True or false:
Brownies were created by accident when a forgetful cook neglected to add baking powder to a chocolate cake batter.
The first chocolate chip cookie (still America's favorite cookie) was invented by Ruth Graves Wakefield of Whitman, Mass., who ran the Toll House Restaurant.
Linzer Torte, created in Austria around 1696, is the oldest known chocolate cake in the world.
The correct answer to all of the above?
Who knows? We all love chocolate at this time of year, and that's all that matters.
But there is evidence to support these stories, and Carolyn Panzica of Butterwood Desserts has discovered it. Panzica was doing research for a special History of Chocolate menu to be served at Butterwood's Williamsville location on Valentine's Day.
There's probably no other food on Earth that has as much history associated with it as chocolate. Even though much of that history can be filed under "urban legends," if you're the picky type.
The subject is fascinating. Panzica discovered that the chocolate story is more than 2,000 years old. It was probably first served in the New World long before the Spanish conquest.
Chocolate was a popular drink in both the Mayan and Aztec cultures. People ground the beans into a paste, mixed it with water, added spices, including chili, and called it "Chocolatl" or "bitter water." The drink brought wisdom and enlightenment, or so it was believed.
The Conquistadors brought it to Europe where people began to believe chocolate had aphrodisiac qualities, and that was enough for the product to take off. Somebody got smart and added sugar and milk; everyone had a pot of chocolate available most of the time.
Eventually, people began to bake with it -- glorious baroque creations resulted. If you've ever been to Vienna or France, you know what we mean.
But by the time it got back to us, Panzica says, Americans took a more basic approach. We went for Devil's Food Cake (first mention in Chicago in the 1880s). We went for Brownies (the Sears Roebuck catalog in 1897 supposedly published the first recipe).
Rumor has it that she received a lifetime supply of chocolate for this -- let us all hope that there was something more.
It was only in the late 20th century that we Americans became a little more sophisticated. Chocolate is almost a religion now.
Many upscale restaurants now serve plated chocolate desserts with samplings of elaborately garnished tortes, fancy puddings and house-made ice creams all displayed like jewels. The idea is to show how versatile chocolate really is. (And it's beginning to turn up in main dishes, too.)
All this history will be demonstrated at Butterwood during the History of Chocolate evening. (Call 204-0939 to reserve.)
So -- inspired by Panzica's hard work, we decided to present our own mini-history of chocolate, by way of recipes. You can easily prepare the recipes that follow at home, and for the best results, use the best quality chocolate you can buy.
The European influence shows up in our rich French Silk Pie -- please note that the eggs are not cooked in this recipe and people with immune system difficulties should probably avoid it. The rest of us can enjoy the pie with Port, chocolate's traditional accompaniment.
The American touch turns up with the Brownies -- although our recipe does call for baking powder. There's only one thing to drink with Brownies of course.
And finally, we give you the restaurant dessert so far of the 21st century. It a chocolate cake with chocolate ganache inside it. (Ganache is a rich icing/filling mixture of chocolate and whipped cream.)
Some people call it Molten Chocolate Cake; some call it, for good reason, Lava Cake. The idea is you break through the cake itself and this gorgeous liquid chocolate flows out. It is best served warm, by the way, with good ice cream.
>Chocolate Silk Pie
1 baked graham cracker crust
1 cup butter
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla
Whipped cream and chocolate shavings for garnish
Cream butter and sugar; add melted cooled chocolate.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating 5 minutes each addition. Add vanilla and pour into pie shell. Chill well.
When ready to serve, garnish with whipped cream and chocolate curls.
>The Best Brownies
1 cup butter
4 squares unsweetened chocolate
4 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup crushed walnuts,optional
Melt butter and chocolate in a heavy pan over low heat (or use the top of a double boiler over simmering water). Beat eggs with sugar and vanilla. Add flour and beat well. Pour into the chocolate and beat thoroughly.
Pour into two 8-inch square pans. Sprinkle with the crushed nuts. Bake in preheated 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes. (Be careful not to overbake.) Toothpicks inserted into the center of the mixture should emerge just slightly moist.
When cool, cut into squares. If you would like a thicker brownie, bake the mixture in a single 8-inch square pan but remember that baking time will be longer.
>Warm Chocolate Ganache Cakes aka Molten Cake or Lava Cake
4 ounces good quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 large eggs, separated
1/2 cup cake flour
1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
Line an 8-inch loaf pan with plastic wrap to prepare the ganache, put the chocolate in a bowl. Bring the cream just to a boil and pour the hot cream over the chocolate. Let stand until the chocolate begins to melt, about 2 minutes; then whisk until smooth.
Pour the ganache into the loaf pan and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour. When the mixture has set, unmold and cut out six 1 1/2 -inch rounds, using a knife or cookie cutter. Refrigerate until ready to use. (Up to 5 days.)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the cups of a a muffin pan and set it aside.
To make the cakes, in the top of a double boiler or in a metal bowl suspended over a pot of simmering water, melt the chocolate. Whisk in the softened butter and turn off the heat. Let cool for 5 minutes, then whisk in the beaten egg yolks, one at a time.
Sift the flour and fold into the chocolate mixture.
Beat the egg whites to soft peaks. Sift in the confectioners' sugar and continue beating to stiff peaks. Stir in about one-third of the egg white mixture into the chocolate mixture, then fold in the remaining whites in two additions.
Scoop or pipe a 1/4 -cup measure of cake batter into each muffin tin. Place a ganache mound in the center of each muffin cup, then spoon in enough batter to cover.
Bake the cakes for 20 minutes or until the tops are firm. Allow the cake to rest for at least one minute before serving. Serve warm. Makes 6 servings.
Recipe adapted from "The Last Course: The Desserts of the Gramercy Tavern" by Claudia Fleming (Random House, 2001.)