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  1. dreamstime_l_96019182

    When do you drink Hot Chocolate? As a warm, comforting cup on a cold winter’s evening or as an afternoon treat with marshmallows on top, with friends after shopping perhaps? Whenever you drink hot chocolate and for whatever reason, I sure you feel better just from enjoying the rich, hot taste and savouring the relaxing feeling it often brings.

    But do you ever think about who discovered hot chocolate? Or how the drink in your hands and taste in your mouth has changed a lot since it was first discovered?

    It was always thought hot chocolate was first discovered and drank by the Mayan peoples of what is now Central America over 500BC. But recent research in the last year or so now puts the discovery of hot chocolate making back to at least 2,500BC and the Olmecs civilisation in Mexico.

    What we now regard as a hot, smooth and sweet beverage, would then have been much more of a cold, spicy and rougher tasting concoction.

    But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Chocolate itself comes from the seeds or beans inside the pods of the cocoa plant. The beans themselves were often dried and so highly prized that they were stored and used as a form of currency.

    Archaeological research indicates that the seeds were ground up with water, corn meal and other plant-based products such as maize. The mixture was then poured back and forth until the ingredients formed a foaming, thickened brew. This was then drunk cold. Chili peppers were often added, to give the drink, a spicy, bitter after taste.

    So who actually drank chocolate? It appears that this spicy, cold drink was readily drank by all classes of Mayan society. Poorer people would have drunk it from rough earthenware bowls. But richer people enjoyed chocolate poured from elaborately decorated drinking vessels. These were probably status symbols – so much so that they drank from them in life and were buried with them in death. Treasured possessions, indeed.

    These days tea drinkers pour over the respective merits of how long to let the leaves brew for. Mayans would have poured the cocoa drink and its many grains, back and forth endlessly, without a second thought; while discussing the harvest or the weather.

    Evidence indicates that the Mayans were clean shaven, so they probably wouldn’t have literally wet their whiskers over a foaming brew; but it’s seems clear that drinking chocolate had a firm and important social place in Mayan society.

    The invasion of the Americas, by Spanish conquistadores, like Herman Cortes, led to cocoa beans being brought back to mainland Spain. As, the Hapsburg imperial courts of Emperors like Charles V, began to drink chocolate, it started to be served hot and sweetened.  Hot chocolate as we know it today was well on the way to being served for the refined and so refined in both its ingredients and its taste. Rich pickings, indeed.

    In Northern Europe and an island sometimes called Britain, the first coffee or chocolate houses started to appear around 1690s. By this time, Britain had overseas possessions of its own in the Caribbean, such as Jamaica, which was seized from the Spanish during Cromwell’s reign in the 1650’s. But hot chocolate was still an expensive drink, for the rich and elite who consumed it ostentatiously in public with rituals every bit as elaborate as a Mayan nobleman.  Georgian society had discovered hot chocolate not just to gossip with – but to gossip over.

    The addition of milk to the cocoa mass that made up chocolate gave the drink an altogether different, lighter and more refreshing flavour. This led to hot chocolate being an addition to the menu as an after-dinner drink.

    In the middle of the 18th century the Dutch discovered how to make cocoa powder. This enabled chocolate to be blended much easier with water and milk. But it wasn’t until nearly a century later that Joseph Fry manufactured what is now considered to be the first chocolate bar by melting cocao butter back into Dutch cocoa to form a chocolate paste which could be moulded into a bar shape.

    It wasn’t long before more chocolate was eaten in a solid bar than drunk from a cup or mug.

    Fast forward another century and a half and hot chocolate is approaching a new height of regaining popularity. Today it’s enjoyed in a range of different ways and flavours. Variously know as drinking chocolate or cocoa chocolate, hot chcolate can be made from shaved chocolate shards, melted cocoa or cocoa powder. It’s often made either hot milk or water. Often the milk when heated is frothy – a nod to its Mayan roots.

    Viennese chocolate houses were among the first to start the tradition of using whipped cream as topping and all sorts of colourful sweets from candy to marshmallows now adorn the top of a cup or tall glass of hot chocolate.

