Benjamin D'Acosta & The Chocolate Factory
by Tina Wasserman
I am not a chocoholic, but when I do indulge, it had better be worth the calories and the energy blast. You see, after I've had my share of chocolate sweets, I start zooming around the house! It's that same caffeine buzz that made the Aztecs adore their bitter chocolate drink. Montezuma purportedly loved this beverage so much he drank fifty cups a day.
Cacao was first cultivated by the Mayans in the 7th century. Nine centuries later the Aztecs would create a beverage from ground and roasted cacao beans, mixing in corn, vanilla, bitter chili, and sometimes honey. They introduced the dark elixir to the explorer Hernando Cortez, who brought it back to Spain. But had it not been for the expulsion and forced conversion of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula in the late 15th century, chocolate as we know it today might not have become the most favored flavor in the world.
Benjamin d'Acosta de Andrade, a Portuguese "marrano" (secret Jew) who had settled on the island of Martinique in the French West Indies in about 1650, established the first cacao-processing plant. He then used his connections--particularly his relatives in Amsterdam--to export cacao to Europe. Over time, he and other Jews became significant players in the cacao trade, angering their envious competitors, who convinced the French government to bar all Jews from Martinique. Relocating in the late 1600s to the Dutch colony of Curaçao, an island off the west coast of Venezuela, d'Acosta and other Jews reestablished their business, now shipping cacao grown in Venezuela to Amsterdam for chocolate production. In addition, they exported sugar and vanilla from South America.
The introduction of sugar to Europe would change the history of chocolate. With the notable exception of the Spanish, most Europeans disliked the bitter-flavored chocolate drink of the Aztecs. But when sugar replaced chilies as a key ingredient, the drink caught on throughout Europe. And the availability of vanilla, combined with sugar and cacao, piqued the creativity of pastry chefs throughout Europe. The bakers in Bayonne--many of them Portuguese Jews--would bake soufflé-like cake rolls which were light as air. In Italy, Jewish bakers invented chocolate cakes known as tortes or tortas, using ground nuts instead of flour; and in Vienna, 16-year-old Franz Sacher created a rich, dense chocolate cake topped with apricot preserves and smooth chocolate glaze that would become world famous. With the demand for the ingredients of chocolate production ever growing, the Jews of Curaçao flourished--so much so that they were able to contribute some of their profits to the building, in 1762, of the oldest standing synagogue in the United States, the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island.
Today, consumption of chocolate in the United States alone exceeds 2.3 billion pounds a year. The British, who invented the first chocolate candy bar in 1847, are the top consumers, at thirty pounds per person per year. Ironically, the Spanish, who introduced cacao to Europe, consume the least. Consider this: had our Sephardic ancestors not sailed across the Atlantic in pursuit of religious freedom and capitalized on their contacts with fellow Jews who had found sanctuary in European port cities such as Amsterdam, Bayonne, and Livorno, the international chocolate industry might never have existed! So whenever I bite into a sweet chocolate morsel, I salute the courageous and industrious Jewish pioneers who have had such an indelibly delicious influence on the desserts of the world.
Budino Cioccolato is an Italian dish with Iberian roots. The strong Portuguese influence is evident in the addition of cinnamon and chocolate to what is in essence flan, a classic Spanish dessert. How it became a staple of Italian cuisine is unknown. Like the other recipes to follow, it makes for a scrumptious Pesach dessert.
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1 3-inch length cinnamon stick
- 3 ounces dark sweet chocolate (Lindt Excellence or El Rey)
- 3 large eggs
- 3 egg yolks
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- To make caramel, cook the sugar and water in a saucepan over moderate heat until the sugar dissolves and caramelizes to a light golden brown.
- Immediately pour enough of the caramel into the bottom of a ramekin (4-ounce porcelain cup) or a 9-inch glass pie plate and then carefully rotate the cup or plate to coat the bottom and sides with the caramelized sugar. If using ramekins, repeat until another 5-7 cups are coated, keeping the pan of sugar over a very low flame so it won't harden before you're finished.
- Heat the milk, cinnamon stick, and chocolate in a small saucepan until the chocolate dissolves. Do not let the milk boil. Keep warm over a low flame.
- Beat the eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla in a 2-quart bowl for 3 minutes, until the mixture thickens.
- Discard the cinnamon stick and then add the milk mixture to the egg mixture, beating constantly until they are thoroughly combined.
- Strain the mixture into a large pitcher and then carefully pour the custard into the prepared ramekins.
- Arrange the ramekins in a 13"x 9" pan and then pour boiling water into the pan. The water should come halfway up the sides of the ramekins.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the custard is firm and pulls away slightly from the sides (or a thin, sharp knife partially inserted in the center of the custard comes out clean).
