February 25, 2010 10:55 PM
Ancient Ways for Comfort on Cold Days: Mexican Hot Chocolate

Story goes, that for centuries, a woman could find a mate in many Mexican regions if she was able to make a good and considerable amount of foam when making hot chocolate. Otherwise, suitors would not turn their heads to her direction regardless of any other virtue. What's more, it was the mother of the groom to be, who judged how good the foam was.

Thankfully, my mother in law (who loves to dip Conchas into hot chocolate) didn't abide by that tradition or I wouldn't have gotten married. When I met my husband, the best I could whip up were some decent scrambled eggs and an extremely sweet limeade. Forget about a worthy, frothy, delicate, silky foam to top a rich tasting chocolate. 

But it turns out that producing an admirable chocolate foam may be a sign of things to come: it may show how hardworking, dedicated, focused, energetic and skilled a person can be. Not only do you have to break a sweat, but also develop an effective technique and then there is also the matter of style...  

No easy feat: Think capucchino foam, with no machine. Using an ancient tool passed down through generations just for this purpose always helped, and does to this day.

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The molinillo is made from a single piece of wood, with moving rings, shapes and indentations carved into its different parts, a sturdy bottom base to rest on a pot, a soft round handle for an easy rubbing of the hands, plus gorgeous decorations. All with the aim of being able to make the best quality, and most amount, of foam.

A whisk is not the same. But if you don't have a molinillo, you can substitute. Just use it as you would a molinillo, with a vertical tilt and rub it between your hands as if you were trying to warm them up. Photos are sometimes better than words...

You have to beat like mad.

Crazy, really.

Ancient Ways for Comfort on Cold Days 7b.jpgLeaving the foam aside, what matters most is the flavor of Mexican chocolate. Which I want to get to fast, because it is about to snow again, it is cold, and there are few things that are as comforting, filling and soothing as a Mexican hot chocolate. 

Mexican style chocolate bars are made with toasted cacao beans ground with white sugar, almonds, cinnamon, and sometimes vanilla. There are other variations, but I think this is the basic one. In Mexico, there are molinos, or mills, that are dedicated to doing only this and they smell like chocolaty heaven.

If you find Mexican chocolate bars already prepared, like the authentic Oaxacan chocolate of El Mayordomo (though there is an increasing number of new makers) or more easily available  and tasty ones like Chocolate Abuelita or Ibarra, you only need to add it to milk or water, heat it, mix it, and if you want some foam, work out a little.   

Ancient Ways for Comfort on Cold Days 3.jpgIf you can't find them, here is how you can get the same rich result. 

Grab a couple ounces bittersweet chocolate of good quality, a small piece of True cinnamon, white sugar and almond meal...

Ancient Ways for Comfort on Cold Days 4.jpgAlmond meal is the already finely ground almonds. But you can also finely grind your own. Trader Joe's has an excellent one, which as the label says, its good for baking & breading and I guess they can also add For Mexican Style Hot Chocolate too...

Ancient Ways for Comfort on Cold Days 6.jpgPlace those ingredients in a sauce pan and add milk, which is my preference, or water or a combination of both, and some vanilla extract. 

Ancient Ways for Comfort on Cold Days 5.jpgSet the pan over medium heat, and once the chocolate dissolves remove from the heat. Beat the chocolate with a molinillo or a whisk, I really recommend that part.

In Mexico there are tall pots made specially for beating the chocolate, called chocolateros, but any sauce pan will do...

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Forget about being worthy of a mate.... The satisfaction of drinking that hot, thick, creamy and tasty chocolate, at the same time as the frothy, cloudy and delicate foam touches your lips, is worth the while.

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Serves 2

2 cups milk and/or water
4 oz bittersweet chocolate of good quality
1 True cinnamon stick of about 2 inches
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons almond meal, or finely ground almonds
4 tablespoons sugar, more or less to taste

In a saucepan add the milk or water with the rest of the ingredients. Set over medium heat until the chocolate has completely dissolved and the liquid is simmering.

Remove the pan from heat, and if you so are inclined, beat with a whisk or molinillo, until the hot chocolate has a thick layer of foam on top. Serve while very hot.