    Where hot chocolate is made from chocolate itself, rather than powder, it’s often much thicker in texture and richer in taste. So, the Spanish drink chocolate a la taza or chocolate con churros – with fried cyrated conical shaped dough topped with sugar. The thickness of the rich and intense chocolate, allows the churros to be dipped into it and stay on the dough.

    Around Christmas time, gingerbread flavoured hot chocolate is especially popular; vanilla is always a favourite and cinnamon is often added for an extra warming effect. Fashions come full circle, so they say, so the trend for chilli to be added to dark chocolate to give it that extra kick, may well take off with hot chocolate. Another nod to our Mayan drinking forebears.

    Over the years, various medicinal properties have been ascribed to drinking hot chocolate. It’s been advertised as a way of combating tiredness to alleviating stomach and liver problems. More modern medical research has pointed to the benefits of antioxidants in reducing heart disease. These are found in higher quantities in chocolate (especially dark chocolate) than in red wine or green tea. Similarly, the flavonoids in chocolate, help to keep our arteries healthy.

    So, wherever you are, whatever the occasion and however you prefer to drink it, raise a glass (or a cup or a mug) to the rich and lovely taste of the humble hot chocolate. Delve deeper into the history of hot chocolate and you’ll find it’s full of rich discoveries – whoever actually discovered hot chocolate in the first place.

    So, what’s hot chocolate’s recipe for success? Do you have a favourite hot chocolate drink or flavouring? What’s the essence of good hot chocolate? Here’s one recipe that you might like:

    What ingredients do I need?

    590ml full milk

    475ml gold top milk or single cream

    113g plain chocolate, chopped

    113g milk chocolate, chopped

    1 tbsp sugar

    1 tsp pure vanilla essece

    1 tsp instant espresso or coffee powder

    4 to 5 vanilla beans or cinnamon sticks, for garnish

    How do I make the hot chocolate?

    First, heat the milk and gold top or single cream in a saucepan on medium heat to just below the simmering point.

    Then, remove the pan from the heat and add both chocolates, stirring to dissolve.

    Next, when the chocolates are melted, add the sugar, vanilla extract and espresso and whisk vigorously.

    Finally, reheat gently and serve immediately. Use a vanilla bean or cinnamon stick to garnish each serving.

    This recipe makes about 4 very generous mugs, so if you are after smaller quantities, just half all the ingredients. And if you want to make your life a little easier, head over to our online shop and have a look at our hot chocolate spoons or festive hot chocolate cones to make your hot chocolate drink making a little easier!

    I'm off to make my own hot chocolate - until next time!

    Nick

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    Giving Chocolate Coins for Christmas is a seasonal festive tradition. But what exactly is its origins and what form has it taken over the ages? As a child, I can remember receiving wrapped up shiny and glistening coins in my Christmas stocking. The temptation was always to bite them before unwrapping them. Big mistake!

    Unwrapping the giant coins was always harder than it seemed as well. Maybe, my eager hands were all festive fingers and thumbs. Or perhaps, I tried to heed my Mum’s instructions to look after the wrapper. I doubt Mum’s entreaties to keep the nice shiny paper, had much effort on my as I picked away furiously at the silver foil paper to get to the milk chocolate inside. Either way, the coin itself was probably a sticky mess long before I actually got round to eating it.

    But I’m getting ahead of myself. Just how did chocolate coins get to be given as presents at Christmas? It’s all probably wrapped up in the legend of St Nicholas himself which may date back to Turkey or Greece in the 5th century. St Nicholas is often portrayed as a Bishop who was especially kind to children. Being a shy figure, he would go around parishioners houses at Christmas and drop coins down the chimney or through windows and into the stockings of the little children inside. Either that or he didn’t want people to know where the largesse came from. And so, began the tradition of giving gifts and presents at Christmas.

