Mexican hot chocolate is made in scored,
round disks from stone-ground chocolate.
Photo courtesy TazaChocolate.com.
To take the chill off, chef Johnny Gnall explores Mexican hot chocolate. If you’d like him to address specific foods or topics, email Chef Johnny.
There are numerous artisan and gourmet hot chocolate mixes available from American and European producers.
But something old is trending anew: Mexican hot chocolate. I’ve been seeing the flavors of Mexican chocolate in magazines and on menus more and more. Having a ton of family in Mexico, the combination of cinnamon, chiles and chocolate is one I have been quite fond of since childhood.
Particularly nostalgic for me is the gritty, grainy texture of authentic, traditional Mexican chocolate: a result of its minimal processing (and the way the first chocolate bars were produced back in 1847, in England).
Instead of conching into the smooth, silky chocolate we know today, Mexican chocolate is ground with a stone wheel.
DON’T TAKE A BITE!
You wouldn’t want to bite into a disk of authentic Mexican chocolate: It’s too gritty. That’s because its traditional use is to be melted into milk or water to make the drink we commonly call hot chocolate. Mesoamericans have been enjoying the chocolate drink since around 1900 B.C.E.!
This rustic style of chocolate has been updated for modern palates by Taza Chocolate, an artisan chocolatier in Somerville, Massachusetts. Chocolate with an attractive grittiness is available in stone ground chocolate bars as well as discs to be melted into Mexican hot chocolate. Check out the wares at TazaChocolate.com.
If you want to make Mexican hot chocolate at home (it’s called taza de chocolate in Mexico), my brand recommendation is the Mexican-made Ibarra. It tastes exactly like the stuff I drank as a child in Mexico: sugary sweet and comfortingly warm. And it’s the most readily available brand in supermarkets (check the Mexican foods department; you can find it in any Latin American market or online).
MEXICAN HOT CHOCOLATE RECIPE
MEXICAN HOT CHOCOLATE RECIPE
1. GRATE a disc of Mexican chocolate with a cheese grater, microplane or rasp. Set aside. While it’s not essential to grate the chocolate before melting it into the liquid, grated chocolate melts faster and is less likely to burn on the bottom of the sauce pan.
2. ADD optional seasonings and spices, including sweetener, if you’re using unflavored Mexican chocolate: grated almonds and/or chiles and cinnamon powder are traditional, but you can get creative (anise, cardamom and so forth).
3. HEAT the water or milk in a deep saucepan to just below boiling. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk the grated chocolate into the liquid.
4. STIR vigorously to dissolve the chocolate and prevent the chocolate from sticking to the bottom of the pan. (The classic Mexican tool is not a whisk but a molinillo, invented in Spain in the 1500s.)
5. ADD any liquids, from vanilla extract (if disc does not contain vanilla) to bourbon, rum or tequila.
WHIPPING UP A RECIPE WHEN YOU DON’T HAVE MEXICAN CHOCOLATE
You can use regular chocolate. If the chocolate is unsweetened or a very high percentage of cacao (80% or more), you’ll need to add some sweetener.
1. SIMMER a quart of milk in a saucepot.
2. ADD 1 cup of roughly chopped or shaved semisweet chocolate or chocolate chips, whisking to melt and dissolve into the milk.
3. ADD a cinnamon stick, broken in half, and one chile de arbol, also torn in half. Whether or not you use the seeds of the chile is up to you, depending on your spice preference (seeds and inner membranes, not the flesh, contain the majority of heat).
4. STEAM, but not reduce, for 15-30 minutes, then strain to serve.
While the classic flavors are cinnamon and vanilla, modern artisans such as Taza Chocolate make a variety of flavors. Here, orange cinnamon. There’s also a seasonal egg nog chocolate disk. Photo courtesy TazaChocolate.com.
MORE WAYS TO ENJOY MEXICAN CHOCOLATE
Beyond melting into hot chocolate, the combination of earthy cacao, sweet sugar, spicy cinnamon and warm chiles of Mexican chocolate is a flavor profile that works in a myriad of desserts.
I have sampled Mexican chocolate in a pot de crème at a fine restaurant; I have slurped Mexican chocolate popsicles and chomped through countless artisan interpretations of Mexican chocolate bars and chocolate cupcakes.
One of my favorite uses of these exhilarating flavors was in a cinnamon and chocolate lava cake belying a molten chocolate center spiced with fruity chiles. (Yes, chiles/chilies/chillis are a fruit—albeit a very hot and spicy one—the difference between fruits and vegetables.)
There are few dessert applications that won’t be deliciousness with Mexican chocolate. So if you’re a baking enthusiast, try spicing up your next foray into chocolate with a pinch of cinnamon and a chili or two. Remember to be sparing with the cinnamon and taste discerningly: A little can go a long way and you don’t want it to be heavy handed.
The same goes for the chiles. Rich, earthy chocolate is a fantastic background for these more fiery elements, and in the right balance, the taste experience will blow you away.
MORE HOT CHOCOLATE MAGIC