Its confections have deliciously magical properties and can awaken desire, unlock hidden yearnings, or instill courage depending on the needs of the customer. I cannot promise such outcomes with this Jasmine Chocolate, nor can I promise Johnny Depp will come swaggering through your door but I can tell you:
this chocolate is as close to it as you can get to romance in a cup, and you have time to get all the goodies you need to make it for Valentine’s Day!
Jasmine chocolate did not spring from a romantic icon like Binoche. It started with a rather porcine Cosimo III de' Medici (1642-1723), who became Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1670. He was a weak ruler with at least one strength: an unwavering determination to put to an end to Spain's supremacy in making chocolate.
Portrait 1660 Justus Sustermans
Indeed, the Spaniards managed to turn the New World’s bitter potion into a delicious sweet drink. Not to be outdone, the Grand Duke told his court scientists to develop new and more exciting recipes in his food laboratories.
It was there that Francesco Redi, a scientist, poet, physician and apothecary to Cosimo created this renowned jasmine chocolate drink.
"Cosimo turned his love for chocolate into a political tool". As Redi wrote in his letter, seen at an exhibition at the Civic Museum of Monsummano Terme in winter 2006 Its curator, Ida Fontana said "he counterposed to the Spanish perfection Florence's exquisite gentleness."
Portrait by Baldassare Franceschini
She continued, "Offered only to very important guests, the jasmine chocolate soon became the most sought-after drink at the European courts..." but the recipe remained a state secret until the Medici dynasty ended with the death of Cosimo's son Gian Gastone (a glutton who rarely left his filthy bed-a sad ending to a great family).
"At that time, chocolate was taken almost boiling and sipped very slowly from small [bowl-like] cups called "chicchere." Not one, but two napkins had to be used in the drinking ritual"said Fontana.
It took 12 days for the Grand Duke to make jasmine chocolate. "It wasn't an infusion, neither was it water flavored with jasmine. Making jasmine chocolate wasn't a simple preparation of food, it was an operation of botanical-gastronomical engineering," said Danielo Vestri, a chocolate maker who has reproduced the Medici recipe.
"Layers of fresh jasmine flowers and chocolate were put one over the other. The process had to be repeated every 24 hours for 12 days. In this way, the jasmine petals provided the cocoa dough with a flavor never tasted before" Fontana revealed - not unlike the classic enfleurage method of capturing scent with odorless fat, straining and replacing the flowers in the fat till the perfect strength of enfleurage pomade is attained.
"It is simply delicious. And it is easy to digest: the cocoa dough was melted in water, not in milk. The Medici did not only influence the arts, but also chocolate. People at my shop go crazy for jasmine chocolate," Vestri said.
My version of the Medici chocolate formula uses fabled ambergris from Ambergris Co., NZ(which I wrote about here) and Jasmine Absolute (absolute being a highly concentrated plant extract) from Mandy Aftel at Aftelier Perfumes. She uses organic and wild-crafted sources and what she comes up with captures the heart and soul of jasmine in a bottle… the tiniest drop of which perfumes the cup. If you want to be adventurous you could also try her amazing Rose Absolute (which puts rosewater to shame) in your chocolate. It took her years to find the perfect rose and she did… from a small grower around Istanbul. Although she makes perfumes she also has an incredible selection of Chef Absolutes and Essential oils that can add clear new notes to your food and has written about using them in food in a book called Aroma: The Magic of Essential Oils in Foods and Fragrance.
6 ounces water, boiling
1 oz 100% chocolate, shaved (around a ¼ c)
1 ½ t sugar or honey
¼ tsp vanilla
1 slight drop of jasmine absolute
Green pea size piece of ambergris
To the boiling water add the shaved chocolate and stir till incorporated. Mash the ambergris into the sugar/honey and add to the chocolate. Stir to blend. If you have a cappuccino maker give it a minute with the steamer, then store, covered on the counter overnight. It will have developed a velvet texture that you may want to drink room temperature. If not, give it another go with the steamer or heat in a double boiler gently and whisk into a foam. Add one tiny drop of jasmine to the chocolate. Take care to gather up the ambergris that can deposit waxy specks that can cling to cups and pan as you pour the chocolate into two small espresso cups or one large. FYI: 1 small cup is only 82 calories, the whole recipe is 164 calories!
Or you could….
Make the above recipe. Add 4T heavy cream and 4T Armagnac or Cognac plus an extra 1 t of sugar or honey. Serve in cups or stemmed glasses.
For those of you with jasmine curling around your veranda and a supply of cocoa beans, here’s the original recipe:
Cosimo de Medici Chocolate
10 librae of roasted cocoa, cleaned and coarsely minced (1 libra = 12 oz.)
fresh jasmine petals
8 librae white sugar
3 ounces vanilla flowers
6 ounces cinnamon
2 scruples (7.76 grams) ambergris
Put layers of cocoa and jasmine flowers in a box, one layer over the other. Let it rest for 24 hours, then change the jasmine flowers with fresh ones. Repeat 12 times. Add the other ingredients and combine them on a warmed marble surface until the chocolate dough forms.
If you would like to see how the “dough” was formed with the cocoa beans and a rolling pin, watch this video from Colonial Williamsburg:
Chocolate “Dough” from Art & Mystery of Food