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    St Nicholas’s day is actually on 6 December so many parts of the world, celebrate it by giving little gifts, like chocolate coins in Christmas Stockings before the 25th December. In the Netherlands, St Nicholas is known as Sinterklaas and visits little children on the evening of 5th December. Other traditional gifts that you can find in your stocking include an orange and a lump of coal!

    What is the significance of chocolate coins for hanukkah?

    The Jewish festival of Hanukkah – a festival of light held in December, also features the giving of coins to children. Known as Hanukka gelt or geld (German/Dutch word for gold) it appears to have started as a tradition between school children and their teachers.

    When were chocolate coins invented ?

    That's tricky to say, but in the 1920’s US chocolate makers introduced chocolate wrapped in the shape of silver foil money pouch bags for Jewish immigrants to hand out in their communities at Christmas time.

    A little bit earlier, in late Victorian Britain, farthing coins were used be wrap chocolate inside. Christmas trees were also traditionally decorated with chocolate coins although not placed too close to the fire, I hope. Coins would be either gold or silver in colour with milk chocolate being the usual filling inside.

    How many calories are in a chocolate coin?

    Ever wondered about this? If you are very health conscious, you might like to know. First of all the amount of calories, depends on the coin size. A bag of 400g milk chocolate probably has around 500 calories- so maybe that weighs in at  40 calories per coin. So, not a lot of calories in one chocolate coin, as long as you don't eat the whole bag in one setting!

    In 2014, Cadbury’s shocked the chocolate world by announcing that it was stopping selling chocolate coins. Amongst the reasons given were that it was ‘fiddly’ wrapping the foil around the coin. ‘Fiddly’! I kid you not. That came in quotes from an official spokesman. Fiddly for me, trying as a kid to wrap them. But aren’t there machines for wrapping them all up? Or were Santa’s elves too wrapped up in Argos’ packing bay to help any more? Foiled again.

    Another more plausible reason Cadburys gave was that without their purple but not trademarked wrapping, the coins were not so indistinguishable from the chocolate coins of other manufactures. Hang that on your Christmas tree and eat it.

    Most supermarkets will sell their own Christmas coins – large or small – individually or in a bag. The foil imprint may even be a Christmas theme since it’s possible nowadays to print most images onto the wrapping. Look out for chocolate foxes, owls, unicorns and even llamas!

    Indistinguishable or not, the history of giving chocolate coins at Christmas starts with St Nicholas and is now an important part of the festive season. After all, the ancient Mayans used cocao beans as a form of currency. So, if flattery is the sincerest form of imitation, then perhaps we’ve come full circle; because for some people, chocolate, like money, truly makes the world go round!

    So, there you go a potted history of chocolate coins!

    Until next time...

    Nick

  3. Hot chocolate drink

    - THE CHOCOLATE EDIT -

    As the orange glow from pumpkins starts to fade and the crackle from fireworks fizzles into the autumnal night, we’re left with the long run up to Christmas. For some, particularly the young, it’s a magical time of amazement and excitement. For others, especially parents, the old tricks have all been seen before and it’ll take more than a sleight of Santa’s hand to convince us that there’s anything new to look forward to this year.

    Therein lies the perennial Christmas conundrum. So much of our memories hark back to a Victorian imagined past. One of stockings being hung by the fire, chestnuts roasting beneath while it’s snowing outside. Most of us don’t have fires, don’t eat chestnuts and how much money have the bookies made taking bets every year on a White Christmas?

  4. Chocolate Truffle Hearts

    - THE CHOCOLATE EDIT -

    We get booked to give demonstration to a wide range of clubs and associations. And it’s always nice to be invited back. Last year we travelled to Colchester to give a chocolate truffle demonstration to – a Koi Carp club. Of course, to enter into the spirt of things, Magdalena prepared some special fish chocolate moulds, coloured to resemble a carp. The fish moulds – and the demo went down well, as did the other samples and we enjoyed meeting the members. We all talked a lot about chocolate, particularly during the specialist taste testings of premium dark and milk chocolate from around the world.

