Posts Tagged ‘cacao’

Chocolate: Red Velvet Cacao Nib Cupcakes

Friday, February 12th, 2010

Red Velvet Cupcake with Cacao

Red velvet cake is a Southern classic. It is neither a traditional vanilla cake nor chocolate cake. Yet, cocoa powder is an essential ingredient and the reason why it’s included with my chocolate recipes. That and it’s perfectly gorgeous for Valentine’s Day.

As the name suggests, the cake has a velvety tender texture that is moist and brilliantly red with a subtle chocolate tone. When topped generously with a cream cheese frosting, it makes for a striking contrast.

Instead of a full-on cake, I made cupcakes. They are less formal than a three-layered cake and perfect for sharing with family and friends. Cupcakes were also conducive to cacao nibs – my twist for oomphing up the chocolate factor. It’s not completely traditional but it’s fun.

As for the origins of red velvet cake, the exact history is a bit head-spinning but alluring for foodiephiles . . . Some researchers believe the pinkish-hued chemical reaction that occurs when cocoa powder is mixed with vinegar and/or buttermilk made a precursor cake that was eventually augmented with food coloring. Other researchers point to the rations of World War II, when beets were used to brighten the color of cakes. And, there’s even some food lore involving the Waldorf Astoria and a woman in the 1920s who was billed an exhorbitant amount when she requested their recipe. Apparently, furious, she copied the recipe and distributed it generously. And, still others suggest the cake’s origins are in Canada tied to Eaton’s department store.

Despite all that, I was first introduced to red velvet cake by my husband’s Aunt Gloria. What I remember most about her cake was how lovely it looked sliced and the hint of chocolate and tangy frosting with each bite. She’d make her cake, freeze it and bring it on the plane to Colorado. Now, that’s love. The recipe below is adapted from Aunt Gloria’s family recipe.

Show love this Valentine’s Day . . . Eat chocolate in its many forms.

Tidbits on Chocolate:

  1. Chocolate has an American annual per capita consumption of around 14 pounds per person.
  2. Although not true legumes, cacao seeds are frequently called “beans.”
  3. Typically in the United States, “cacao” is used to refer to the tree and its dried seeds prior to further processing.  “Cocoa” refers to the partially defatted, roasted, and ground cacao seeds. “Chocolate” is generally used to refer to a food prepared from roasted cacao seeds. “Cacao nibs” are unsweetened raw pieces of cacao beans, they are crunchy bits that taste slightly nutty with notes of bitter chocolate.


Chocolate: Mexican Hot Chocolate

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

A Cup of Mexican Hot

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.

Spanish Children's Rhyme - Chocolate

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.