Did you know there are chocolate holidays? May 15 is National Chocolate Chip Day, December 16 – National Chocolate Covered Anything Day (I like this one) and February is Chocolate Month. I am a bit of a chocoholic, so one or two recipes with this featured ingredient won’t cut it. Over the next few weeks, you’ll get several sweet and savory chocolate dishes – just in time for the ultimate of chocolate holidays – Valentine’s Day.
First up is Mexican hot chocolate. It journeys back thousands of years to the Mayas, Aztecs and other Central American Indians. In pre-conquest MesoAmerica, cacao trees were cultivated for many purposes, such as currency, ceremonial, and culinary use. Nobles and warriors drank cacahuatl, a bitter, frothy beverage made from ground cacao seeds, water, vanilla and chile.
Then, upon the arrival of the Spanish, cacao beans were used to make chocalatl, the precursor to today’s sweet hot chocolate. Cacao beans were ground with sugar and other spices such as cinnamon, cloves, anise, and almonds to create a paste that was hardened into tablets. The tablets were then mixed with hot water and corn broth, and made frothy. This sweet version, when taken back to Spain, grew in popularity and eventually spread throughout Europe.
Today, Mexican children often drink hot chocolate with breakfast and they’ve even got a little ditty called Chocolate that they sing as their chocolate is being prepared and frothed.
A brew of Mexican hot chocolate is very simple to make using the Mexican chocolate available in many American grocery stores. The chocolate comes in hard disks and is made of cacao nibs, sugar and cinnamon. It is course and gritty before it is melted, rather than smooth like American bars, baking chocolates or chocolate chips. It can be found in the ethnic food section. I prefer the Ibarra brand, but Abuelita is a good substitute.
I grew up drinking Mexican hot chocolate and, for me, nothing can compare to a taza (cup) of the slightly bitter, cinnamon, chocolate treat.
Bate, bate chocolate!
Tidbits on Chocolate:
- The Mayas and Aztecs made their cacao drinks frothy by repeatedly pouring the liquid from high, back and forth between vessels. Then, the Spanish modeled a molinillo after indigenous whisks to make their chocalatl frothy. Molinillos are available in most Mexican markets and online (see images below).
- Some lore indicates that cacao has aphrodisiac effects and that Motecuhzoma Xocoyotzin (“Montezuma”) drank fifty mugs of chocolate a day, especially before entering his harem.
Mexican Hot Chocolate
This recipe should be used as a guide as you develop proportions to suit your taste. I like my hot chocolate with a lot of canela (cinnamon). If you’re not big on cinnamon or want to simplify your hot chocolate, skip Step 1. If you don’t have a molinillo, you can also use a hand whisk, an electric milk frother or use a blender (caution if using a blender; blend in small batches to avoid the lid shooting off; learn more about blending hot liquids).
In the rare event that you have leftovers, refrigerate and reheat.
1 cup water
1 stick cinnamon
5 cups milk
2 (3 oz) disks Mexican chocolate (Ibarra), rough chopped small
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 tablespoon cocoa powder, optional
2 – 3 dashes cayenne powder, optional
Whipped cream, garnish
Ground cinnamon, garnish
- In a medium saucepan over high heat, bring water and cinnamon stick to boil; continue to boil until liquid turns brown and reduces to about 1/2 cup. Meanwhile, rough chop chocolate, smaller pieces melt faster.
- Reduce heat to medium, add milk and heat. When milk is on the brink of boiling, add the chopped chocolate and use the molinillo or wooden spoon to stir and break up large pieces of chocolate until it is melted. Add vanilla and taste. Add optional ingredients – coco for a deeper chocolate taste and cayenne a dash at a time, for a spicy bite.
- Remove the cinnamon stick. Use the molinillo to make frothy. Serve hot alone or topped with whipped cream, a sprinkle of ground cinnamon or cayenne.
Milk: Soymilk, almond milk
Quantity: To make a smaller/larger quantity, use about 3 wedges per 1 cup milk.