Mexican Hot Chocolate and a Molinillo
A few years back, some friends showed up at my house with Mexican chocolate blocks, ancho chilies, vanilla paste and a molinillo, and my conception of hot chocolate has never been the same.
Ibarra chocolate blocks, available online or at Mexican grocers, form the base of the drink but the real charm comes from the chilies. The concept harks back to the Aztecs, who considered chocolate a gift from the gods and drank cold, bitter mixtures of cocoa and chilis. Emperor Montezuma – my kind of chocolate lover – drank his in golden goblets that were thrown away after a single use.
It wasn’t until the Spanish arrived on the scene that the drink became sweet and hot, and all the rage in Europe. Somewhere around that time the molinillo came into being, a wooden Mexican whisk designed for the sole purpose of frothing hot chocolate. Held between two hands and spun back and forth, it creates a thick froth for the rich, spicy cup of chocolate.
Mexican Hot Chocolate
Makes 2 cups
2 cups whole milk
6 sections Ibarra chocolate blocks
1/2 vanilla fresh bean (optional, but so delicious*)
1/4 tsp. ground chili (preferably ancho chili; do not substitute chili powder**)
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of salt
whipped cream to top
With a sharp knife, gently slice vanilla bean from end to end, using the tip of the knife to scoop out the beans.
In a small saucepan, warm milk, chocolate, vanilla, chili, cinnamon and salt over medium-low heat until chocolate is dissolved.
Froth with a molinillo (or a hand blender) until a thick foam appears. Top with whipped cream and sprinkle with ground chili. Serve hot.
* Since vanilla beans are expensive, you can substitute extract, but using the real thing gives the drink an added richness and depth.
**Chili powder sold in the U.S. typically has other spices mixed in. Make sure to add pure chili. Another option is to grind your own, and strain out the pieces before serving.