In France in the eighteenth century, when chocolate-drinking had become virtually a court ritual, the great ladies of the court each had her own special chocolate recipe which, in many respects, was regarded as a magic formula. Chocolate in those days was thought of not only as a marvelous drink for its own rich sake but as a potion filled with all the rare qualities that had endeared it to the Aztec kings. The flavorings and spices that went into it - sometimes along with secret powders - were supposed to add not only to its flavor but to its effectiveness as well. Mme. du Barry served her special chocolate to the aging Louis and attributed no small part of her success with the monarch to its spicey virtues. Vanilla was invariably added; and often cinnamon or ginger or both gave an extra fillip, while a pinch of pepper provided an actual (but pleasant) bite.
Then too, great importance was attached to the way in which the chocolate was poured and to the cups from which it was sipped. the method of pouring was the same as that which is used in France today for cafe au lait. The thick, rich chocolate was served in one pot with hot milk or cream or a mixture of the two in another, and these were poured simultaneously into little porcelain cups so that with more or less of one or the other the resulting beverage would attain the desired consistency - and of course, its proper power.
Brillat-Savarin, in the nineteenth century, reflected the French national view of chocolate when he wrote: "Chocolate is one of the most efective restoratives. All those who have to work when they might be sleeping, men of wit who feel temporarily deprived of their intellectual powers, those who find the weather oppressive, time dragging, the atmoshere depressing; those who are tormented by some preoccupation which deprives them of the liberty of thought; let all such men imbibe a half liter of choclat ambre... and they will be amazed." Chocolat ambre, as Brillat-Savarin made it, had a "knob of ambergris the size of a bean, pounded with sugar to a strong cup of chocolate." But for plain hot chocolate (to which he attributed very nearly the same virtues) he followed the strictures laid down by Mme. D'Arestel, Mother Superior of the Covenant of the Visitation at Belley. Never boil, said Mme. d'Arestel. Cook gently, let stand and then reheat. And these directions still hold true no matter what chocolate you use, or how it is flavored or seasoned. They mellow. Like stew, they improve on being gently reheated. Vanilla is still the best flavoring for chocolate (though orange is delicious, too, as are many kinds of spirits and liquors), and both cinnamon and ginger still both add pleasant touches (as does allspice); and a tiny pinch of pepper gives a delightful and hard-to-identify bite.
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