Swiss chocolate is often revered as the most exceptional type – but why? To understand this, you first need to take a look at two things: the origins of chocolate making and the role of Swiss ingenuity in its creation.
Let’s Travel Way Back in Time to Discover the Origins of Chocolate
Going back to as early as 1900 BCE, Mesoamerican cultures (the early occupiers of regions in South America) like the Zapotec, Maya, Teotihuacan, Olmec, Mixtec, and Mexica (or Aztec) were making chocolate. People of these cultures learned to prepare the beans of their native cacao tree – first by drying them and then by grinding them to a very small size. This allowed the resulting paste-like product to be mixed into a type of beverage by adding water, cornmeal, and chili peppers. This beverage, called “xocoatl,” was quite bitter and spicy, unlike the sweet chocolate we consume today, but was recognized as a mood lifter so the bitterness was tolerated and consumption grew.
Similar to today’s love affair with chocolate, the Mesoamericans regarded chocolate very highly. Their beverage “xocoatl” was referred to as “the royal drink.” Supposedly it was even consumed by Emperor Montezuma at least fifty times per day. In some of these cultures, chocolate was considered to be a food from the gods – Quetzalcoatl according to Aztec tradition or Kukulkan per the Mayans. Xocoatl or paste “coins” (made from pressing the ground beans together into small medallions) were often served at royal feasts and other important rituals. They were also awarded to soldiers for great accomplishments in battle. And cacao beans were also seen as a greatly valued commodity – often exchanged as a form of currency, in some instances replacing the use of gold.
Chocolate remained a well-kept secret of sorts until the early 1500s. Up to that time, it was only known in the Mesoamerican territories where it was produced. But in 1519, Hernán Cortés, a Spanish explorer, is said to have first encountered it while traveling in the area and then brought it back to Spain. Upon its introduction to the new land, chocolate was first seen as a bitter beverage, considered only good as a medicinal product. But, it didn’t take long before sweeteners like sugar and honey, or flavorings like vanilla were added to make it more appealing.
These sweet and flavorful additions helped to decrease the bitterness and led to chocolate becoming much more appealing. The new flavor profile of the chocolate also saw it being consumed on a larger scale, with aristocrats leading the demand. A major hurdle with meeting the demand was the cumbersome and labor intensive process to make chocolate. Beans had to be sourced from only certain tropical regions of the world and they had to be shipped long distances at very large costs, driving up prices for the consumers. But despite these obstacles, chocolate was still in high demand throughout the next three centuries.
While exploring better and more efficient means of producing chocolate, European chocolatiers began looking for new ways to further enhance their products – focusing on the flavor and consistency.
Enter the Swiss – “The Masters of Ingenuity”
The creative mastery of Swiss inventors is not lost on the public. You have Tim Berners-Lee who invented the World Wide Web in 1989, Georges de Mestral to thank for the creation of Velcro in the 1950s, and in 1795, Abraham-Louis Breguet invented the tourbillon – an incredibly complicated mechanism that defeats gravity and makes watches keep time extremely precisely. All are outstanding accomplishments – but for those who love chocolate, there are two Swiss inventors who are even more important – Daniel Peter and Rodolphe Lindt. Without these gentlemen, chocolate would not be the decadent delight we all adore today. Why?
Remember the Catchphrase “Got Milk?”
Apparently, up until the late 1800s, chocolate did not include milk. That is, until Daniel Peter, a former candlemaker who was married to a Swiss chocolatier, started to develop his own type of chocolate in the factory where he once made candles. At the time, cacao was still being used primarily as an ingredient for beverages. He started looking into new ways to use the cacao for other means of consumption, first attempting to blend in milk to make a creamier product. As it turned out, this combination resulted in failure because the high water content in the milk made the product quickly turn rancid. Over the next several years, he made various attempts to remedy the problem and in 1875 he finally found his answer. Dehydrated milk. Daniel Peter’s new, unique combination of cacao and dehydrated milk gave birth what is now known as “milk chocolate.”