  5. DSC_0640

    - THE CHOCOLATE EDIT -

    Giving talks, demonstrations, workshops and parties about how to make chocolate takes us all round the Home Counties. From the estuaries of Essex to the historic Kent and Sussex coastline, with the Weald and the Downs in between. We’ve pitched up in villages little more than a dot on the map. And other places without a direct sat nav reference at all.

    ‘Follow the path round to the left and by the second tree, next to the barn, open the gate and turn right downhill through the woods for half a mile’ pretty much sums up some instructions to get to our final destination.

    On one occasion, we met the bride for a hen party chocolate booking outside a rural village hall, only to find that the caretaker was nowhere to be seen and only he had the key to the building. We could have waited until the nearby cows had come home and he still wouldn’t have turned up. Fast forward to a rapid re-think and Plan B. Holding the party in one of the static holiday caravans that the guests were staying in.

  6. Vegan Milk Chocolate Recipe - Gluten & Dairy Free

    Dark chocolate is by far my favourite type of chocolate, but sometimes there is a time and place for a nice milk chocolate. That extra sugar and milk makes the chocolate beautifully sweet and melts in your mouth perfectly. I've kept this recipe suitable for vegans, so it only has plant based ingredients. It'also gluten and dairy free, which is perfect if you can't have gluten or dairy products. I know my vegan friends would be surprised, why me (a perfectly happy meat eater) would create a vegan chocolate recipe. The truth is that I've recently found that I have IBS and I'm better off staying clear of dairy. So this recipe is also low FODMAP as long as you don't eat the whole chocolate bar at once.

    The recipe is very simple to make, but you do need some fairly specialist ingredients, that you might not always have in your kitchen cupboard. So, here is your shopping list:

    115g Coconut Oil or Coconut Butter

    150g Icing Sugar or about 75g of Stevia or other plant based liquid sugar (use Maple syrup or Icing sugar for low FODMAP diet)

    85g Cocoa Powder

    60g Powdered Coconut Milk

    tiny pinch of salt (to your taste)


    To make your milk chocolate, start with melting the coconut oil or butter. Coconut oil is easier to buy, so I guess you'll probably be using it most of the time, but if you can get hold of coconut butter it's worth it as it gives you slightly stronger structure and the chocolate will have the perfect snap. This is because coconut butter melts at higher temperature than coconut oil.

    Once your coconut oil is melted, add your coconut powdered milk and gently stir. Don't be even tempted to replace the powdered coconut milk with fresh liquid milk. Chocolate doesn't like water and it would cause the chocolate to split. If you find anything else that's plant based powdered milk, you can swap it for that.

    Once the milk powder melts, add the sugar and carry on stirring. Depending on how healthy you want your chocolate to be, you can swap the icing sugar for stevia, maple syrup or other liquid plant based sugars. Just be careful to lower the amount of the sugar you are adding in. I found that adding about half of the original quantity is about right. This is because liquid sugar has different structure than powdered sugar and your chocolate would become too liquid and you might have problems with setting your chocolate.

    Once everything is melted, add cocoa powder. Like with any other chocolate recipe, the better quality of cocoa powder you get the better quality of chocolate you'll end up with. This especially applies to milk chocolate recipes where the cocoa powder is not as high quantity as dark chocolate recipes.

    Finally add a tiny pinch of salt. This might surprise you, but until now, we have been adding pretty much just sugary and fairly bland ingredients. And sugar is normally fairly bland to taste. To bring all the flavours together a tiny pinch of salt is the perfect way to finish this recipe. If you don't believe me, taste the chocolate before you add any salt and then afterwards. I bet you'll love the final taste!!!

    Once everything is mixed, carry on stirring the chocolate with a spatula (or a even a balloon whisk). This cools down the chocolate, make it slightly thicker and temper the chocolate (somewhat...). Then just pour your chocolate to a chocolate bar mould or even just on a flat tray lined with a parchment and let to set in a fridge for about 20 min. If you fancy it, you can also add freeze dried raspberries or other dried fruit, nuts of seeds to make your chocolate bar extra special.

    After that just enjoy and do let me know how you get on!

    Magdalena