After a few months away, I’m back with a long look at cooking with one of Mexico’s gifts to the world – chocolate. As you read in the last post, I was recently invited to present a program about chocolate at the Culinary Arts Society of Ajijic (CASA).
Rather than print sheaves of handouts for those who attended, I promised to publish the recipes for the goodies I took for tasting here in my blog – it served a double purpose – they get the recipes, and I’m getting back in the swing of sharing interesting facts and details of life in Mexico here again!
Have you seen a real pod of cacao? The pods (shown here, grow on trees in the southernmost states of Mexico – primarily Tabasco, Oaxaca, Vera Cruz and Chiapas – and in the countries of Central America. Each 12” pod contains from 25-40 “beans” which are fermented and then roasted and winnowed so that the viable chocolate can be separated from the fiber.
Today most chocolate is ground in simple mechanical grinders. The entire central market in Oaxaca smells like chocolate. In the back, housewives have their own favorite mixtures ground to order while they wait, choosing their favorite combination of chocolate beans, sugar, cinnamon and almonds. The mixture is heated as it is ground, to melt the chocolate and dissolve the sugar. The mixture is then shaped into disks or logs and allowed to cool for later use.
Blending Chocolate and Chile
One of the chocolate specialties I made to share with the cooks at CASA was the following Chocolate Cake – it’s made with chipotle chiles. The combination of chocolate and chiles goes back to the time of the Aztecs – Moctezuma’s famous cold, unsweetened chocolate drink contained a healthy dose of chile. Chocolate even figured prominently in the notes kept by the visiting Spanish historians and in the remaining Aztec pictographs – the Codex.
This cake recipe calls for ground chipotle. I’ve seen it in stores in Guadalajara, but didn’t find it here at Lakeside, so I just removed the stems from a couple of the dried chiles, and then removed the seeds and inner veins and tossed them into the food processor and and ground them into fine powder. Be sure to use Mexican canela (cinnamon) in this recipe. The flavor of Mexican cinnamon is softer and not as bitter as that of the variety of the spice sold in the US.
Actually I made two of these cakes for the CASA folks. I baked the first a day ahead. The recipe is good and moist, so I knew it would hold well. The cake was well-covered with foil and pushed back on the kitchen counter when I headed out for Monday breakfast with friends. When I returned, I found the foil on the kitchen floor, a big Black Labrador with cake crumbs on her muzzle and a happy smile.
Please remember to not give chocolate to dogs. It’s not only bad for them, it’s downright dangerous. Thankfully Molly had only skimmed the top 1/4” from a quarter of the cake, not enough to harm a dog of her size. While I was relieved to know she was safe and healthy, I sure wasn’t pleased to be baking another cake. She wasn’t thrilled either to be in a lengthy back yard timeout.
The Sublime Aztec Flavor -- Chipotle Chocolate Cake
Remember that easy chocolate cake that was mixed all in one bowl – the liquids poured into wells made in the dry mixture? In our house we called it the “Wacky Cake.” This recipe is a Mexican version of that ridiculously easy, old-favorite.
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup cocoa, plus extra for sprinkling on the cake
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground chipotle or grind dry chipotle chiles into a fine powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups water
3/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
3 tablespoons red wine
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Confectioners' sugar and or cocoa to sprinkle on the cake
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, sugar, cocoa, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. In a small mixing bowl, mix together the chiles, water, oil, red wine and vanilla. Make a well in the dry ingredients, add the wet ingredients and stir just until combined. Do not overmix. Pour the batter into an ungreased 9-by-13-inch baking pan and bake for 30 to 40 minutes. Cool on rack for 10 minutes; turn out on serving tray-- if desired. Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar and cocoa just before slicing and serving.
What’s Better than Chocolate? Truffles
Who know that rich, luscious, expensive truffles could be so easy to make at home. There’s really only a few secrets to obtain the best results. The number one tip is to use the best dark, unsweetened or semisweet chocolate you can find and afford.
Take note, when you only have 2 or 3 ingredients in a recipe, they’d better all be top notch – each will need to shine and to combine into a high quality product.
What are your favorite flavors – peppermint, raspberry, orange, brandy, cappuccino? You can do what you love best in this basic recipe. Adjust it to suit your taste and mood.
Basic Dark ChocolateTruffles
Create your own truffles using your favorite flavors. How about chai, lavender, or rose petals just for Valentine’s Day? In this basic recipe, you can do it your way.
1 cup heavy cream
1 pound dark chocolate, chopped
Flavoring as desired – 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon liqueur or flavorings, cinnamon stick, cloves, cardamom to simmer in cream, expresso powder, etc.
cocoa powder for rolling truffles – add nuts, ground cinnamon, etc to cocoa.
Place the chopped chocolate in a large bowl and set aside. Put cream in a heavy saucepan, and heat until the cream just starts to boil. Remove from heat, and then pour the hot cream over the chocolate and allow to sit for one minute before beginning to whisk the mixture steadily but not too vigorously—you want it to be well-combined and very smooth but without air bubbles.
Cover the ganache with plastic wrap, placing the plastic directly on top of the ganache so that it is not exposed to air. Allow the ganache to set at room temperature for at least 4 hours, and preferably overnight to allow the flavors to mingle and fully ripen. When your ganache is firm enough to shape, scoop teaspoonfuls onto a foil, parchment or plastic wrap-lined baking sheet. Place the truffles in the refrigerator to harden for at least an hour.
