Chocolate and Macarons in France
Today we admit it: we’ve developed a real sweet tooth and are going back for thirds with Chocolate and Macaroons!
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A Brief History of Chocolate
Chocolate is from Meso America originally. The Spanish went to find gold, but they found chocolate instead. Both the Mayans and the Aztec used the cocoa tree and the beans from it and they were considered to be a gift of the gods. The word “chocolate” sounds like the word they used to describe this exotic tree in Aztec and Mayan languages.
Chocolate was believed to have magical powers, those ARE the magical beans! Mayans and Aztecs even used chocolate beans like we use money today. Chocolate was given to newly-weds to bring them fertility. It was a very important part of their culture.
Chocolate was used as a drink in those days, not as a solid. It was probably not tasty compared to what we have today, but that’s only a guess. Chocolate was a spicy unsweetened drink. The Spanish thought chocolate was awful when they first tasted it, but soon the monks who they had brought with them added honey and vanilla bean to the chocolate, making it better. Vanilla also comes from this area. So this version of the chocolate drink with vanilla and honey is what made it back to Spain.
Cortez is the first one to bring back chocolate drink to the court of Spain in 1528. It was well-liked and the court adopted it as the drink of the elite and it remained the drink of the Spanish court for a long time.
Jews had become involved in the trade of cocoa beans with the New Spain and when they were expelled from Spain (along with the Moors) they took their chocolate know-how with them. These Jews went from Spain to Portugal where they were welcome for 15 or 20 years and expelled again. From Portugal they went to the south west of France in the Basque country.
The local duke let the Jews in because it knew it was good business. They settled in a neighborhood of Bayonne call Saint Esprit where they resume their chocolate business. In 1615 the King of France is introduced to chocolate which spreads it further. From there chocolate becomes the drink of the French court also.
There is a nice chocolate museum in Bayonne where you can go learn about chocolate and taste some their wonderful creations as well as an old style chocolate drink with no milk.
England and Holland played a big role in democratizing chocolate. It is still a drink but more people enjoy it. Two hundred years later people who went to La Procope, the oldest café in Paris serves this chocolate drink and coffee, the new rage. French author Rabelais, who was an epicurean, and you can get his most famous book in English for free on Kindle.
The first chocolate maker in North America was in 1780, a man named Baker, and we have Barker’s Chocolates to this day.
The chocolate that you can put in your mouth and bite on is a relatively recent invention.
The first solid chocolate was developed in Switzerland in the 1870s.
And the first company to make chocolate bars with scoring so you can cut it easily was in France, a company called Menier.
Chocolate makers start with a very large block of chocolate made of cocoa bean paste and cocoa butter, then they modify it, adding sugar and cream products. They can make the chocolate 70% cocoa or 80% cocoa, etc. High-end chocolate only uses cocoa butter. Cheaper chocolates use vegetable fats instead of cocoa butter.
There are three varieties of cocoa beans and they can grow all around the globe along the equator. Demand for chocolate is high and there are chocolates produced at all sorts of prices.
There are three varieties of cocoa trees: Criollo, Trinitario, Forastero.
Elyse thinks that France makes the best chocolate ever. In Toulouse we have eight chocolatiers. Olivier chocolates is the oldest one in Toulouse.
There are lots of high-end chocolate makers in France, Swizerland and Belgium where we have wonderful and high quality chocolates that are expensive but delicious. Chocolate is big business all over the world.
Chocolatine is the Toulouse word for Pain au Chocolat, used generally in the south of France. A very cute word!
In France buy some plain old chocolate bars at the grocery store, it’s inexpensive and really good. It’s a good gift to bring back to family and friends in the US. Any large French supermarket will have a great selection of good quality chocolate bars.
High-end chocolate makers are making their chocolates small enough that you can afford a few without breaking the bank.
Christmas chocolates are seasonal and are not sold year-round in France, the are a perishable food.
Annie also loves crêpes with Nutella in it.
Macaroons in France
Macaroons are all the rage in France and it has been that way for 10-15 years. There are some really good macaroons made in America now.
Macaroons were imported in France by Catherine de Medici and the Italian court was very advanced compared to the French court. For instance, the fork was introduced to the French court by the Italians.
Macaroons are really pretty and tasty and also gluten free. It is speculated that macaroons are from Syria originally. The sandwich with a little filling that we have is a newer invention.
Rabelais also knew about macaroons. There are several regions of France that claims to have invented the macaroon: the Ardèche with the town of Joyeuse where it is the local specialty. Basque country is another, Mr. Adam gave Louis XIV some macaroons, the Adam house of macaroons still exists.
Versailles Macarons Dalloyau. Mr. Dalloyau became the official macaroon maker of the French court. They are still made and shipped all over the world. Great book that talks about it.
The house of Ladurée 1860 who invented the macaroon sandwich.
Pierre Hermé macaroons in the 6th arrondissment.
Macaroons are a great choice for people who have coeliac disease or are gluten intolerant.
Côte d’Or Haselnut chocolate is Annie’s favorite.
The ideal chocolate is 70% for most chocolate professionals. You get the most flavor out of the chocolate without it getting too bitter.
Elyse loves chocolate with coffee filling or orange chocolate.
Voice mail from Colin.