Friday, January 29, 2010
Friday, January 22, 2010
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).
1764 Sevres Chocolate Cup
"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.
1725 Meissen Chocolate cup
"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.
18th c Mexican Cocoa Cup
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
Monday, January 18, 2010
With so much pain in the world right now, I wanted to share an amazing video with you, sent to me by my wonderful friend August. It is perfect for Martin Luther King day and will lift your spirit as it has done mine. It comes from a man named Whitley Phipps who runs The U.S. Dream Academy for children of prison parents who are at risk of walking down the same path.
Friday, January 15, 2010
It would be simple to tell you that Ambergris is a soft, gray, stone-like matter originating in the intestine of the Physeter catodon (sperm whale) that is used as an anchoring note in perfume. But that would be doing this magical substance such an injustice and there is so much more to tell. Thanks to the wonderful Ambergris Co., NZ I have gotten to know its alluring ways and can tell the tale.
Ambergris is a dusky jewel created in a whale’s stomach like an oyster creates a pearl by surrounding an irritant. It is formed around the sharp beaks of cuttlefish/squid (that are one of their favorite foods) and other sharp objects in the whale’s stomach to ease the passage out of the mighty beast. Being exponentially larger than an oyster, chunks of this miraculous substance have been found as large as 1400 pounds. What are most often found are lumps of 15g to 50 kg that are light and grayish in color. In fact, fresh Ambergris is rather revolting stuff. It is the gentle action of sea and salt and sun that metamorphoses ambergris into an exquisite perfume in a transformational ocean voyage that takes years.
Although it can be taken from a slaughtered whale and artificially aged, thankfully it is now nearly always harvested on beaches around the world by fortunate beachcombers who recognize the soft gray rocks. At nearly $10,000 a pound, it is a treasure indeed and terribly rare. Most of us know the scent of ambergris only through perfumer's chemical recreations.
Christmas 2009, Heston Blumenthal made a great deal of fuss about using authentic ambergris in his Christmas dinner for the BBC. He prepared it in a cucumber geleé with a caviar sorbet to great acclaim from those lucky enough to partake in the extraordinary meal.
What is it that makes Ambergris so special? As Elena at the brilliant blog Perfume Shrine says: “Natural ambergris has a wonderful tinge of saltiness, almost brine-y, encompassing elements of skin-like musky tones, and even a subtly sweetish accent. Its greatest attribute is its capacity for rendering a composition rounder, especially in oriental perfumes or in floral compositions where it melds the notes into one and brings out their best qualities. It clings on to fabric too, through repeated washings even, becoming ever sweeter with time. Therefore it is prized for its fixative power: the ability to anchor more volatile notes and make them last. “
What many people do not know is that Ambergris was not only used as a perfume but had a subtle role as an ingredient in food and drink for many centuries. No wonder, since ambergris makes everything it touches more of what it is... an amazing quality. One reads of its use in recipes of the Renaissance but it appeared more often in earlier books, under the influence of mediaeval Arab traditions (The Arabs regarded ambergris as an aphrodisiac and used it for this purpose). Its use survived in France into the 19th century as an additive for chocolate as a drink, witness a famous passage in Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826) hailing chocolat ambré as one of the most effective restoratives.
La Chocolatiere, Liotard 1744
"This is the appropriate place," says Brillat-Savarin, "to speak of the properties of chocolat ambré, chocolate with ambergris, properties which I have verified through many experiments, and the results of which I proudly present to my readers. Therefore, let every man who has drunk a few too many draughts from the cup of pleasure, every man who has spent a good portion of time working that ought to have been spent sleeping, every witty man who feels he has temporarily become dull, every man who finds the air close, the time long and the atmosphere oppressive, every man who finds himself tormented by an obsession that takes away his free thought, let all of them, we say, administer to themselves a good half litre of chocolat ambré, at the rate of 60 to 72 grains of amber per half kilogram(pound), and they will experience a marvel."
In The Physiology of Taste Brillat–Savarin also praises ambergris chocolate as the “chocolate of the afflicted.” “I knew that Marshal Richelieu, of glorious memory,” he writes, “constantly chewed ambergris lozenges; as for myself, when I get one of those days when the weight of age makes itself felt––a painful thought––or when one feels oppressed by an unknown force, I add a knob of ambergris the size of a bean, pounded with sugar, to a strong cup of chocolate, and I always find my condition improving marvelously.”
Worldwide Gourmet tells us "It was from Madame d'Arestrel, superior of the Convent of the Visitation in Belley, that Brillat-Savarin learned the art of making a good chocolate, a mixture of Caraque, Sainte-Madeleine and Berbice. " 'Monsieur,' Madame d'Arestrel said to me over 50 years ago, 'When you would like to have some good chocolate, have it made the night before in a faience coffee pot and leave it. Resting overnight will concentrate it and give it a velvetiness that makes it even better. The good Lord cannot object to this little refinement, since He Himself is all excellence.'"
Antonin Carême, the famous cook to Talleyrand, Tzar Alexander and the Prince Regent of England, refined the recipe even further by adding cognac, honey, fresh cream and toasted almonds.
Larousse Gastronomique laments “such chocolate no longer exists.” It's a pity that ambergris figures only as a memory in confectionery and perfumery today. Hunting some down for your own taste buds is well worth the effort, however. Whether added to coffee or chocolate, I can attest to its rewarding effects and its abiding aroma that mysteriously lingers through the day. Once savored, its bouquet is forever seared in one's memory."
Also from Brillat-Savarin via Worldwide Gourmet:“Happy chocolate, which after crossing the world, In women's smiles Finds death in a melting delicious kiss from their mouth."
Chocolate Ambre for 2
6 oz boiling water
1 oz shaved 100% chocolate
1 tsp sugar OR
1 tsp. mild honey (Champlain Valley Apiaries)
1 bean sized piece of Ambergris
Crush the Ambergris into sandy particles with the sugar (or in the honey) and put it and the boiling water into a large heat proof cup and stir until dissolved.
Next add the shaved chocolate and stir until dissolved.
Store the chocolate, covered at room temperature overnight. The chocolate will swell and the mixture will become velvety. At this point you can either use a Cappuccino steamer to froth and warm the chocolate or heat it gently and whisk into a froth ( a double boiler would do so that you could leave the chocolate in its cup). Take care when you pour the chocolate that you do not lose the grains of Ambergris. Another alternative to this is to heat the Ambergris in the bowl of 1 or 2 spoons over a low flame… this only takes seconds so take care! Then put the spoons into the hot chocolate and let sit with the chocolate overnight. Use the spoons to drink the chocolate licking the spoon decadently, the Ambergris becomes waxy and stubborn on the spoon… but the work is worth it… serve in small espresso cups.
Alternately, add a tablespoon of cognac and a dollop of cream for a stronger drink that could be served in a stemmed glass. Either way you will have an extraordinary treat.
***Lest you think this an extravagance, a few grams will more than suffice ( at $20 a gram) for a few servings of chocolate
Next, Ambergris and chocolate with jasmine… in the style of Cosimo de Medici III. Romance in a cup.