Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. -Mark Twain

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Mexican Chocolate Decadence. Get Some.

"The divine drink which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink permits man to walk for a whole day without food." - Hernando Cortés (1519)

Who am I to argue with Hernando Cortés?

Puerto Penasco is famous for its fresh fish and shrimp, and for the cheap tacos available at the ubiquitous street taquerias throughout town. Aside from the seafood, there are many fine (and not so fine) restaurants serving a variety of national and international dishes as well. Even (OMG) a Burger King! I'll save the restaurant reviews for another time, though, because today I'm in the mood for some Mexican chocolate. I mean hot chocolate, of course, the intensely decadent frothy drink you will never find in the average gringo household. I could get a cup (or two) at any small local restaurant, but on a chilly morning it's sometimes more comforting to make it at home and savor it at leisure. And it makes the house smell good, too.

If the only hot chocolate you know is the kind that comes in little packets with tiny dried up marshmallows ("just add hot water"-- bleh), then you have never had REAL hot chocolate. You don't know what you've been missing, poor thing. Let me help to rectify that sad situation.

Mexican ChocolateFirst you need to know that there's a difference between hot cocoa and hot chocolate. Cocoa is chocolate with all the cocoa butter pressed out of it. Chocolate is the chocolate solids with the cocoa butter still in it. You can make perfectly acceptable hot cocoa using something like Nestle's Cocoa Powder, but it's just not the same as hot CHOCOLATE-- and certainly not the same as using Mexican chocolate.

Mexican Chocolate is flavored with cinnamon, sugar, and cacao nibs. It’s gritty and somewhat coarse with an intense flavor and is usually pressed into 3-oz tablets which are individually wrapped and packed in bright hexagonal boxes. It is not particularly good for nibbling. The two main brands, which are easily found in most supermercados throughout Mexico (and many in the USA, too) are Ibarra and Nestle-Abuelita. Abuelita is Spanish for "little grandmother" and the picture on the container is "Mexico's abuelita" Sara Garcia, a beloved actress from the golden age of Mexican cinema in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

If you intend to make this treat with any regularity, you might also want to invest in a molinillo [moh-lee-NEE-oh], a small carved wooden "whisk" or "stirrer" made especially for whipping chocolate and other drinks into a froth. Your hot chocolate MUST have a good froth on it; Mexicans believe the spirit of the drink is in the foam, and I agree. The molinillo is used by holding the handle between the palms of your hands and and revolving it with quick back and forth motions of your hands. You can froth it up with a whisk or fork if you have to, but why not get the whole Mexican experience?

In many Mexican homes hot chocolate is made simply by tossing the chocolate into hot water or milk on top of the stove and letting it melt. Sugar may or may not be added. But the recipe below is for the real deal, the full Monty as it were. This recipe makes 6 servings.

Mexican Hot Chocolate
  • 6 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 ounces (1 tablet) Mexican chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (sea salt is best)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • Stick cinnamon (optional)
In a large saucepan, combine milk, sugar, chocolate, ground cinnamon, and salt. Heat, stirring constantly, until the chocolate has melted and the milk is very hot. (Do NOT let the milk come to a boil!)

In a small mixing bowl, beat 2 eggs until foamy. Slowly stir one cup of the hot mixture into the eggs (this is to keep the hot mixture from cooking the eggs), then carefully return this mixture to the saucepan. Cook 2 to 3 minutes more over low heat, still stirring, DO NOT BOIL.

Remove from heat. Add vanilla. Beat with a molinillo or a rotary beater until it is very frothy. Pour into mugs, garnish with cinnamon sticks, and serve.

You may never buy instant hot cocoa again once you've tasted this. And that would be a GOOD thing!

Buen Provecho!

-La Huerita

Awaken your inner beachbum