Further Refinement of Swiss Chocolate Provides Even More Sensory Appeal
As if the newly created and very delightful taste of Swiss milk chocolate wasn’t enough, four years after Daniel Peter brought milk chocolate to the world, there was another major development. In 1879, chocolate maker Rodolphe Lindt created a method of further processing the cacao beans and other added ingredients. This process, called “conching” in the chocolate making trade, grinds the mixture into ultra-fine particles – and it is this process that gives Swiss chocolate its extremely smooth, melt-in-your-mouth creaminess. Conching also homogenizes the product which better blends the flavors – plus it helps reduce any acidity coming from the cacao beans. When not processed in such a manner, there can be a hint of a lingering bitter and sometimes vinegar-like flavor in the finished chocolate.
Today’s Favorite? No Surprise – It’s Swiss Milk Chocolate
According to American Cocoa Research Institute (ACRI), over 70% of Americans prefer milk chocolate to dark chocolate – and many of those consumers seek out Swiss or other European-made chocolate products for a couple of good reasons:
The End Justifies the Means
At Difiori, all of our couverture chocolate is crafted in Switzerland by our master chocolatiers with only the highest quality Fair-Trade beans available using the same techniques developed over a century ago. We want your experience to be like no other. When you take your first bite, our Swiss chocolates will melt and envelope your taste buds in sumptuous luxury as their Swiss chocolatiers intended.
Live on Difiori Chocolates
If you've taken a shot of hard liquor, you know how badly it burns on the way down. But how can a room-temperature or even a cool liquid cause this burning sensation? The answer isn't what you might think.
If You Can't Stand the Heat
Your body's normal temperature hovers at, or very close to, 98.6 degrees (37 degrees Celsius). When you drink something cold, that beverage becomes slightly warmer as it travels down your throat and into your stomach. When you drink a hot beverage, the opposite happens: Your body absorbs some of that heat.
And your body can take a lot of heat. For example, coffee drinkers prefer their cup of joe around 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius), according to a study published in the Journal of Food Science. So even when you sip on something nearly 30 degrees hotter than your core body temperature, you don't feel like your throat is on fire.
To protect your insides, your mouth and throat both have pain sensors called vanilloid receptor-1, or VR1. VR1 are finely tuned to react to food's temperature and acidity by stimulating neurons to transmit the sensation of pain to the brain. These receptors are super sensitive to both actual high temperatures and perceived heat from compounds like capsaicin, making them react similarly to a sizzling hot slice of pizza as they do to a habanero-laden scoop of salsa.
Fool Me Once
Things change when alcohol comes into play. Ethanol is the type of alcohol found in alcoholic beverages such as tequila. Unlike capsaicin, which makes VR1 think a food is hot to the touch, ethanol binds to these receptors and makes them more sensitive to heat. This bond actually changes the heat threshold, lowering it to just 93.2 degrees Fahrenheit (34 degrees Celsius). This might not seem like a big swing in temperature, but it's enough to cause a flurry of responses in your skin, esophagus, and spinal cord, giving you a sudden sensation of warmth all over and a nasty burn in your throat.
The human body has warning signals in place to protect you from danger. Whether it's a sudden release of adrenaline in life-threatening situations or a pain signal when you eat something that's too hot, reactions in your body are there to tell you not to do something. In the case of downing a shot of liquor, that burning sensation isn't real heat; it's your own body's warning signals gone awry.
Live on Curiosity.com
Not just a great tune by Dean Martin (one of my all time favorites) but "That's Amore" is how many people might express their sentiments about pizza. Today, Food Network Magazine announced their selection of the 50 Best Pizza Slices - one from each state - in a great pictorial review.
