Russian chocolate unwrapped
by Joy Neumeyer at 26/03/2012 19:38
Until Sept. 15 at the State Central Museum of Contemporary History of Russia, 21 Ul. Tverskaya, m. Tverskaya, http://www.sovr.ru
Open Tue., Wed. and Fri., 10 am-6 pm, Thu., Sat. and Sun. 11 am-7 pm, closed Mon. Free
In 1815, a visitor to St. Petersburg wrote about a shop on Nevsky Prospekt “where it’s popular to relax and drink hot chocolate” – one of the first mentions of chocolate on Russian soil. Chocolate came late to Russia, but by the early 20th century, the country had acquired Europe’s biggest sweet tooth. After almost disappearing post-Revolution, chocolate was eventually reborn as a Soviet point of pride, with Alyonka’s chubby cheeks becoming as iconic as the Kremlin towers.
© Photo / Courtesy of Zlata Rozman
In the early 20th century, Russia was Europe’s leading chocolate maker
A new exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary History traces Russian chocolate’s highs and lows with dozens of original boxes, wrappers and equipment from the collection of Moscow chocolate studio Zlata Rozman. Items on display range from early ceramic molds to Soviet wrappers featuring Laika, the first dog in space.
The exhibition kicks off with a kitchen where professionals show how the stuff is made. On a recent day, chocolatier Grigory Rozman taught a visitor how to pipe icing onto a square, never flinching as he wrote “very beautiful” in curly script.
“It’s a family thing,” he said. “I gradually started to be drawn to chocolate, and I slowly fell in love with doing it.”
Visitors mold their own figures and sample treats like crystallized orange dipped in chocolate fondue. True chocoholics can sign up for a longer class at the exhibition’s School of Chocolate, held every Monday evening.
Chocolate first found fans among the ancient Mayans, who drank it during religious ceremonies. After Cortes brought it to Europe in the 16th century, it became a fashionable beverage at French and English courts. Visitors can taste four drinks based on these early recipes, including a Mayan brew containing cocoa, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, pepper and vanilla.
© Photo / The Moscow News/Joy Neumeyer
Exhibition visitors learn how to mold their own chocolate
The invention of a Dutch cocoa butter press in 1828 enabled the production of the first chocolate bars. The exhibition displays 19thcentury chocolate molds from Germany, Belgium and Italy made of metal, glass and wood, as well as the first molds from Russia, which were ceramic.
Historians debate when chocolate first arrived in Russia. But by the mid-19th century, it had become a country-wide craze. In 1826, the Leonov merchants founded the first Russian chocolate factory. Soon after, dozens of new factories were competing for the title of “supplier of the court of his Imperial Majesty.” Museum visitors see dozens of elaborate wrappers and boxes from factories including Einem, George Borman and the Yeliseyev brothers.
By the early 20th century, “Russia was the leader in all types of chocolate in all of Europe,” said organizer Yevgeny Trostentsov.
Russian factories pioneered the use of inventive marketing techniques, such as packages that doubled as jewelry boxes, wrappers that turned into puzzle pieces and the original Kinder Surprise (a chocolate egg with a toy inside).
The fervor for collectible packaging reached a fever pitch in 1913 during celebrations of the Romanov dynasty’s 300th anniversary. Companies released countless designs bearing portraits of the imperial family. One box features an image of Nicholas II that was scratched out during the Soviet era.
“It was safer to keep that way,” Trostentsov said.
Russian chocolate companies met mixed fates after the Revolution. Some fled, while others were destroyed. Those that remained were nationalized in 1922. The Leonov factory became Rot Front; Einem became Krasny Oktyabr; Abrikosov and Sons, founded by a serf known for his apricot fillings, was renamed after a local committee chairman, Babayev.
© The Moscow News/Joy Neumeyer
The exhibition ends with a shop of sweet treats from Zlata Rozman
Now, fanciful packaging was out; utilitarian boxes were in. A box commemorating the five-year anniversary of the Revolution is brown with a red band around the sides, and bears the simple label “candy.” The new factories produced only a quarter of their pre-Revolutionary output.
The Soviet chocolate renaissance began after World War II, when the Soviet Union received German confectionary equipment as part of reparations. Treasured and hard to obtain, chocolates became an iconic part of Soviet life, usually available only on holidays or trips to Moscow.
Commemorative wrappers marked Soviet milestones: World War II, human spaceflight, the Olympics. Famed Krasny Oktyabr chocolates spawned countless imitators, like older Alyonkas and Mishka wrappers with only two bears.
According to Trostentsov, the fall of the Soviet Union brought a collapse of the regulatory standards (GOST) that made Soviet chocolate delicious.
“In Europe, there are very strict regulations that forbid the use of many additions and replacements,” such as palm oil, he said. “Here in Russia, less than 1 percent of chocolate is made out of 100 percent cocoa butter.”
The three biggest Soviet manufacturers – Krasny Oktyabr, Babayevsky and Rot Front – now belong to one holding, encouraging the dominance of cheap, massproduced chocolate.
But the last several years have seen the slow rise of chocolate studios that use only the basics: pure cocoa butter, cocoa liquor, vanilla and sugar. At the end of the exhibition, visitors can purchase handmade Rozman chocolates, which come with fillings such as double lemon and praline.
Trostentsov hopes the exhibition will help introduce a new generation of Russians to quality chocolate.
“The goal of the exhibition is for adults to remember the candy of their childhood, and for children to discover it.”
Moscow’s top five russian chocolate shops:
© Photo / Courtesy of Zlata Rozman
The last several years have seen a rise in Russian chocolate makers who reject artificial ingredients
5 Schyolkovskoe Shosse, (926) 616 7961, m. Cherkizovskaya, open daily 10 am-8 pm, chocolatier.ru
Only three years old, Chocolatier has earned a reputation as one of Moscow’s best artisanal chocolate makers. Its shop sells handmade chocolate, as well as molds, thermometers, mixers and other equipment, and also hosts master classes.
12 Nikitsky Bulvar, bldg. 3, (495) 690 5617, m. Arbatskaya, open weekdays 10 am-10 pm, Sat. and Sun. 10 am-12 midnight, confael.ru
Confael produces a wide array of high-end truffl es and chocolates, including chocolate sculptures made to order. Chocoholics can sample desserts including chocolate fondue with vanilla souffl e at the boutique’s adjoining cafe.
22 Ul. Pyatnitskaya, (495) 951 3764, m. Tretyakovskaya, open weekdays 9 am-8 pm, Sat. 10 am-6 pm, closed Sun.
This small, old-fashioned shop weighs out bags of all the most popular mass-produced candy from Krasny Oktyabr and other factories, such as Romashki, Belochka and Maska.
13/16 Bolshaya Lubyanka, bldg. 1, (495) 625 6411, open daily 10 am-8 pm, korkunov.ru
Founded in 1999 by businessman Andrei Korkunov, the Korkunov company was purchased by Wrigley in 2007. Though Korkunov’s massproduced bars can be found all over Russia, it sells handmade chocolates exclusively at its Moscow boutique.
13/15 Novokuznetsky Per., (495) 959 2951, m. Novokuznetskaya, open daily 8 am-8 pm, Sun. 9 am-5 pm
Russia’s oldest chocolate factory, famous for popular candies such as Krasnaya Shapochka, maintains a shop near Paveletskaya where you’ll fi nd all its signature caramels, chocolates, waffl e cakes and halvah.