It doesn’t seem that long ago that chocolate always meant milk chocolate, and, more often than not, that meant Hershey’s. Even now when I check out through certain grocery store lines and see the collection of candy bars I can find myself singing an old Hershey’s commercial under my breath: “Hershey’s is the great American, great American chocolate bar.” As commercials go, that campaign had a pretty long life span from its inception in 1970 all the way through 1994.
Times sure have changed, and how we think of the great American chocolate bar is much altered, too. A stroll through even the most mundane grocery store’s candy aisle offers at least a handful of dark chocolate options – even the baking aisle offers varied brands, shades and intensities of chocolate experience.
But while to our minds chocolate in nearly any form is the source of smiles and more than a few giggles (as long as it’s real chocolate, and not some over sugared, palm oiled or waxy imposter that comes wrapped in cheap, colorful foil), it’s the breath-taking glory of chocolate cake that we celebrate as much as any other cocoa incarnation. That’s especially true as we do the special dance reserved for National Chocolate Cake Day.
Still, as we celebrate this much-celebrated treat, it seems strange to think that, as far as time goes, the history of chocolate cake as we know it, just like the history of America itself, isn’t that long. The fact of the matter is that idea that lead to chocolate cake may have been born only about 12 years before the founding of our country – or even later.
While the separate histories of both cake and chocolate themselves are as old as dust, it seems that in North America it was only in 1764 when Dr. James Baker put cocoa beans between millstones to pulverize them, that chocolate assumed a physical form that might have encouraged its inclusion in American baked goods. Still, there’s no clear evidence that a chocolate cake meant anything except a cake to be eaten while drinking chocolate until even later than that.
According to the William L. Clements Library, chocolate didn’t even make it into sauces or frostings until after the 1830’s, and recipes for chocolate cake didn’t start appearing until the end of that century. Even then, the cake could hardly be called chocolate by our standards. Molly Malcolm writes in the Library’s blog that “Early chocolate cakes were much lighter in color than modern cakes, because they used significantly smaller amounts of sugar and cocoa. “
A recipe from Linda Larned’s 1899 cookbook The Hostess of To-Day includes a mere 2 squares of chocolate per 2 cups of flour. Of course, we’re not sure how big those squares were, but it just sounds parsimonious and certainly insufficient to assuage our choco-longings.
You won’t find such chocolate deficiencies in our chocolate cupcakes.
When we make chocolate cake, we mean it. And we want the flavor of chocolate to suffuse our minds and bodies and wash away the cares of the day, lower our blood pressure and get us in a good mood. We may be biased, but we certainly believe in the benefits of chocolate consumption. Of course, we also have evidence – we always feel better after eating a chocolate cupcake. And that’s pretty much all we need to know. But we encourage you to do your own research to expand your knowledge and to celebrate Chocolate Cake Day.
After all, the more you know…