In-depth guide to Mexican chocolate
Aug 6, 2014
It's no secret that chocolate is one of the oldest and most widely loved confections across the world. Mexican chocolate, however, has a special place in the culinary realm. One bite and it's clear there is something truly unique about it - but it's also remarkably versatile for cooking and baking.
So what makes this sweet treat so palate pleasing? And how can you use it?
Here's everything you need to know about Mexican chocolate.
What is Mexican chocolate?
This dark, subtly bitter chocolate can be found in a variety of forms, from disks and bars to powders and syrup. The taste is a specific blend of savory and spicy with a touch of sweetness that's not cloying or overpowering. Most varieties contain spices, like cinnamon, and nutmeg, and some contain nuts or chilies. The original Mexican chocolate had more of a sour taste.
As Gourmet Sleuth explained, Theobroma, which translates to "food of the gods," is the name for the plant that produces cacao beans - and the name could not be more fitting considering the significant role that chocolate plays in Mexican culture. According to Ixtapa Grill & Cantina, evidence suggests that the origins of Mexican chocolate can be traced back to the Mesoamericans. The native Aztecs later made sweet beverages with spices, honey, nuts and seeds. Typically, priests and nobleman would sip these concoctions during important rituals. Spanish explorers, captivated by the delicious treat, then brought it to Europe. It then became a trendy drink among the upper crust and eventually, the Kings' Official Drink in New Spain.
How do you make it?
Though Mexican chocolate can vary slightly in ingredients and flavor, all types are essentially made the same way. Hugo and Ruben Ortega of Hugo's restaurant in Houston, Texas relayed their go-to recipe to Saveur, which makes hard tablets that are perfect for mole poblano or hot chocolate.
To start, heat a 11-inch cast iron skillet over high heat. Lower the heat to medium and add 6 cups cacao beans to the skillet in two batches. Cook the beans, stirring continuously, for about 10 minutes or until they begin to pop. Then remove the skillet from heat and transfer the beans to a bowl, setting them aside to cool. Pass the toasted cacao beans through a manual grinder onto a clean surface several times, or until they become a smooth paste. Next, transfer the grinded cacaos to a bowl and add 2 pounds granulated sugar, 2 tablespoons Mexican cinnamon and 2 tablespoons pure Mexican vanilla extract. Mix the ingredients well, using your hands, until they are well combined and have a crumbly texture. Then pass this mixture through the grinder again.
Scoop 1 cup of the chocolate mixture into a 4-inch by 1-inch ring mold, packing it with your fingers. Continue adding more of the mixture until the surface is even. Using a sharp knife, make a 3/4-inch deep incision across the surface of the tablet, remove the mold and let the tablet cool and harden. Wrap the tablets individually in parchment paper and store in an airtight container.
What is it used for?
Some people eat Mexican chocolate straight, enjoying its intense and complex taste.
One of the most common uses for this confection, though, is to make hot chocolate, which many people will dunk their churros into. Gourmet Sleuth noted that other beverages contain Mexican chocolate as well, like Atole, which is usually served with tamales, and Chamurrado, which is often paired with churros. Tejate is a cold Oaxaca specialty that blends Mexican chocolate, cocoa flowers and corn masa for a frothy and refreshing drink. However, there are also traces of Mexican chocolate in traditional sauces, like mole, which contains chilies, garlic, nuts, tomatoes and other spices and is typically served with poultry.
Mexican chocolate is also incorporated into puddings, flans, cakes and other desserts.