Mexico + Chocolate = Aztec Cake and Tequila Truffles

by Judy King 23. January 2011 22:05


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!

melangeurHave 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

codexOne 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

Aztec Truffles

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.

cocoa truffles2/3 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.

saltAs 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!

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Mexico Kitchen - Recipes, Foods & Restaurants

Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

We’re Back … And With Chocolate!

by Judy King 18. January 2011 13:26


We’re been AWOL from this blog now for three months, and after that good bit of R&R, I decided the perfect time to come back is with a set of recipes for using Mexico’s Gift to the World…chocolate.

January 17, I was honored to speak again for a great Lakeside group – the Culinary Association of Ajijic (CASA). Each month these cooks get together to compete in two food categories. Yesterday they were fixing beef dishes and side dishes (and there were some really great entries).

However, my talk was intended to get the members fired up for the February meeting when one of the categories will be Valentine Desserts.

Chocolate’s history goes back far beyond the arrival of the Europeans in what is now Mexico and Central America – cacao trees were growing wild in these southern areas 3500 years ago, or more. They were first planted as a crop by the Olmecs as early as 300-500 BCE. Hernan Cortez shared Moctezuma’s trademark beverage – a cold, frothy, unsweetened mixture of chocolate and chile. Cortez was impressed with the strength the drink imparted – some of this scribes reported that the Aztec king consumed 50-100 cups of the drink a day – especially before he visited one of his dozens of wives – giving chocolate its reputation of being an aphrodisiac.

AbuelitaWho knows – recent scientists have confirmed that consuming chocolate does increase our supply of endorphins – that brain chemical that creates our sense of well being. Women have known for years that while chocolate might not be a worthy substitute for sex, it at least certainly eases hormonal ups and downs and soothes away bad moods.

Of course I took visual aids to the talk – including a variety of types of chocolate and the equipment used to make and prepare chocolate here in Mexico. In the photo above you can see chocolate beans on the metate (the lava stone grinding surface). There are also molinillos – the wooden utensils rapidly rolled between the hands to produce froth on the hot chocolate. A foamy cup of chocolate best releases the flavor and scent of the chocolate, cinnamon and vanilla. If you don’t have a molinillo, try using a chef’s whisk, a stick blender or your kitchen blender – any will do the job – so will pouring the drink back and forth between a pair of cups.

IbarraAlso pictured here are the yellow boxes of two of Mexico’s favorite hot chocolates – Ibarra (a Guadalajara company) and Abuelita (currently celebrating their 70th year). Another favorite is El Rey Amargo. Each brand is sold in bars, round disks (in these distinctive six-sided boxes and now available in powdered form. These “Chocolates para Mesa” have combined the chocolate, sugar, almonds and cinnamon – all you have to do is melt them in hot milk or hot water, bring to a boil and whip until you have a thick froth on top.

For yesterday’s talk I prepared three types of hot chocolate, sugar-free chocolate-macadamia candies, tequila truffles, cinnamon orange truffles with chile and a chocolate cake with chipotle chile. I’ll share the hot chocolate recipes today and return next time with the recipes for the cake and truffles.

Here are the recipes for the hot chocolates served yesterday at CASA – in the order those members found them on the table.

Traditional Hot Chocolate with Chiles

Here’s the favorite hot chocolate of the CASA members. You can (and should) go back to chocolate’s origins and try this drink which combines it with chiles, cinnamon, and vanilla bean. It’s almost how the Aztec shared it with Cortez – except they didn’t sweeten it or heat it!

2 cups boiling water
1 sweet ancho chile, cut in half with seeds removed

5 cups light cream or whole milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 or 3 cinnamon sticks, 6" long
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate or Mexican chocolate, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
Agave syrup, sugar, piloncillo or honey, to taste

Combine the chile and 1/2 cup of chopped piloncillo to the boiling water and continue to boil until there is only about a cup of liquid remaining. Strain and set the liquid aside.