Without even looking I immediately decided that my favorite, a sausage and pepperoni marvel from a place in Stratford, CT called Paradise Pizza had to be on the list. The original owners of Paradise Pizza were from Greece and, to this day, I will swear hands-down that Greeks make the best pizza ever. Their pizza was like those found in New York City - fabulous dough that wasn't too yeasty, fresh, locally made meats, and scamorza. Scamorza is a type of mozzarella cheese that is harder to come by. It gets really stringy when heated and leaves a long trail when you take a bite of the pizza. Boy, their pizzas are good. I get back to the area once every couple of years and I make it a point to stop by and get a pie, savoring each bite since I know it may be years before I get it again.
Anyhow, I started going through the Food Network site to see if my beloved Paradise Pizza was selected. It wasn't. However...it listed something else that I hadn't thought of in years. White Clam Pie. Oh...let me tell you, this is a treat in itself. Thin dough with a good brushing of garlic oil, cheese, and then clams baked up nice. I LOVE this kind of pizza. The featured selection is from Pepe's, a great pizzeria in New Haven that people line up for. I've been there several times and always like whatever I got.
Anyhow, the site shows pictures of some very unique concoctions. Many look very appetizing (the Pizzaleta from Louisiana) and some look utterly strange (the Purple Pig from Indiana that has red cabbage on it). There's even a taco pizza from Kansas. To me that's cheating. Either it's a pizza or it's a taco. Pick one people! Maybe it was created in one of those places that have KFC, Taco Bell, and Pizza Hut all under one roof.
Any way you slice it (pun intended) the site presents a great look at the creativity that can be found pizza, one of America's favorite comfort foods.
Originally posted on Comfort Food Party, August 2011.
It's funny how certain foods can bring back memories. I have a lot of people around me that are trading the bounty of their summer gardens right now. Zucchini is at the top of the trading list. Whenever I think about this wonderful vegetable, I recall a particular woman that I used to work with. Her name was Lee but since she was short, older, and a bit of a pain in the neck with a rather shrill voice, we all called her Aunt Lee - you know, like Aunt Bea from the Andy Griffith Show.
In the building where we worked there was a really long room. She worked at one end of it and used a big old sheet-fed printer way at the other end. My desk was in a cube in the middle. On the days when she seem to be the most irritating, I would wait for her to get within a few feet of the printer then call her phone extension. Every single time she would stop midstream, turn, huff something under her breath, and walk all the way back to her desk. I timed the call so that I always hung up just as she got to the desk. She would then start back towards the printer and just as she got close - the phone would ring again, and back she would go. My colleagues would watch and laugh like crazy as this was repeated a few times in a row.
Yes, this was a bit of a bad prank to play on somebody. Never-the-less it was tons of fun and more often than not, Aunt Lee was in a decent mood so we didn't have to get her more riled up.
At this time of year, she was often in a fantastic mood since her own garden was providing lots of goodies for her to use in her cooking. She was a really good cook and liked to bring in samples for us to try and one of my favorites was a homemade zucchini bread.
Though she called it "bread" is usually was very much flatter in shape, like a casserole, and had a heavily concentrated taste and texture. No matter - it was GOOD! Just thinking about the great flavor of this concoction of hers gets my mouth watering. I've had the recipe on a small yellow scrap of paper that I've lost, found and since cherished since the mid 1980s and make faithfully every year.
Here's the recipe for what I officially call Aunt Lee's Summer's Best Zucchini Bread:
Mix all ingredients. Bake in a greased 9 x 11 casserole at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.
Originally posted on Ellery's Kitchen, August, 2011
Why I Make Fresh Pumpkin Puree from Scratch for Pumpkin Pies and More
Several years ago I began getting interested in cooking pies around the holidays. Since I really prefer to cook from scratch whenever possible, I thought the best place to look for recipes was in a collection of cookbooks that had been handed down from my grandmother. I come from a long line of Yankees and this was reflected in the types of cookbooks I reviewed - they all featured very basic recipes from the New England area.