- Remove from the water bath and cool. Before serving, invert the ramekins on a plate and allow the caramel sauce to coat the custard and plate. Serves 6-10 portions.
- When caramelizing sugar, never stir the sugar mixture after the sugar has dissolved. Stirring can cause the thickened syrup to crystallize and form a sandy mass.
- Using a cinnamon stick steeped in liquid imparts the flavor of the spice without the grittiness of the powder.
The first non-drinkable form of chocolate consumed in Europe was in the form of little soufflé-like cakes or rolls. The following is one of the earliest modern recipes for flourless chocolate cake.
- 5 large eggs, separated
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 6 ounces dark, sweet chocolate (Lindt Excellence, Surfin, German's Sweet, or Valhrona)
- pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 3 Tablespoons coffee or 3 Tablespoons water & 1 teaspoon instant espresso
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 Tablespoon confectioner's sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Lightly oil a 15" x 10" jellyroll pan. Cut a piece of waxed paper or parchment paper to fit precisely on the bottom of the pan. Lightly oil the top of the paper. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, beat the sugar into the egg yolks until the mixture is pale yellow, light, and creamy.
- Break the chocolate into pieces and combine with 3 Tablespoons of liquid in a small saucepan. Place this pan into a larger pan filled with 1 inch of water. Cook over a medium flame and stir until the chocolate melts. Do not let the chocolate mixture get too hot. Set aside to cool slightly.
- Add the cooled chocolate to the egg-yolk mixture and beat slightly. Add the salt and the vanilla. Stir well.
- Beat the egg whites until stiff. Gently fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture until well combined.
- Spread the mixture carefully and evenly over the prepared pan.
- Bake at 400°F for 5 minutes. While the pan is still in the oven, reduce the oven to 350°F and bake for an additional 15 minutes.
- Remove the cake from the oven, cover with a damp cloth or paper towel, and cool for 5-10 minutes (if the cake is too warm it will melt the whipped cream).
- Remove the cloth carefully and loosen the cake from the sides of the pan. Cover the pan with clean waxed or parchment paper and invert the cake onto this piece of paper. Gently peel off the piece of oiled paper.
- Beat the heavy cream in a bowl over another bowl of crushed ice or use a metal bowl which has been placed in the freezer for 15 minutes (this will prevent the cream from turning yellow or oozing some of its water content while it sits). When the cream has slightly thickened, add the sugar and vanilla. Continue beating until the cream is stiff and spreadable.
- Spread the cake with whipped cream and, with the help of the paper on the bottom, roll it up from either the long or the narrow side. Sift with confectioners' sugar (which will cover any fissures). Serves 8-10.
- Add a small amount of coffee to bring out the flavor of chocolate (it will not make the mixture taste like mocha).
- Egg whites that are at room temperature will yield a larger volume when whipped than will cold egg whites.
I adapted the following recipe, which has its roots in the port town of Trieste, Italy, from Claudia Roden's Book of Jewish Food. Many Jewish ships traded between Trieste and Livorno, opening trade from the New World to the Far East. In addition, the use of almonds is indicative of Spanish Jewish influence. Almond cultivation was among the primary occupations of Mediterranean Jews, and it was the Spanish Jews who first replaced flour with ground almonds in baking their tortas.
- 7 ounces dark, bittersweet chocolate
- 1 cup of lightly roasted slivered almonds
- 3 eggs
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 Tablespoons orange liquor (Hallelujah from Israel or Grand Marnier)
- Preheat oven to 350°F. Place 24 paper cups in mini-muffin pans. Set aside.
- Break the chocolate into approximately 1/2-inch pieces and place in a processor work bowl, along with the remaining ingredients (or chop the chocolate and nuts with a knife to create 1/16-inch pieces and then combine).
- Pulse the processor on and off until the mixture forms a relatively smooth paste (it will still be a little coarse).
- Fill the mini-muffin papers 2/3 high and bake for approximately 10-12 minutes, until the tops are crisp but the insides are still soft.
- Serve warm or allow the muffins to come to room temperature before storing them in an airtight container. Makes 24 mini cakes. Enjoy!
- Always use the pulse function when processing nuts or chocolate. This will throw the food up as it is cut rather than risking some portion of the food turning into a paste while the rest is not completely broken down.
- When a recipe calls for eggs, always use large eggs (24 ounces per dozen). Using jumbo eggs (30 ounces per dozen) in the above recipe would add the equivalent of an extra egg and change the consistency of the finished product.
Tina D. Wasserman, a member of Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, Texas, has been teaching at her own cooking school for more than thirty years and writes a kosher cooking newsletter on the Internet.
Any Questions About These Recipes?
Tina will be delighted to assist you. E-mail AskTina@urj.org.
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