In another heavy pan, heat the cream or milk with the vanilla bean and the cinnamon sticks. Bring almost to a boil and then reduce heat and allow to simmer for a few minutes. Add the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is fully dissolved. Remove from heat and then bring back just to a boil twice more to develop the flavors. Remove the vanilla bean and the cinnamon sticks. Add chile-piloncillo syrup to the desired picante level. Add additional agave syrup, honey, or sugar if desired. Top with cream; sprinkle with chile, grated chocolate or ground cinnamon.

Running a close second was this next hot chocolate. It’s so rich and dark and so simple, that it’s almost like drinking pudding! When One of my favorite movies is Chocolat. Each time I watched it I was fascinated by the really dark, thick rich hot chocolate she dipped and served to the older lady. I was thrilled when I found this recipe, I imagine that it is similar to that from the movie.  And, think about this – if you make it with mostly water, and sweeten it with Splenda, it becomes a wonderfully satisfying low carb treat on cold evenings.

Thick Dark Cocoa a la the movie, Chocolat

Bring out the demitasse cups for 1/3 cup servings of this special treat for the purists among you. Bring out those tiny spoons, too – you can make it almost that thick!  Note to CASA members – this will be thicker when you make it at home…with the extended heating time and serving time, the corn starch thickening broke down a bit at the meeting. It usually is thicker. 

2 1/4 cups nonfat milk (Heavier milk will soften the dark color of the chocolate. I sometimes use water for this.)

1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch

Combine milk, cocoa, sugar and cornstarch in a large saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking often, until steaming. Continue to cook, whisking constantly, until it comes to a boil, then remove from the heat and serve with a dollop of whipped cream and a dusting of cinnamon or pass a cream pitcher to add a swirl to the chocolate.

eatmexicoHot chocolate and pan dulce ( the slightly sweet breads you’ll find at every corner store) are served in many Mexican homes for the early light desayuno (a heavier breakfast is often served at about 10 a.m.) or for a light cena (supper). The favorite pan dulce for dunking in hot chocolate is the concha – named for the shell-like design on the rounded top of the bread.

In the photo at left are two favorite pan dulces. That’s an oreja (sugary ear) at left in the photo and a dome-topped concha (bread with shell design) at right.  The picture from the blog of Texan Leslie Tellez who is reporting her adventures living in Mexico City and most recently her quest to find the perfect concha in the Republic’s capitol city. This is obviously a woman after my own heart. Not only is she a writer, she’s just started offering culinary tours – including street food and tacos -- of Mexico City at

Family-Style Mexican Hot Chocolate

The extra steps and chocolate in this recipe are worth the effort. Some households make their chocolate with just water, others with all milk. Adjust these ingredients to suit your taste.

3-4 servings

1-2 disk Abuelita or Ibarra Chocolate para mesa, coarsely chopped

1 cup water

2 cups milk

Bring the water to a boil in a heavy saucepan. Remove from the heat, add chocolate. Stir or whisk until chocolate is completely melted. Return to the heat, and gradually add milk, whisking or stirring to blend. Cook to a full boil. Remove from heat until the bubbles subside. Then bring to the boil twice more and then reduce the heat and simmer for five minutes.

This process allows the starch in the chocolate disks to cook and swell, thickening the drink. Froth the chocolate by rubbing the molinillo between your palms, using a wire whisk or pulsing in the blender until a rich foam forms.

Another Mexican comfort food is Atole – a ancient corn-based hot drink. These days it’s frequently flavored with vanilla, strawberry, or chocolate. Atole is always served with tamales – in fact, I’ve been warned by Mexican friends to never, ever drink beer or Coca Cola (or other soft drinks) with tamales. “It’s very bad for your stomach, they solemnly vow.” You can buy Atole mixes in grocery stores, but as usual, the best is made from “scratch.”  Try this old favorite when you are in the mood for a sweet, smooth, gentle comfort food, when you are  entertaining young grandchildren, or at a party with other Mexican foods.