The beauty of recipes from that region is their simplicity - both in terms of the number of ingredients, and also in the amount of steps needed to cook something. I found a pumpkin pie recipe that sounded good except for one thing. It said to use fresh pumpkin, but it didn't tell how to prepare the pumpkin. Several years later, and after many different methods were explored, I developed a way to cook the pumpkin and then process it into a puree with a consistency that makes for a fabulous pie. Baking the pumpkin lends to the process - it keeps the flavor from being parched out as it does when you boil the pumpkin. Plus, baking the pumpkin allows the sugars to slightly caramelize - another bonus in any dessert.
In this short video, you can see how to make both the pumpkin puree and the pumpkin pie. This will give you the instructions with many pictures showing the process of making the puree plus a great pumpkin pie recipe - one that I've developed over time as well. If you'd like to see the printed how-to guides, click here for the pumpkin puree process, and this link shows how to make my Best Ever New England Deep-Dish Pumpkin Pie.
The best part about this pumpkin puree is that you can store it in the freezer for quite a long time. I put mine into small Ball or Mason jars (one-quart or smaller) and use a vacuum sealer machine to close them off. Done this way, the puree can keep for many, many months - allowing you to make fresh pumpkin goods for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or even July 4th if that's what you like!
Other really good things to make from the pumpkin puree include muffins, cookies, breads, cakes, pumpkin rolls, and even soup.
Though it may initially seem like a lot of effort to bake and process the pumpkins, it really isn't. Most of the time is taken up by the baking process (about 45 minutes) and then the cooling process (another 30 to 45 minutes). Take that as an opportunity for a little "me" time!
You'll find that this method of processing pumpkin is well worth the effort and that you will end up creating pumpkin-based dishes that your family and friends will love.
Originally published on Yahoo.com, October 7, 2009
Are you using brown as one of your main colors for your wedding? Maybe you want to use the very popular Tiffany’s theme – blending the now popular brown and blue combination. Are you considering having chocolate or coffee flavors as key ingredients in your food items? If any of this applies, then this edible wedding favor may be just right for your needs – plus it becomes a very simple, yet elegant, decorative piece for your guest tables.
How to Make Chocolate and Espresso Bean Wedding Favor & Decoration Combo
This favor combines two key ingredients, coffee and chocolate, in one of the easiest ways imaginable. Here’s what you’ll need:
You’ll need to do some figuring to get the exact number of espresso beans and malt balls for each cup. The cup that is shown here measured approximately 1″ square and was nearly 1″ high. It held about a dozen espresso beans with one malt ball in each. Be sure to order several extra chocolate cups since they are somewhat fragile and you don’t want to run short from last minute breakages. Additionally, you should order a couple of extra cups of espresso beans and malt balls, since you may spill some or eat them as you do your assembly. It’s best to order your espresso beans and the malt balls in bulk as a cost-savings measure. The edible ingredients used here were ordered from A Taste of Chocolate and the flowers were silk sprigs that were picked up at a Jo-Ann Fabric and Craft store, but they can be ordered online as well. If you order your chocolate, espresso beans, or malt balls early, be sure to store them in an air-tight container and keep them in a cool and dark location until you are ready to use them.
Since these items are temperature-sensitive (you can’t leave them out in a room that is too warm or refrigerate them to keep them cool as the chocolate will sweat), you should plan to do your assembly no earlier than the afternoon before your wedding reception. It’s easiest to lay out all of the cups on a tray and then first drop in the espresso beans, followed by the addition of the malt ball on top. Then simply place a sprig of flowers into the cup wherever it looks best and will stay put. Each cup can then be easily transferred to a simple bread plate on the guest table.
Originally posted on Yahoo Lifestyle
I've often had the conversation where I'm asked what one food would I refuse to go without. I don't even have to think about that. Hot Dog. Plain and simple, I want hot dogs. When I was 5 years old I was very ill and in the hospital. I wouldn't eat anything so my mother, I'll never forget this, would smuggle in one of those red and black plaid thermos containers with a hot dog inside. It was like I was being given the best gift in the world.
