Gilcrease Museum’s Chocolate Exhibit is Decadent Holiday Cooking Inspiration

My children may be young but they are already chocolate connoisseurs.

It’s little wonder, really. I’ve stashed Ghirardelli bars, chocolate almonds and M&Ms since they were old enough to sniff it out. And they know exactly where their dad’s stash is – on the top shelf of the refrigerator. Yes, the refrigerator. I’ve told him his chocolate license should be revoked.

Nevertheless, my chocolate-loving family was happy to make a trip to the Gilcrease Museum for Chocolate: The Exhibition, which comes to Tulsa through the Field Museum in Chicago.

Mark Dolph, Gilcrease’s associate curator of history, said the universal appeal of chocolate makes the exhibit both fun and engaging for all ages. Dolph said every exhibit needs a hook, and with this one, it’s easy.

“You need a hook, and the hook is chocolate. And you need a good story, and that story is chocolate,” Dolph said.

This is the story of human interaction with chocolate, which began about 3,000 years ago, and the implications of that interaction from the aspects of biology, ecology, culture and history. I was surprised to learn it was just about 160 years ago that chocolate became something to eat. Before that, it was primarily consumed as a drink.

From the first gallery room, children will be entranced, first by the replica of a cacao tree. Children can touch a cacao pod, listen to the sounds of the rainforest and use touch screens to learn about animals and insects living near the cacao trees.

Dolph said one of the most fascinating aspects of the exhibit is learning about the cacao tree itself, which only grows in a few places on earth, near the equator.

“It grows in the rainforest, but has to have a canopy of trees to provide shade,” Dolph said.

The exhibit is an all-senses experience, with the favorite of many being the smell of chocolate at the end of the exhibit. Dolph hopes that smell will lead visitors to the gift shop where they can buy chocolate, including from Glacier Confection in Tulsa.

But before you get that far, you’ll travel through gallery rooms of chocolate art objects, education on historical significance and a fun presentation of nostalgic chocolate advertising, much of which was directed toward children.

I loved looking at all of the useful, but beautiful, objects used in the making of chocolate and chocolate products. There are tools used for grinding beans, ceremonial vessels used by the Mayans and Aztecs for drinking chocolate, and in more recent history, chocolate pots used by the European elite for warming and drinking chocolate.

Dolph said he’s watched many children, and adults enjoy an area of the exhibit that helps you understand the value of the cacao bean in relation to other items. How much is a cacao bean worth compared to a tomato, a pepper, etc.? Children will have to use a bit of math to come up with the correct answers.

The exhibit will certainly leave you with a better understanding of what it takes to go from cacao pod to a Hershey bar.

In the last gallery room, you can take a family selfie sitting on chocolate stools with a giant box of chocolates.

Chocolate: The Exhibition runs through Jan. 8, 2016, in time for those on winter break to visit before or after the holidays.

Dolph reminded me it’s also a good time for “one last chocolate fling,” before making New Year’s resolutions, which may or may not include chocolate.

Try these recipes to indulge your family’s chocolate fling:

I usually make hot chocolate with a mix, but this version is even better.

Chocolate Bar Hot Chocolate

Makes 1 cup

  • 1 regular-size milk chocolate bar (such as Hershey’s), chopped
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • Pinch of cinnamon

On medium-low heat, warm chocolate bar with milk and cinnamon. Whisk until melted. Add more milk as needed. Top with whipped cream and mini chocolate chips.

Top these frosted brownies with festive sprinkles, and share with neighbors and friends.

Holiday Brownies

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 6 tablespoons baking cocoa
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup evaporated milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons baking cocoa
  • 3 cups powdered sugar
  • Candy sprinkles

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Combine the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt. Add flour mixture to creamed mixture and mix well.

Spread into a greased 9-by-13-inch baking pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

For frosting, beat the butter, milk and vanilla, then add the cocoa. Gradually beat in powdered sugar until smooth. Once brownies are cool, spread with frosting and decorate with candy sprinkles.

Roll these truffles in toasted coconut, nuts, sprinkles or cocoa powder.

Dark Chocolate Truffles

  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 3/4 cups bittersweet chocolate chips
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (to roll truffles in)

Bring cream to a simmer in a small saucepan. Add the butter, and stir until melted. Add the chocolate chips, stirring until completely melted and smooth. Remove from heat, and pour into a bowl. Cool slightly, then refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours.

Use a spoon or cookie scoop to roll into 1-inch balls. Roll each ball in cocoa powder. If you don’t like cocoa powder, roll truffles in powdered sugar, toasted pecans or coconut or colorful sprinkles. You can refrigerate these truffles for about 2 weeks.