Here is that “I-was-going-to-do-a-post-on-Chocolate” post pipped from last week.
I’ve just finished the seemingly-endless rounds of rewrites and editing for Eye of the Beholder & Other Tales. Several episodes of ferreting down the rabbit hole ensued – fact checking, date of origin checking and following up on ‘to do later’ notations. All good. No problems.
Then my editor, Sharon, asked: “Would Henry really eat chocolate cake? Was it available in 1889?”
I froze. I know I fact checked it for the first book.
There is a running joke throughout both books about Viola’s friend and police surgeon, Henry Collins’, fondness for both chocolate and fruit cake. Originally, I wanted to use Red Velvet cake but the earliest recipe I could find was post 1900. The earliest recipe for Devil’s Food cake, which used twice as much cocoa (4 ounces) as previous chocolate cakes, was published in 1900. Until then, most chocolate cakes used no more than two ounces of cocoa.
I knew this! But the first chocolate cake recipe? The date eluded me. I took a deep breath and pulled out my research notes. I know I had the information.
A Quick History of the Victorian Chocolate Cake.
The Production of Cocoa.
1764: Dr James Baker produces chocolate after grinding cocoa between two millstones. Cocoa was expensive – mainly due to the cost of processing.
1828: Conrad van Houten developed a process called Dutching – a mechanical method to extract the fat from cocoa liqueur, separating cocoa butter from the cocoa. The cocoa was sold as rock cocoa, which could be ground into powder. This was the first step to reducing the cost of cocoa.
1851: Chocolate was added to boiled sweets, caramels, chocolate creams and bonbons and showcased at the Prince Albert Expo in London.
1879: A new process, called ‘conching’, was developed by Rodolphe Lindt. This technique produced smoother chocolate which was easier to use in baking.
By the 1890s, chocolate was cheaper to produce. Chocolate desserts were common.
Baking with Cocoa:
Most recipes in the late nineteenth century were for drinks. The first known chocolate cake recipe was not a ‘real’ chocolate cake, by modern standards. They were yellow or white cakes with chocolate icing.
1847: The first known recipe for chocolate cake was in an American recipe book, Eliza Leslie Lady’s Receipt Book. Grated chocolate was added to the cake mix. Essentially, any cake with cocoa added, either into the cake mix or topped with chocolate icing, was known as a chocolate cake. Most were single layer cakes only.
1859: The introduction of baking powder into cake recipes produced lighter, less dense cakes.
1886: Sarah Tyson Rorers produced a recipe for cake, using two ounces of melted chocolate and baking powder. It was expensive, so not readily available.
1894: The recipe for Chocolate cake No. 3 was published in Mrs Beeton’s book.
1897: First recipe for chocolate brownies was published in the Sears and Roebuck’s catalogue.
1900: Devil’s Food cake used four ounces of chocolate in the recipe.
With a sigh of relief (I knew I’d checked it), I messaged my editor with the information: Chocolate cake was available, albeit not affordable by everyone, in 1886. So the answer to her question was:
Yes, Henry could have his cake – and he would definitely eat it too!
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- Brief History of Chocolate. Smithsonian. http://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/a-brief-history-of-chocolate-21860917/?no-ist=
- Eliza Leslie Ladies Recipt Book. (1847) Hathi Trust: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.32044087429015;view=1up;seq=7
- Food Timeline: http://www.foodtimeline.org/foodcakes.html#chocolatecake
- Food and Drink in American History: A “Full Course” Encyclopedia.
History: Wikipedia Chocolate Cake. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chocolate_cake
Mrs Rorer’s Chocolate Cake: Revolutionary Pie. https://revolutionarypie.com/2014/08/01/mrs-rorers-chocolate-cake/
Royal Baker Pastry Cookbook (1888)
Swiss Chocolate Pioneers in the 19th Century: http://www.lindt.com.au/world-of-lindt/about-lindt/swiss-chocolate-pioneers/
Victorian London: http://www.victorianlondon.org/publications7/beeton-37.htm