Though I'll eat hot dogs in most any way, I'm from the New England area, so I have a great affinity for hot dogs prepared like they were when I was living there. Top-split New England style bun, buttered on each side, then grilled.
The hot dog (with casing) was either split then grilled or deep-fried until the casing began to rip. Condiments placed on top had to be MROK (mustard, relish, onion, and kraut) plus crumbled bacon. My head is spinning just thinking about how good this was.
There is a really great documentary called A Hot Dog Program that shows off the various preparations of this comfort food staple around the country. A couple of years ago I went to the Jersey Shore for the Fourth of July and made a side trip to Rutt's Hut in Clifton, home of the "Ripper" that is shown in this program. The hot dogs chosen: The Ripper and the Cremator. Got to say, the Ripper was fantastic but the Cremator was like eating styrofoam. Nevertheless, I enjoyed the excursion.
And just to prove how much I love hot dogs:
Several years back (okay, about 20) I was at a flea market. I saw a binder of old, thin cookbooks. It was a series that somebody had collected over time. They dated from the late 1950s and were published by Good Housekeeping. I was delighted when in the middle of the series there was one issue called "Good Housekeeping's Hamburger & Hot Dog Book."
I made my offer (no price, based on my desire for that one issue, would have been too much) and it was mine! I got home and looked over the recipes and found myself experiencing a large range of emotions. Some recipes were looked appetizing, some were just plain nasty sounding, and others had me laughing at the sheer ridiculous idea that somebody would actually concoct what I was reading about. Take for example "Frank Delight" that uses hot dogs with eggplant or my favorite, "Frank Suey," Stuffed Franks, or Barbecued Frank Kabobs.
I've gone on to cook many of the recipes and can say that some were excellent and others, like the Frank Suey one were not. But, it didn't matter - because it had hotdogs.
Originally posted on Comfort Food Party, August, 2004
Forget this wicked heat we're having. I'm ready for Fall. It's my favorite time of year, hands down. I especially look forward to apples fresh off the trees and making lots of tasty things with them.
When I was a kid living in Connecticut, I was lucky enough to have a place called Silverman's Farm nearby where we could actually go into the orchard and pick the apples. We'd take a couple of those long, rectangular cardboard baskets that had a wooden handle with us into the field of apple trees. I remember reaching as high as I could and pulling gently at the branch with one hand and carefully plucking off the apples with the others. We were very careful not to damage the trees, per the instructions passed down from the person who owned the farm.
I first went there on a field trip in kindergarten (I still have the button that I was given on that trip - a red apple with a face) and went every year until several years after I graduated from college. By then, the "pick-your-own" liberty had been revoked. When I asked why one year, I was told that too many tourists from out-of-state had acted recklessly over the years and caused a lot of damage. Not sure if that's true, but it did make sense that they would want to protect their crop.
As you can probably guess, we would often use the apples to make some splendid pies, both with and without pie crust tops. One of my favorites is a great apple crumb pie recipe that was passed down from my great-grandmother - a true New England Yankee who knew how to cook fabulous and simple dishes.
After many years of making my pies from scratch, I finally figured out that I was being greatly slowed down by the apple peeling process. Who out there likes to peel apples by hand? None of you? Yeah, that's what I thought.
Anyhow, I started looking around and finally bought an apple peeler.
What a delight! It cut my time immensely and brought a lot of joy back to the process.
I highly suggest that you get one for yourself. Make sure it is made of all metal parts (the plastic ones aren't strong enough to last long) and the model shown in the picture here is one of the best engineered for the work you need done. You won't be sorry!
Originally posted on Ellery's Kitchen, August, 2000
I'm April Bailey, a freelance writer and editor for hire who has been writing about various topics for many years. Most of my early print work was destroyed in a major house fire. Luckily, I was able to pull some copies from an old PC and have posted them here. Other items on this blog reflect my current articles and blog posts written for online publications and copied here so I never lose my work again!