Thursday, March 30, 2006

The secret chocolate recipe of the later Medicis

Thanks to the student who sent me a link to a really interesting piece from Discovery.com on the efforts of Cosimo III (above), Grand Duke of Tuscany, to counter Spanish domination of "chocolate culture."

In the 17th century, chocolate was a hot, usually bitter drink. The Spanish, who had conquered the Central American originators of chocolate, set the standard for the substance. Cosimo III, whose state of Tuscany was pretty much a Spanish satellite, decided to fight back by having a superior jasmine chocolate blend created so that Florence, not Madrid, would dominate the world of chocolate cuisine.

A museum display in the Civic Museum of Monsummano Terme reveals Cosimo's secret and if the Discovery.com version is indicative, gushes over the brilliance of Cosimo's gastronomic coup.

However, there is another way of looking at it: the site from which I borrowed the portrait, paradoxplace.com characterizes Cosimo as one of the worst of the generally worthless later Medicis: "a disaster or the State of Tuscany, and the penultimate nail in the coffin of the Medici dynasty."

I'm generally a Tom Paine man: "the palaces of kings are built upon the ruins of the bowers of paradise;" but occasionally, I must admit, that some benefits trickle down to us unwashed masses. Paradoxplace attributes the invention of the pianoforte to Bartolemeo Cristofori, an instrument maker of Cosimo's time.

Here's the jasmine chocolate recipe from Discovery.com:

10 librae of roasted cocoa, cleaned and coarsely minced (1 libra = 12 oz.)
fresh jasmine petals
8 librae white sugar
3 ounces vanilla flowers
6 ounces cinnamon
2 scruples (7.76 grams)ambergris

Put layers of cocoa and jasmine flowers in a box, one layer over the other. Let it rest for 24 hours, then change the jasmine flowers with fresh ones. Repeat 12 times. Add the other ingredients and combine them on a warmed marble surface until the chocolate dough forms.

Have fun, and let us know how it turns out. Especially the ambergris part.

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