Hershey’s today.
Meanwhile, cacao powder was finding its way into the kitchens of the world. Unsweetened chocolate began being used by confectioners and bakers. It became popular to use not only for desserts, pies and sorbets, but also in things like pastas and in soups — even in puddings. Pudding, at that time as defined by Webster as a food consisting of a soft or moderately hard consistency enclosed within a flour-base crust of mixed flour, eggs, etc. In England it became synonymous with a sweet offering at the end of a meal. We call it dessert.
During World War II American soldiers were given chocolate bars. These provided high-energy, pocket-sized energy boosters. Ironically, they were ordered to be made not to be too appetizing, so soldiers wouldn’t eat them too quickly. They were intended for survival. Hershey produced more than 40 million bars and American taxpayers shelled out more than 55.5 million dollars for them in 1941 alone. This is interesting since we didn’t enter the war until that December, but then most people were gearing up for war, especially businesses. Gum-maker Wrigley and snack maker Cracker Jack also made chocolate bars for the military.
My mom’s chocolate pudding was typically served warm or chilled with a heaping amount of home-made whipped cream — never Cool Whip! Served in one of her simple depression-era pudding bowls, it was the perfect dessert to accompany the simplest meal. Here are a couple of recipes that I found for you to try:
3 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
4 large egg yolks
½ tsp vanilla extract
4 large egg whites, room temperature
¼ cup powdered sugar
4 cups heavy cream
In the top of a double boiler over simmering water, melt chocolate. Cool.
Add egg yolks, one at a time, mixing well after each.
Continue beating until light.
Sir in ¼ tsp vanilla. Cool.
Beat egg whites until soft peaks form
Gradually add ¼ cup powdered sugar
Add ½ tsp vanilla
Beat until stiff peaks form
Fold melted chocolate into egg whites
Set aside in a cool place
Whip cream gradually adding ¼ cup powdered sugar and ½ tsp vanilla until stiff peaks form.
Fold ½ of whipped cream into chocolate mixture.
Spoon whipped cream into bottom of stemmed glasses, reserving ¼ cup for decoration.
Divide chocolate mixture evenly among glasses.
Spoon remaining whipped cream on top.
Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Chocolate Trifle Pudding
1 cup whole milk
1 cup whipping cream
½ cup sugar
3 tbsp unsweetened cocoa
2 tbsp cornstarch
¾ cup semi-sweet real chocolate chips
1 egg, slightly beaten
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp vanilla
Sweetened whipped cream
Zest of orange peel
In a 1 qt saucepan, stir together milk and whipping cream.
Cook over medium heat until warm (3-5 min.)
In a small bow, stir together sugar, cocoa, and cornstarch.
Gradually add to milk mixture.
Add remaining ingredients except the whipped cream, zest of orange peel and cocoa.”
Cook while stirring constantly until pudding thickens – 5 to 10 minutes.
Pour into 6 to 8 individual serving dishes.
Cool for ½ hr.
Cover; refrigerate 2 hrs. minimum.
Top with sweetened whipped cream, zest of orange peel and sprinkle with cocoa.