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.
Who 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.
Also 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.
Hot 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 http://www.eatmexico.com.
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.
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.
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 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!!)