August 28, 2012

Civil War Era Chocolate Pudding

 Today is going to start a new little segment called Test Kitchen Tuesday. I talk quite a bit about recipes I've had to work on several times to get right, but I only post the final recipe. I thought it might be interesting to talk about the process I go through while working things out. In the spirit of that, I decided to start with a recipe that immediately needed some changes.

A dear friend of mine works at a Civil War museum and each week they post a recipe from the period. This past week's sounded not only delicious, but also something I could readily make. It was a baked chocolate pudding. Our great-great-grandmothers weren't quite the sticklers we are for measurements, so at the very least I needed to translate the ingredients into modern measurements.

 The recipe I worked with was as follows:
Have the best and strongest American chocolate or cocoa. Baker’s prepared cocoa will be found excellent for all chocolate purposes; better indeed than anything else, as it is pure, and without any adulteration of animal fat, being also very strong, and communicating a high flavor. Of this, scrape down, very fine, two ounces or more. Add to it a tea-spoonful of mixed spice, namely, powdered nutmeg and cinnamon. Put it into a very clean sauce-pan, and pour on a quart of rich milk, stirring it well. Set it over the fire, or on hot coals; cover it; and let it come to a boil. Then remove the lid; stir up the chocolate from the bottom, and press out all lumps. Then return it to the fire, and when thoroughly dissolved and very smooth, it is done. Next stir in, gradually, while the chocolate is still boiling-hot, a quarter of a pound or more of powdered loaf-sugar. If you use such white sugar as is bought ready powdered, you must have near half a pound, as that sugar has very little strength, being now adulterated with ground starch. When the chocolate is well sweetened, set it away to cool. Beat eight eggs very light, and pour them through a strainer into the pan of chocolate, when it is quite cold. Stir the whole very hard. Then put it into the oven, and bake it well. Try it when you think it done, with a twig from a broom. If on putting the twig into the middle of the pudding, and sticking it quite down to the bottom, the twig comes out clean, and with nothing clammy adhering to it, the pudding is then sufficiently baked. It should be eaten cold. Sift white sugar thickly over it before it goes to the table. It will be found very nice.
This pudding will bake best by sitting the pan in a dutch oven half-filled with boiling water.

From: Leslie, Eliza. Miss Leslie's Lady's New Receipt-book: A Useful Guide for Large or Small Families : Containing Directions for Cooking, Preserving, Pickling. Philadelphia: A. Hart, Late Carey & Hart, 1850. Pg. 127-128
 The first step I took was to write out each of the ingredients in a list, as we do now, and translate their quantities to measurements we use now. I didn't know, without looking it up, that 1lb of sugar is equal to two cups. So, a quarter pound of sugar is half a cup. At this stage, I also made the executive decision to add a little vanilla to the recipe.

 Next, I carefully read through the steps and decided where changes needed to be made. Obviously, I was not going to set a pot of milk over a fire or hot coals. I broke the chocolate bar into small pieces and carefully heated it over my gas range (as close as I come to cooking over an open fire) and added the milk when it melted. I also opted for a toothpick to test the doneness, rather than a "twig" from my made-of-plastic broom.

The very last line of the recipe, though, was the most key step. It needs to bake with the dish partially submerged in water, just like a creme brulee. If you've ever tried to make a recipe that called for it and you didn't use it, it doesn't turn out right. At first I was surprised that it wasn't a "pudding" like we think of today, but because of the water and the amount of eggs, I should have expected a custard consistency and that's just what I got.

 After that, though, things went a bit down hill. I looked at several online recipes for similar baked pudding to see what baking temperature and time was recommended. I settled on trying 350 for 45 minutes. After the 45 minutes, it still had not set in the middle, so I baked it another 15, checking on it twice. The top ended up too well done. Next time, I'd try it at 325 for an hour and check it then.

Then it came time for the big moment- the taste test. It was bitter. Too bitter. And as soon as the sensation hit my tongue, I realized it was entirely my fault for using an 83% cacao chocolate without adding additional sugar to compensate. Whoops. It also was separated into three distinct layers- the pudding-like bottom, the custard-like middle, and the over cooked top. That was very strange. It sure looked nice from the top, though.

A lot of things went wrong here, but there are things that certainly could be done to alter this recipe and try it again. The first thing I'd do is use chocolate with a lower cacao content. I'd also do it more like a creme brulee, by using just the egg yolks, beating them together with the sugar, and tempering them into the chocolate and milk mixture. I think that would render far superior results.

I hope you enjoyed the very first installment of Test Kitchen Tuesday!

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