*Or, The Only Type of Chocolate I Can Effortlessly Resist
[I’ve decided to offer a mini-post every once in a while, for a dish that comes together incredibly quickly, or else is so easy to make that no recipe is required. Here’s today’s “Flash in the Pan.”]
It seems a bit misleading to even post this recipe, since the major ingredient (chocolate) came to me straight from Ecuador (via a friend who’s in town)–which means there’s not much chance too many of you can reproduce this exactly as presented. Still, if you have access to similar types of chocolate (such as a good quality 70% cocoa bar, or these little nuggets that I’ve been getting from my friend PR Queen), I’m sure you’ll whip up something pretty darn close.
I’ve probably mentioned before that I maintain contact with a group of four women from my nutrition school days (we were study-buddies). Every few months, we get together for a healthy meal and round of animated chat (I sometimes think of us as a latter day Sex and the City gang–except in our case, it’s more like Tex-Mex and the City). A few months ago, we met for a pot luck dinner at my place; today was lunch at a favorite Thai restaurant.
Well, about six months ago, one of our gang, M.E., up and moved to Ecuador. Since she was born and raised there, this was more a quest for self-actualization than the peregrinations of an adventurous tourist. She, her husband and children, have all adjusted well to life in the eternally-warm zone (as she mentioned today, “winter” means the day is less than entirely sunny), but returned for a couple of weeks to visit. Lucky for us!
Across the table, she doled out gifts of food to each of us; I was the lucky recipient of pure Ecuadorian chocolate, made from toasted, ground cacao beans, both grown and dried locally (in bins along the roadside, where they dehydrate under the sunshine, M.E. informed us), shaped into large flat disks and sold in bags of 250 g. each.
Ever since I first read the book Like Water For Chocolate , I’ve wondered what authentic Mexican hot chocolate would taste like, as opposed to, say, warm milk with Nestle Quik (my childhood version of the drink) or cocoa powder, agave syrup and hot soymilk (what I make for the HH when he requests same).
I myself have never been a huge fan of hot chocolate except in theory: it seems the perfect beverage to sip on while curled up beside a crackling fireplace, reading Little Women as you absently pat your dog’s silken ears; or perhaps a libation after you’ve shoveled the walkway, cheeks flushed and pulsing crimson, once you peel away layer after layer of woolies and finally collapse with your mug into a plush, waiting armchair.
But reality and theory don’t always mesh; so when I received this very generous gift, my first thought was, “what can I bake with it?” Then I remembered Esquivel’s book and immediately wanted to make it according to her recipe. Nothing could be less complicated: simply boil water, add chocolate and sugar (if necessary), mix vigorously, and top up with milk of your choice. My version, of course, would employ a sugar substitute but be otherwise identical to the authentic Mexican version. And now I had the perfect chocolate with which to try it!
Since the package was covered entirely in Spanish, I asked M.E. to translate. The ingredients read: “cacao, dried and ground.” The disks appeared stippled and slightly marbled where the natural fats had likely heated and then cooled; I knew the quality and flavor wouldn’t be affected by this. I gingerly broke a tiny piece from one of the disks and laid it on my tongue; it softened and melted almost immediately, with a subtle sweetness, intense cocoa flavor and slightly sour aftertaste.
M.E. regularly whips up hot chocolate for her kids as an after-school treat, and provided simple instructions for me to follow. So I boiled, melted, and stirred, topping up the mug with a dollop of my own whipped “cream” (I haven’t forgotten, either, that I promised this recipe; I’m still working out the kinks in it–see below), and took a sip.
Perhaps it’s because I long for the season of hot chocolate to finally end; perhaps it’s that I just can’t get used to drinking my chocolate rather than eating it. Even though I did enjoy the drink, I must confess that it didn’t tempt me the same way a dense chocolate brownie or a mint chocolate chip cookie might. Well, that’s a good thing. The HH, on the other hand, was smitten, and slurped up the rest of the mugful post haste. Luckily, I was able to heat up another cup in no time.
Ecuadorian Hot Chocolate
This is an old-fashioned method to make a good cup of hot chocolate. If you’ve never tried it this way, the richness and intensity of the flavor will be a pleasant surprise.
1/2 cup water
about 1-1/2 ounces (40 g.) good quality bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
about 1/2 cup warm soymilk, rice milk or almond milk
Pour the water into a small pot and bring to a boil. Turn off the heat, and break the chocolate into the pot. Stir to melt the chocolate. When the chocolate is melted, add the milk and whisk to blend well. Pour into a mug and enjoy immediately.
[NOTE: As I mentioned, I’m still working on the whipped “cream” recipe. It’s a fussy recipe that isn’t quite perfected yet. I’m hoping to have someone else try it out to compare results and see if I can diminish any variation. If you’re interested in this culinary challenge, please let me know.]
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