Tag Archives: Naples biscuits
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Bruising Chocolate

4 Sep

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J Bell’s Chocolate Biscuit recipe from The French Family Cook

Today was a rather quiet and calm kitchen at Fort York.  Mya was keen to try a 1793 recipe for chocolate biscuits from J Bell’s The French Family Cook: Being a Complete System of French Cookery.  This recipe involved no butter so it suggested a biscuit in the French manner, like a Naples or Savoy biscuit.  It also called for the ounce and a half of chocolate to be ‘bruised very fine’.  I was intrigued by this instruction not least because I was sceptical that solid chocolate could be easily ‘bruised very fine’.  What exactly did the instruction mean?  Mya and I decided that it probably meant that the chocolate should be beaten using a pestle and mortar.  I began by cutting up the blocks of Baker’s unsweetened baking chocolate    which we were using with a knife.  This chocolate conveniently comes in wrapped ounce blocks which are divided in two so I put one half block in the small brass mortar at a time and began to grind and beat it down.  I was impressed that it did begin to produce something like a powder, fine beads of the dark chocolate.

Having pounded for a good number of minutes I sieved the first round of chocolate to get it as fine as possible.  Back went the larger lumps for another beating.  With each of my three blocks this process was repeated at least three times and I think to create this mere ounce and a half of bruised chocolate took me something like an hour!  Not a technique or recipe I shall contemplate using on a regular basis.

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All in an hour’s work – my efforts at bruising chocolate very fine

As I say I found the use of the term ‘to bruise’ fascinating.  It conjures up images things being bodily damaged and battered both in the sense of bruising the human skin and the bruising of fruit.  In general the idea of bruising has a less than positive association.  As I was pounding the chocolate I was reminded of a classic example of the negative connotations of bruising, the King James translation of Genesis 3:15, when God tells the serpent after he has tempted Eve

‘And I will put enmitie betweene thee and the woman, and betweene thy seed and her seed: it shal bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heele.’

I decided to see if Dr Johnson could offer a helpful 18th century perspective on a definition of ‘to bruise’ and sure enough his 1755 dictionary gives the following description for the verb:

‘To crush or mangle with the heavy blow of something not edged or pointed; to crush by any weight; to beat into gross powder; to beat together coarsely.’

What interested me was that this definition wasn’t simply ‘to bruise’ as in the sense of smashing and damaging but also in the sense of creating a powder which suggested perhaps a more productive outcome. The OED didn’t provide any further elaboration on this idea of creating a powder by bruising ingredients and merely noted one definition of ‘to bruise’ as ‘To beat small, pound, crush, bray, grind down‘.  However it did add in brackets after its definition of ‘to bruise’ as breaking something down or into pieces (a use it points out is now obsolete) that in this sense it was apparently French.  Perhaps Bell’s description of the way to prepare the chocolate was more French than English.

In my cursory exploration through some 18th and 19th century cookbooks there were few uses of the term ‘to bruise’ for preparing ingredients and when it did occur it either referred to bruising fruit for jam making (Nutt, 1789) or bruising caraway seeds for a cake (MacDonald 1809).  Neither quite as exotic (or time consuming) as bruising chocolate for biscuits.

After I had finally bruised my way through the ounce and a half of chocolate it was time to combine it with the other ingredients. The fine beads of chocolate gave the resulting mixture an appearance almost like a very delicate Stracciatella ice cream mixture.  It was also a very runny and Mya and I were unsure how it might behave once spooned onto the paper.  We went for fairly small penny sized biscuits and baked them in a 325˚F oven for 15 minutes.  The results of this first batch were not bad but we had forgotten to sprinkle the sugar on top and decided that they would benefit from being more crisp.  To help us achieve this we made the next batch slightly smaller in size and left them in for longer  – 20 minutes this time.  The results were definitely improved.  For the third and final batch we gave them 25 minutes and these were even better.  The chocolate taste was subtle but definite and the crispness of the final batch suggested that they would be the perfect accompaniment for an after dinner coffee.

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The finished biscuits; small, crisp and very tasty!

We didn’t try spooning any of the mixture into a buttered paper case as suggested by the recipe.  Ivan Day has written a great blog post about cakes and paper cases but we didn’t have the right materials to trial this approach for the chocolate biscuits. It’s an experiment that will have to wait for another day.  Mya and I have agreed however, that however noble our attempts historic chocolate bruising, next time we might try the recipe with grated chocolate.  I wonder if anyone would notice the difference?

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