Aztec Gold

by Jeanne

Choc

One of Mexico’s gifts to the world is chocolate.

Today Mexican chocolate is made from dark, bitter chocolate mixed with sugar, cinnamon, and sometimes nuts. The end result of cooking with this type of chocolate is a “grainy” less smooth product.

The Aztec people made a wide range of drinks from chocolate combining it with honey, nuts, seeds, and spices. Chocolate was so valued it was used by the Aztecs as both a food and currency.

During the Day of the Dead festival many a soul of the living is warmed during the long nights in the cemetery with a cup of chocolate. There are many variations to the drinking of chocolate in Mexico.

Atole (ah-toh-lay) is a warm, thick drink made dense with masa or more commonly today cornmeal. It is usually served with tamales. The chocolate-flavored version of this drink is called champurrado. This drink is a bit like hot chocolate but thickened with masa and flavored with piloncillo and aniseeds. The consistency of this pre-Hispanic beverage is similar to porridge. It is also served as a dessert with churros or with pan de muertos. The drinks are whipped together using a wooden whisk called a molinillo (moh-lin-nyee-oh) although a blender will do. Agua de chocolateis Mexican hot chocolate that is made by frothing together warmed milk or water with a disk of cinnamon-laced chocolate.

Tejate is a pre-Hispanic Oaxacan specialty. Said to have been drunk by Zapotec kings it is refreshing, invigorating, aphrodisiacal, and medicinal; it is a cold drink made of dark chocolate, toasted corn, cacao, cinnamon, and the seeds and the pit of a fruit called mamey. It is surprisingly tasty.

Most of us like chocolate cake. This recipe from Rosa Mexicano, home to great fresh-pomegranate margaritas is a Mexican twist on chocolate cake.

Photo credit: Freshly ground chocolate on the metate, Oaxaca. {JBrophy (me)}

BOCA NEGRA CHOCOLATE CHIPOTLE CAKES
Rosa Mexicano, New York, NY
Gourmet Magazine, March 2004

1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus additional for greasing ramekins
1 cup sugar plus additional for dusting
6 medium dried chipotle chiles* (1 oz)
6 tablespoons fresh orange juice
10 oz Valrhona semisweet chocolate (56%) or fine-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
4 large eggs
4 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt

Special equipment: 8 (4-oz) ramekins

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325°F. Butter ramekins and dust with sugar, knocking out excess.

Toast chiles in a dry heavy skillet over moderate heat, turning, until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Discard stems, seeds, and ribs, then soak chiles in hot water to cover until softened, about 30 minutes. Drain, reserving soaking liquid. Purée chiles in a mini food processor or a blender, adding 2 to 3 tablespoons soaking liquid as needed to form a paste. Force paste through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and discard solids. Set aside 1 1/2 tablespoons chile paste and freeze remainder for another use.

Bring juice and 1 cup sugar to a boil in a 1- to 1 1/2-quart saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Pour hot syrup over chocolate in a large bowl, stirring until chocolate is melted. Add butter and stir until melted.

Add eggs 1 at a time, whisking after each addition, then stir in chile paste, flour, and salt. Divide among ramekins and bake in a hot water bath, uncovered, until just firm and top is starting to crust, 50 to 60 minutes. Transfer ramekins with tongs to a work surface and let stand 2 minutes.

Unmold warm cakes directly onto dessert plates otherwise they will be a challenge to remove when cooler. Note–the cakes can be made and unmolded (while hot) up to 2 hours ahead and kept at room temperature, uncovered.

Serves 8

SWEET TOMATILLO SAUCE

1/2 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
1/2 lb small fresh tomatillos, husked, rinsed, and coarsely chopped
1/4 lb piloncillo* (unrefined brown sugar; sometimes called panela*), coarsely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
1 (1-inch) piece cinnamon stick

Makes about 1 cup. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into a 1 1/2- to 2-quart heavy saucepan with tip of a paring knife, then add pod and remaining ingredients and simmer, uncovered, over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until tomatillos are very tender, about 15 minutes.

Discard cinnamon stick and vanilla pod, then purée tomatillo mixture in a blender until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids). Cool completely, then chill, covered, until cold.

Cooks’ note:
Sauce can be chilled, covered, up to 1 week.

VANILLA CUSTARD SAUCE

1/2 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
2 cups half-and-half
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar

Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into a 2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan with tip of a paring knife, then add pod and half-and-half and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat.

Whisk together eggs and sugar in a bowl until well combined, then add hot half-and-half mixture in a slow stream, whisking constantly. Transfer custard to saucepan and cook over moderately low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until thickened and custard registers 175°F on thermometer, 5 to 10 minutes (do not let boil).

Pour custard through a fine-mesh sieve into a metal bowl, discarding solids. Set bowl in a larger bowl of ice and cold water and stir custard until cool. Chill in refrigerator, covered, until cold, at least 1 hour.

Note: Custard sauce can be chilled, covered, up to 2 days. Makes 2 cups.

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