History's Just Desserts

Exploring American History through Desserts and Their Makers

Where’s the Chocolate?


There is no chocolate in Malinda Russell’s 1866 A Domestic Cookbook.  None.  Mrs. Russell, author of the first known African American cookbook, explains that she had had a pastry shop in Tennessee for several years, and her cookbook includes dozens of recipes for cakes and cookies.  But not one uses chocolate.  Pastry chefs today may like chocolate well enough, but can feel that chocolate desserts are their least interesting creations, that a molten chocolate cake is obligatory.  (As an avowed chocolate lover, I don’t have a problem with this obligation.)  But that’s not why Mrs. Russell left chocolate out of her recently-discovered cookbook.  In her day, it was still a relatively new ingredient for baking.  Chocolate had been long known in the United States, but mainly as the key ingredient in a rich, hot drink.  When Spaniards had arrived in what’s now Mexico, they discovered a drink made of roasted and pounded cacao beans mixed with water and often spices.  (So, chocolate recipes today that use cinnamon, pepper, and other spices aren’t trendy, they’re as traditional as could be.)  Europeans and Americans soon took to the beverage and in the 1600s and 1700s, they drank, not ate, chocolate.  Even before chocolate came into common use as an ingredient in cakes, however, there were “chocolate cakes” – cakes meant to be eaten with hot chocolate, just as coffee cakes contain none of their namesake ingredient but make perfect accompaniments to that morning cup of joe.  In the 1800s, as clever (and highly commendable) people developed new methods of processing and manufacturing chocolate, Americans increasingly added chocolate to puddings, custards, and, more gradually, cakes.  Not Mrs. Russell.  Check back for more on her recipes.  They may surprise you.

6 thoughts on “Where’s the Chocolate?

  1. I’d always wondered why coffee cakes didn’t really taste of coffee! Whoops!

  2. Pingback: Malinda Russell’s Sour Cream Cake | History's Just Desserts

  3. Pingback: Relating to George Washington through Desserts | History's Just Desserts

  4. It is fascinating that a cookbook this late did not have any recipes with chocolate. My cookery survey indicates the history is not so straightforward. Use of chocolate as a solid or paste happens in the seventeenth century and the distribution of #chocolate recipes is spotty.

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