Endnotes: Sweet History in Spain

Eleanor H. Gustafson Furniture & Decorative Arts

This vintage conche, named for the resemblance of early designs to the shell of the sea-dwelling conch and outfitted with large stone rollers, is used to mix and aerate the ingredients in one of the last steps in making chocolate. All photographs courtesy of the Museu de la Xocolata, Barcelona, Spain.

Eat your museum entry ticket? At the Museo de la Xocolata (Museum of Chocolate) in Barcelona, Spain, go right ahead—it’s a chocolate bar. Christopher Columbus discovered cacao during his trips to America and wrote about the various drinks that indigenous people made with it. However, it was not until after the conquest of Mexico by Hernán Cortés that the importance of cacao was truly realized. Barcelona subsequently became an important early center for making chocolate—and particularly famous for its hot chocolate (xocolata calenta). Marta Tañà Codina, director of the Museo de la Xocolata, shares the story with us.

The first shipment of cacao arrived in Spain in 1521, two years after the arrival of Cortés in Mexico. A Cistercian monk named Fray Aguilar shipped the cacao along with the recipe for the drink to the abbot of the Monasterio de Piedra in Aragon. But the native recipe was bitter and spicy, and too strong for European tastes. Attempts to make it more palatable were carried out in Spain into the seventeenth century, primarily at monasteries and by the nobility, mixing the cacao with sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and other spices to ultimately create a thick hot drink with a taste close to that of the chocolate we know today. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, chocolate was commonly served at parties for the Catalan nobility in Barcelona. Bread, biscuits, and typical Catalan pastries were dipped in it in a small cup used especially for the thick hot liquid.

Two guilds were authorized to sell chocolate in the city— the chocolate millers and the druggists (from the Catalan adroguers, those in charge of marketing overseas products). Initially, only the druggists were permitted to transport chocolate through Catalan territory, a monopoly they guarded assiduously with legal, historical, and even religious arguments.

The Font de Canaletes, here reproduced in chocolate, is a famous fountain-cum-lamppost that has stood at the top of Las Ramblas in Barcelona since 1892.

The first mechanized production of chocolate in Barcelona dates to 1777, though production remained primarily artisanal until the end of the nineteenth century, when industrial production expanded, especially in Switzerland, France, and the United States. The smell of cocoa undoubtedly perfumed the streets of Barcelona’s Ciutat Vella (Old City) as there is evidence of some twenty mills there in the mid-nineteenth century. The Juncosa chocolate factory, founded in 1835, and Chocolate Amatller, founded in 1797 and still in production today, set the city’s standards. (Casa Amatller, then the home of the company’s head, was transformed into an important precursor of Catalan modernism, or art nouveau, between 1898 and 1900, and is now a museum and chocolate shop.)

The Chocolate Museum in Barcelona opened in 2000, supported by the city’s Confectionery Guild. It is located in the former Sant Agustí monastery, a historic building once occupied by engineering students of the reigning Bourbon family, fanatical consumers of chocolate. The Halberdiers, the monarch’s personal bodyguards, were known as the chocolateros because, as a pampered, elite corps, they consumed a great deal of chocolate.

The museum exhibits some thirty-five large sculptures made entirely of chocolate, as well as historical presses and other instruments used in making it. The tradition of using chocolate in artistic ways in Catalonia is rooted in the traditional Easter cakes known as monas de Pasqua, which, in the nineteenth century, began to be decorated with chocolate eggs instead of boiled ones. The use of chocolate became so popular that the entire cake is sometimes made of chocolate, offering many opportunities to create delightful sculptural effects.

The hot chocolate we serve at the museum (probably the best in Barcelona), requires a special cocoa powder that we sell, but you can approximate it using the best pure cocoa you can find. You need: 1⁄2 cup pure cocoa powder, 1⁄2 cup powdered sugar, 3 1⁄2 tablespoons flour, 1 cup milk, 1 cup water.

Mix the dry ingredients with the water at room temperature. Put the milk on medium heat and just before it boils, add the cocoa mixture. Reduce the heat and stir constantly until it thickens.