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Remaking Chocolate History at York's Castle Museum

posted Aug 8, 2010, 1:14 PM by Sophie Jewett
Today we have had a fantastic day making chocolates at York Castle Museum, all made to the original chocolate recipe for Strawberry Creams made by the Rowntree factory in 1893. We were honoured to be asked to work with York Castle Museum to be part of this year's Big City Read Chocolat programme, we wanted to make something that would tie nicely in with their collection of fancy chocolate boxes and their artifacts of  York's chocolate history so we went exploring the archives of Terry and Rowntree at the Borthwick Institute in the hope we might discover a secret recipe or list of ingredients, the results were overwhelming and very humbling.

We discovered some amazing documents, advertisements and the recipe journals belonging to J Terry of Clementhorpe as well as the recipe journal and log that belonged to George Marriner, it was donated to Rowntrees in 1977 by George's grandson. The journal had a little lock and key and covers the time 1891 - 1895 when chocolate creams and bonbons were being made at the North Street factory, George started with Rowntrees in 1892, there are 2 distinct handwriting scripts where original recipes have been superseded with more up to date versions, it is thought the earlier writing belonged to Joseph Rowntree. We found the recipe for Rowntrees Jelly, Best Caramel and most interestingly Strawberry Creams - I'm most excited by it as you can distinctly see the evolution of the recipes as time went on, as a chocolate maker I started out making chocolates with fresh strawberries, as the recipe from 1891 does, it is quickly replaced with another recipe of the same year calling for "20 tins of pulp" - a lot of chocolate makers find it difficult to cope with the seasonality of using fresh fruit so replace it with longer life, consistent versions. The recipes eventually used strawberry jam to replace the fruit content - strong in natural flavour jams are great to use as the natural fruit flavour is already preserved and can be used all year round. In comparison modern day strawberry creams use a combination of flavours to recreate the strawberry flavour our demand for strawberry flavoured products is so high there are not enough strawberries in the world to create all the strawberry products available on the market, so today strawberry flavour is created in a laboratory using between 50 and 100 chemicals.

Rowntree's North Street Factory at Tanner Moat, York.

Our main aim was to rediscover how those first chocolates were created and what they might have tasted like, secondly we wanted to share that simplicity with others, encourage people to see what foods we put in our mouths and how simple they are to create for ourselves if we just give it some thought. So we spent today, with the help of Laura, the very helpful guide at York Castle Museum, making Strawberry Creams covered in a dark 70% chocolate, very similar in ingredients and construction to the chocolates being produced at the time.

We'd like to thank the Borthwick Institute for allowing us access to the collection and for the Castle Museum for inviting us to be part of the exciting programme of events, we can't wait to get back to the collection and discover more of York's chocolatey history, and make some more of the recipes up too.

If you fancy making some strawberry creams for yourself here is a fantastic recipe you can follow, the ingredients and ratios are just the same as Joseph Rowntree was using in 1893, we had a great time making them, but not as great as the people who helped us scoff about 700 of them today did.

Making your own Strawberry Creams at home today

Strawberry creams can be rolled in chopped nuts, or dipped in chocolate or melted fondant.

Ingredients to make your fondant base:

  • 460g granulated sugar

  • 120ml water

  • 2 tbsp light corn syrup or liquid glucose


1. Prepare your workstation by setting a large baking sheet aside and sprinkling it lightly with water.

2. Combine the sugar, water, and corn syrup in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then cover the pan and allow the sugar syrup to boil for 2-3 minutes.

3. Remove the lid, and continue to cook the syrup, without stirring, until it reaches 240 degrees.

4. Pour the sugar syrup onto the prepared baking sheet. Allow it to sit at room temperature for several minutes. After 2-3 minutes, lightly touch the syrup with a fingertip. When it is warm but not hot, it is ready to be worked.

5. Dampen a metal spatula or dough scraper with water, and use the scraper to push the syrup into a pile in the middle of the sheet.

6. Using a dampened plastic spatula or wooden spoon, begin to “cream,” or work, the fondant in a figure-8 pattern. Continually scrape the fondant into the center, draw a figure-8, then scrape it together again. At first the fondant will be very clear and fluid, but it will gradually become more opaque and creamy. After 5-10 minutes, the fondant will become very stiff, crumbly, and hard to manipulate.

7. Once the fondant reaches this state, moisten your hands and begin kneading it into a ball like bread dough. As you knead, the fondant will begin to come together and will get softer and smoother. Stop kneading once your fondant is a smooth ball without lumps.

8. At this point, your fondant can be used for melting and pouring. If you want to make flavored fondant creams, it is best to “ripen” your fondant for at least 12 hours to obtain the best flavor and texture. To ripen the fondant, place it in an airtight plastic container, press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the fondant, and seal the lid on tightly. Ripen the fondant at room temperature, or if it is hot, in the refrigerator. After ripening, the fondant can be flavored, rolled, and shaped in whatever manner you wish. If it is stiff, you can always knead it by hand on a surface dusted with powdered sugar, until it is easy to manage. This recipe produces about 450g of fondant.

To make the Strawberry flavour


  • 450g of fondant mixture

  • 150g seedless strawberry jam

  • 58g of sifted icing sugar, plus extra for dusting

  • 1/4 tsp lemon juice

  • Red food coloring


1. Place the jam in a small saucepan over very low heat, and cook it, stirring often, until it reduces by half. The goal is to cook out the excess moisture, so that the creams will not be too moist and sticky. Once the jam is reduced, remove it from the heat and allow it to cool to room temperature.

2. Dust your workstation and your hands with powdered sugar. Knead the fondant until it is soft and pliable. Roll it until it is about an inch thick, and cut several slits in the fondant.

3. Pour the jam, lemon juice and a few drops of red food coloring into the fondant, and sprinkle the powdered sugar over the top. Knead until the ingredients and color are evenly distributed throughout.

4. Pinch off small sections of fondant, and roll them into a ball between your palms. Place the creams on a baking sheet to set. Allow them to set in a cool room overnight before dipping them in chocolate.

Good luck!