The Discovery of Chocolate is part history lesson in the origins of chocolate, part time-travel story, and part romance novel. It's quite a fantastical story following Diego De Godoy, a young notary to Emperor Charles V of Spain, who is sent to The New World in 1518 to return with a fortune and a unique and precious gift for his betrothed. It covers many centuries, countries and places that chocolate traveled to and evolved from as Diego looks for love and meaning in life.
It took me a while to get into the book. I wasn't particularly fond of Diego from the start as he is young, selfish, and not that appealing. In fact, my favorite character turned out to be Pedro, his loyal greyhound. (I will never look at Hershey's kisses without thinking of Pedro). I do like time travel and I adore chocolate and learning about food history, so eventually the story kicked in more for me as Pedro finds himself living a very long life and wandering with Pedro from Mexico to Paris and then on to Vienna, England and America. While on his travels, Diego has brushes with many diverse historical figures such as Montezuma, the Marquis de Sade, Sigmund Freud, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, and Milton Hershey--which was entertaining and fun--although at times maybe a bit too much. Diego does grow some during his journey, but he never quite won me over completely. Besides Pedro, ;-) the food descriptions were my favorite part and the book is filled with them (see my Food Inspiration notes below). Overall, although I didn't love this book, I think if you are a foodie and a chocolate fan and don't mind a lot of fantasy in your historical fiction, it is an interesting and enjoyable read that will have you reaching for the nearest chocolate bar.
My molinillo [moh-lee-NEE-yoh] -- Mexican chocolate whisk/stirrer
As I am sure you can imagine, The Discovery of Chocolate is full of mentions of chocolate and dishes that include it as an ingredient like the chocolate drink chocolatl, hot chocolate, turkey with a mole sauce, chocolate mousse, Hershey's kisses, and wild hare in chocolate sauce. It is also chock full of other food inspiration including spices like pepper, nutmeg, cloves, sage, black pepper, aniseed, and cinnamon, as well as fish--dorado (aka mahi-mahi), tamarind and hibiscus, turkey, maize cakes, cherries, oranges, mango, pineapple, peppers, melons, tomatoes, avocado, papaya and passion fruit, figs, vanilla, chillies, rabbit, tortillas, tamales, lemon, honey, watermelons, menudo, empanadas, shrimp ceviche, chicken, guinea fowl, partridge, prickly pears, apricots, apricot preserves, brandy and other apricot delicacies--including Sacher-Torte. There is Chantilly Soup, braised oxtail, galantine of capon, miniature mushroom tartlets, herrings in oatmeal, caviar blinis, hard-boiled eggs with whipped cream, truffles and Madeira wine, chicken liver omelettes with six eggs and cognac, wood pigeon with chestnuts and cabbage, rabbit pie, lobster with beurre blanc, lemonade, red sorrel flower tea, lime marinated red snapper with coriander, vermicelli soup and gazpacho, seared cod with caramelized shallots, grilled calamari, steamed scallops with ginger, quail marinated with rosemary, bay leaves and garlic, guacamole between paprika toasted potato skins, stuffed green peppers with a walnut sauce, pumpkin-blossom quesadillas, and chorizo stew.
I took my inspiration from the "excellent chocolate mousse" that Diego is offered after dinner on a ship with Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein. According to Gertrude, "Alice makes a very good whip, with eggs, butter, chocolate, icing sugar, cream and Cointreau..." Although the mousse the waiter offers is made with coffee and adorned with rosettes of whipped cream and chocolate leaves and Alice's favorite mousse is "a chocolate mousse with passion fruit sauce and raspberry cream," I decided to go with a chocolate-orange mousse as a nod to a childhood memory that Diego relates about sitting in an orange grove looking down on the city of Seville.
It also didn't hurt that I found a recipe for Chocolate-Orange Mousse from Ina Garten that sounded delicious and that I needed to make a Goodbye Ina! dish for I Heart Cooking Clubs as this week we end our six months of cooking a weekly recipe from her. I made a few changes to the recipe that I note in red below--mainly simplifying it and I switched out Ina's recommended Grand Marnier for the less expensive Patron as Deb's budget isn't as big as Ina's and this orange liqueur was about half the price and from Mexico--which fits in nicely with the story. Also, this recipe uses raw eggs--so do make sure that you can get eggs from a source you trust before you make it. I buy local eggs from my health store/co-op for anything where the eggs remain uncooked.
Slightly Adapted from Barefoot in Paris by Ina Garten & at FoodNetwork.com
6 oz good semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
2 oz good bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup orange liqueur (recommended: Grand Marnier) (I used Patrón Citrónge Orange)
1 tsp grated orange zest
12 Tbsp (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 Tbsp sugar
dash pure vanilla extract
Combine the 2 chocolates, orange liqueur, 1/4 cup water, and the vanilla in a heat-proof bowl. Set it over a pan of simmering water just until the chocolate melts. Cool completely to room temperature. Whisk in the orange zest and butter until combined.
Place the egg yolks and 1/2 cup of the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on high speed for 4 minutes, or until very thick and pale yellow. With the mixer on low speed, add the chocolate mixture. Transfer to a large bowl.
Place 1 cup of egg whites (save or discard the rest), the salt, and 1 tablespoon of the sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Beat on high speed until firm but not dry. Whisk 1/4 of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture; then fold the rest in carefully with a rubber spatula.
Without cleaning the bowl or whisk, whip the heavy cream and the remaining tablespoon of sugar until firm. Fold the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture. Pour the mousse into individual dishes or an 8-cup serving bowl. Chill and decorate with whipped cream and oranges. Serve with extra whipped cream on the side.
Whip the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. When it starts to thicken, add the sugar and vanilla and continue to whip until the cream forms stiff peaks. Don't over-beat, or you'll end up with butter!
Notes/Results: As a rule, I like my chocolate mousse to be pure chocolate, maybe with a little espresso mixed in to add to the richness of flavor, but I really enjoyed the orange in this one--it is present but doesn't overpower the chocolate.The mousse is rich and decadent but light and silky smooth. I ended up with more mousse than I need but I am sure I'll have no problem in eating it. An excellent Ina Garten dish to go out with, I'd happily make it again.
Speaking of Ina recipes, it's customary for me to post my favorite recipes from the outgoing IHCC chef. We start cooking with Chef Eric Ripert next week, but I had lots of wins with Ina these past six months. These five (in no particular order) were my favorites:
- Crunchy Iceberg Salad with Creamy Blue Cheese
- Peanut Rocky Road Chocolate Bark
- Salmon Nicoise Platter
- Pan-Seared Salmon Tacos with Cabbage Cucumber Slaw & Mashed Avocado
- Herb-Grilled Prawns with Green Goddess Dressing
This post is linking up several different places:
First to I Heart Cooking Clubs where it's our March Potluck and Goodbye to Ina Garten as we move on to Chef Eric Ripert.
The Discovery of Chocolate is my third foodie book entry for the Foodies Read 2018 event. You can check out the March 2018 Foodies Read linkup, hosted by Heather at Based on a True Story, to see what everyone is reading this month.
I'm also sharing this post with the Weekend Cooking event at Beth Fish Reads, a weekly event that is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share. For more information, see the welcome post.
The deadline for this round is on Saturday, March 31, and Simona will be rounding up the entries on the CTB site soon after. If you missed this round and love food, books, and foodie books, join us for April/May when we will be reading Shark's Fin and Sichaun Pepper: A Sweet-Sour Memoir of Eating in China, hosted by yours truly here at Kahakai Kitchen.