The other day, I was doing a bit of grocery shopping and pushed my cart down the baking aisle to pick up a box of currants for some currant shortbread cookies. I saw the baking chocolate nearby and remembered that I had also wanted to make some brownies. The recipe called for unsweetened baking chocolate which, at the time, I didn’t have, so I tossed a package of chocolate in my cart, as well.
My first encounter with baking chocolate was not a pleasant one. I was young – around 7 or 8 years old – and I wanted a snack. I went to the kitchen pantry and began rooting around. Normally, I would have gone for the ever-present box of graham crackers. This time, though, I was in the mood for something sweeter, and I knew exactly what I wanted: brown sugar.
As soon as I was able to balance on a stool to reach the kitchen counter top, Mom began teaching me how to follow a recipe and accurately measure various ingredients. Brown sugar was, by far, the sweetest, most delicious baking ingredient I had ever encountered. I especially loved picking out and eating the hard clumps that would routinely form inside the bag.
On this particular day, the lumps inside that bag of brown sugar were my goal. But then I saw something else that made me forget about the brown sugar. I recognized it immediately. It was chocolate! A huge package of chocolate!
Chocolate wasn’t something our parents regularly kept around the house. (It was years before I would learn about Mom’s secret bedroom stash.) Chocolate was a treat that was enjoyed as quickly as possible until it was gone. In my mind, the thought that there might exist a supply of uneaten chocolate hidden in the baking ingredients defied explanation. My puzzlement, however, did not deter me from snatching the package from its hiding place, unwrapping the first, gloriously thick chunk and taking a big bite.
What I expected was the delirious rush I felt as my taste buds were bathed in that creamy chocolatey goodness I loved so much. What I got was a harsh jolt as the acrid flavor of the unsweetened baking chocolate assaulted my taste buds in full force. I spit it out as quickly as I could and rinsed my mouth out with water. Bitter! This chocolate was bitter! Why would they do such a horrible thing? What would possess someone – anyone – to make chocolate without sugar?
Technically, my scavenging activities would not have met with Mom’s approval, but I had to get to the bottom of this bitter chocolate business. I threw caution to the wind, ratting myself out in the process, and asked her about it. She laughed at my failed attempt to sneak some chocolate and gave me a brief, cogent justification for the existence of baking chocolate.
Now, every time I see a package of unsweetened baking chocolate, I remember with fondness that day long ago when sweet anticipation turned to bitter disappointment.