There is a long history of cherishing chocolate—a food item whose origins can be traced back to the ancient world of the Mayans. In the 1400s, the Aztec ruler Montezuma drank a cocoa elixir in a golden goblet before special occasions. It’s not surprising that the Aztecs so loved their chocolate. They considered cocoa (or cacao) to be a gift from the god Quetzalcoatl, and it was revered as both the food of the gods and a means of currency.
Emperor Montezuma enjoyed a cocoa concoction called xocolatl, a foamy mixture of chocolate, vanilla bean and spices, including chilies, which gave this hot chocolate a little extra heat. He typically sipped it before entering his harem, forging the first (but not last) mythical link between chocolate and other earthly pleasures.
The Spanish began to export the beans back to Europe, but it wasn’t until the 17th century that a chocolate-drinking craze spread through the Spanish court. Spaniards began adding sweeteners to the mix and calling their favourite brew “chocolate.” The addictive treat later made its way to Europe, where it was further refined.
Cocoa trees thrive in the world’s rainforests—the moist heat and shade from other trees help them flourish—and today most commercial cocoa and chocolate is imported from hot-weather areas such as the Ivory Coast and Ghana. (See sidebar on the next page for more.)
While Mexican cocoa beans are not the most coveted, the country can proudly claim itself the birthplace of chocolate. And the tradition of xocolatl is still strong in parts of the country. Mexicans enjoy a mug of cocoa year-round, whether it’s ground up by hand as their ancestors did, or purchased in discs heavily scented with cinnamon and sugar and grated into hot water or milk. The chocolate is whipped to a froth with a carved wooden utensil called a molinillo and served in mugs. Having a layer of foam on hot chocolate is a must, and keep this in mind when serving your homemade hot chocolate mix.
The following recipe isn’t traditional, but it’s delicious and more decadent than your average hot chocolate from a mix. If you want to spice things up, add a teaspoon of ancho chili.
Mexican Homemade Hot Chocolate Mix
The better the chocolate, the better the taste, so buy a decadent and expensive dark-chocolate bar and use that for this homemade hot chocolate mix. In a pinch, good-quality chocolate chips will even do. Adding cinnamon, vanilla bean and a hint of almond gives this homemade hot chocolate mix a complex, heartwarming flavour.
Ingredients (Serves 4)
- 4 cups whole milk
- 1 cinnamon stick, approx. 3 inches long
- ½ vanilla bean pod
- 4 oz chopped bittersweet chocolate
- 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (preferably Dutch-processed)
- 1 tsp ancho chili powder (optional)
- 1/8 tsp almond extract
- Pinch salt
- Place milk and cinnamon stick in a large pot over medium-high heat. Use a sharp knife to open up vanilla bean and scrape out seeds. Place the vanilla bean, pod, and seeds in pot.
- Bring milk just to the boiling point, remove from heat and set aside for 10 minutes to allow milk to infuse.
- Add the chocolate, cocoa powder, chili powder (if using), almond extract and salt, and return to pot on low heat. Whisk mixture until chocolate is melted, cocoa powder is incorporated, and drink is hot (do not bring to a boil).
- Remove cinnamon stick and vanilla bean, and use an immersion blender (or a whisk) to beat mixture until it is topped with a thin layer of froth. Serve immediately.