Put the rolling mixture --cocoa powder, cinnamon, cinnamon and sugar, etc. in a shallow bowl. Coat hands with cocoa powder and roll truffles between hands to round and then roll them in the cocoa-cinnamon mixture in a shallow bowl. Return finished truffles to baking sheet and chill. Store in a single layer in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week. Bring to room temperature before serving to allow flavor and texture to be at their best.
We can even bring those old Aztec flavors together in truffle form. In fact, this recipe was one of the big hits at the CASA meeting. To bring out the best of the orange flavor, I brought the cream, orange zest and cinnamon sticks just to scalding (cream steams and a skin forms on top). I turned off the heat and let the mixture steep for about 90 minutes, then returned the cream just to a boil before pouring it over the chocolate.
When I make this recipe next (and I will make it again) I think I’ll boost that delicious subtle orange flavor with a couple of teaspoons of orange liqueur -- Grand Marnier, Cointreau or Triple Sec
The dark chocolate is flavored with cinnamon and chile, two spices commonly paired with chocolate in Aztec culture. There is also a hint of orange to complement the fruitiness of the dark chocolate. Splurge on the best chocolate you can afford--good chocolate transforms truffles into a truly gourmet experience.
2/3 cup heavy cream
12 ounces best-quality dark chocolate, finely chopped or grated
Zest from one orange
One cinnamon stick
1/3 cup best-quality cocoa powder
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Heat the orange rind and cinnamon stick with the cream in a heavy saucepan; simmer until the cream just starts to boil. Remove from heat, strain out the zest and cinnamon and pour over chopped chocolate in a large bowl.
See method above. Roll the finished truffles in a mixture of cocoa, cinnamon and chile.
What’s Better than Truffles? Tequila Truffles!!
El Tesoro Tequila Truffles
These truffles were developed by a New York City pastry chef who traveled to Arandas, Jalisco, to make her specialty for the 70th anniversary of the Tapito/El Tesoro Tequila distillery on 7/7/07. The truffles with their sea salt bite on the shiny dark chocolate coating to match the deep tequila flavor were served at the end of the sumptuous banquet, along with the Aniversario Tequila (certified aged 7 years) which was artisan created (as are all of the company’s tequilas) by the Camarena family.
She told us that making enough truffles to serve the 500 tequila buffs from around the world attending the dinner was a feat in itself, especially in a small apartment kitchen – in July.
Among the guests of honor at the event were Ajijic’s Marilyn and Bob Denton, tequila experts who had worked with the Camarena family to create the top tequila in the prestigious El Tesoro line – El Paridiso. Others at the two-day event included large groups from San Francisco and from the Jim Beam company and marketing groups, other old tequila producing families – the Orendeins, Cuervos, etc, and aficionados from Greece, Italy, England, Scandinavia, Australia – 20 countries in all.
Tesoro Tequila Ganache
1 cup heavy cream
1 ¼ pound 55% high quality chocolate chips
1/4 cup El Tesoro del Don Carlos Tequila – reposado
Bring cream to a full boil over medium heat. Turn off heat. Add the 1 ¼ pound of chocolate chips and let sit for 3 minutes and then add tequila and whisk slowly to combine a smooth ganache.
Transfer the ganache into a chilled foil covered baking sheet and cover with plastic. Chill ganache for 45 minutes to one hour until ganache is firm. (The original recipe called for ½ cup tequila, my ganache didn’t firm up well. I’ve cut I back to ¼ cup for you.)
Line two more baking sheets with parchment paper. Using a mini ice cream scoop or two spoons, form the ganache into one-inch balls and place on the prepared baking sheets. Chill in refrigerator for about ten minutes.
Tempering the Chocolate
1 pound 55% cocoa high quality chocolate chips, tempered
How the chocolate is tempered (heated and cooled) determines the final gloss and hard coating of the finished chocolate. There are many ways to do it, but the simplest is to place the pound of chocolate in a glass bowl in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time on high power – just until the chocolate is almost completely melted. Be careful not to overheat it. The chocolate should be just slightly warmer than your bottom lip. If there are still a few lumps, don’t worry; the residual heat will melt them.
As the chocolate begins to set on the sides of the bowl, mix it back into the melted chocolate. Repeat this process. To test the chocolate, dip a piece of parchment paper into the chocolate and let it sit on the counter for a few minutes. If chocolate is tempered the chocolate on the test paper will be hardened with a glossy finish. Continue to stir the chocolate every few minutes to keep it in temper.
Coating the balls
Remove balls from the refrigerator. Using one hand, dip the balls into the tempered chocolate. Roll around in your hand; allow the excess chocolate to drip back into the bowl. Roll balls off of hand gently onto the lined baking sheets. While chocolate is still wet, garnish by sprinkling a few grains of sea salt on the top of each truffle. Repeat with all balls. Store truffles in an air tight container, keep cool.
CASA FOLKS: This Tequila recipe is that good example of “do what I say, not what I do.” Remember that I told you I misread this recipe – my ganache was too soft – with good reason, I used twice as much cream! Follow the recipe and they will be perfect!