The Cacao tree was first cultivated in Mexico and Central America by the Aztecs, Incas and Mayans. Cortez brought back to Spain the xocoatl (chocolatl) drink that was the favorite of the Emperor of Mexico, Montezuma (always good to know that history has a sense of humor). I decided to recreate the first known recipe for hot chocolate in honor of Valentines Day.
And, to be kind, it was a small disaster.
I had collected the proper ingredients: Askinosie cacao nibs, a vanilla bean, chili powder, hazelnuts, almonds, rose petals and sugar. (A cheesy aside, annatto seeds are used often to create the orange color in cheddar.)
My first mistake was not owning an electric spice mill. I tried to feel domestic and historically accurate as I ground the nibs, but after 20 minutes I couldn’t care less about Mayan verisimilitude. Eventually the nibs did transform into a flaky light brown dry paste but the annatto seeds defeated my manual grinding patience so I removed them from the recipe.
After mixing the remaining ingredients I rapidly whisked the mixture as I added hot water.
The flavor was complex and unique. I could taste the vanilla bean I had scraped out of the pods, the bite of the chili, the dark sparkle of the cacao, the nutty meatiness of the nuts, the delicate floral blush of the rose petals. I could taste all of that as long as I continued to stir the mixture continuously as I brought it up to my mouth. If I did not stir, everything separated, and I would drink a mouthful of anorexic water.
Between my Luddite grinding choices and the separation desires of the final mixture - I don’t think I am going to try this experiment again - at least not before I purchase an electric spice mill.
Before my curiosity was completely sated, I did make a recipe from a premixed block of “drinking chocolateâ€ from Kakawa Chocolate House (according to their Web site: they are the specialists in Hand-Crafted Historic European and Mesoamerican Aztec Drinking Chocolate). I tried their “1692 French Chocolate Elixir,â€ which includes cloves, cinnamon, vanilla and musk essential oils. I grated off a portion of the block and added the shavings into hot water. Equally unique, equally complex, and the mixture did not separate in the water.
I know what I will use next time.
Here is the link to the annarbor.com article!