Chocolate Atole or Champurrado

Mexican Champurrado is a special family style chocolate drink thickened with masa and flavored with piloncillo and vanilla. It’s often served at family celebrations and with tamales. Great on evenings when you’re feeling peckish and don’t want a heavy meal. Try adding ¼ teaspoon aniseed with the cinnamon stick (or top off mug with a dollop of anise liqueur). Note: Masa Harina is the dry mix for making corn tortillas at home. You’ll find it in a white bag with green lettering in grocery stores. An alternative method would be to buy a small amount of masa (tortilla dough) from any of the local tortilla “factories”.  At home combine about 1/4 – 1/3 cup of the dough with 1 cup of the recipe’s cold water in the blender and blend until smooth, then combine with the rest of the water.

4 Servings

1/3 cup masa harina

4 cups cold water
2 disks Mexican chocolate
1 stick cinnamon

3 tablespoons piloncillo, chopped

½ teaspoon vanilla

Dissolve the masa harina in the cold water in a heavy medium saucepan. Add cinnamon stick and aniseed (if desired). Cook over medium heat until it is the consistency of heavy cream.

Strain mixture into a larger pan and add remaining ingredients and bring the mixture to a simmer, whisking constantly with a molinillo or whisk until the chocolate and sugar are melted and well-blended. Serve in hot mugs.

Here are a pair of other hot chocolate recipes for you to try. Remember that chocolate, in addition to being wonderfully satisfying is full of great antioxidants. Is there a better way to feel good about your health than with a

Super Simple, Healthy Hot Cocoa
The secret to this easy recipe? Heat it slowly. Slow heat helps release the antioxidants.
Use a high quality 70% cocoa powder – maybe Scharffen Berger or Ghiradelli

1 1/2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons sugar

Pinch of salt

1 cup skim or low-fat milk

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and heat gently (do not let it boil), stirring frequently, until cocoa is just beginning to steam. Pour into a mug and enjoy.

healthy hot chocolate drink? Here’s a recipe for a single serving – and it’s easy enough to make any time.

Here is just one more. I couldn’t resist adding this recipe – after all Valentine’s Day is coming soon and this recipe harkens back nearly 500 years to the legends of Moctezuma’s chocolate habit being part of the cause of the legend that he fathered 1,000 children with his 100 wives. We’re hoping one wife will be enough for the men among you gentle readers, and while we wouldn’t presume that anyone we know would have use for an aphrodisiac, this hot chocolate includes our favorite blend of spices.

Super Simple Aphrodisiac Hot Chocolate

The comforting aroma of this drink will awaken your senses, soothe your stress, and warm your heart. It’s just what the love doctor ordered.

2 Servings

2 cups light cream

½ to ¾ cup semisweet chocolate chips (best quality available)

2 whole cloves, 5-6 whole cardamom pods, 1 cinnamon stick,

A pinch each -- ground red chile (cayenne) and ground ginger

½ teaspoon vanilla

Heat cream and spices to a boil in a small saucepan. Add chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Add vanilla and strain into mugs. Top with whipped cream.

Wow, this array of hot chocolate is enough to make those of us living in Mexico welcome another few chilly evenings. We know those of you north of the border will enjoy the warmth and comfort of these simple drinks.

We’ll be back in a few days (I promise!) with the rest of the recipes from the CASA demonstration and tastings.

Until then, let’s lift our chocolate mugs in a traditional Mexican toast – Salud Dinero y Amor!! (Health, Money and Love!!)


Judy King is publisher of Mexico Insights—Living at Lake Chapala, a monthly online magazine for people interested in Mexico's Lake Chapala region, in the state of Jalisco.

Judy, a 19-year resident of Ajijic on Lake Chapala's north shore, conducts weekly newcomer's seminars and shares her expertise about Mexico in her ezine at, and in the "Mexico Lindo" column of the Lake Chapala Review.

Judy also is a speaker for local organizations and visiting tour groups about the Lakeside area about Mexican customs and holidays.

About Judy King

Judy King

Hi There — Welcome to my little corner of the world. I'm Judy King and I live in the centuries-old village of Ajijic on the north shore of Lake Chapala, Mexico's largest natural lake.

I've lived here full time since 1990, and... [ more ]

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