Thursday, November 24, 2011

Recipe: Mexican Chocolate Syrup

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt. – Charles M. Schulz

Cocoa beans in a farmer's hand. Photo: Nestlé, Flickr ccl
I guess by definition, all chocolate syrup is somewhat Mexican – or should one say Mesoamerican – because that is where the cacao bean first became part of the human diet. 

Olmec head. Photo: quite peculiar, Flickr ccl
As early at 1500 BCE the Olmecs were growing cacao. This continued under the Mayans and Aztecs, who both developed drinks from the beans. Christopher Columbus brought the unusual crop back to the court of Ferdinand and Isabelle and chocolate drinks became all the rage in 1590s Spain.

It wasn’t until over 150 years later that the first chocolate house opened in London. Called the The Coffee Mill and Tobacco Roll, it served a drink that (because of cacao’s price) could only be enjoyed by wealthy. It didn't take long for find its way into baked goods due to its growing desirability.

To become widely available at lower cost, more effective methods of production had to be discovered. Many names we still associate with chocolate now step into the history books.

Joseph Fry of England invented a steam engine to grind cocoa beans on a larger scale. Fry & Sons also claim the invention of the first chocolate “bar” in 1866 although it was a far cry from what we purchase as a chocolate bar today. Cadbury's still makes a variation.

“Dutch processed” chocolate came into being through the invention of a hydraulic press by Conrad J. van Houten from the Netherlands.

John Cadbury, a British Quaker, opened a drinking chocolate and cocoa factory in 1831. Cadbury's is often cited as the first company to promote chocolate as a Valentine's Day gift.

Daniel Peters of Switzerland produced the first “milk chocolate” bar in 1875, using stable powdered milk that had been invented by Henri Nestlé. Peter's Chocolate is still in existence today and Nestlé is now a multinational company.

Rudolphe Lindt invented the process of "conching," where chocolate is heated and ground to ensure better distribution and blending with other ingredients. Conching has since been used by other companies to create lesser quality chocolate (but certainly not by Lindt).

Fry, Cadbury, Peters, Nestlé, Lindt… a who’s who of chocolate. But without those first brave indigenous Mesoamericans we may be none the wiser to chocolate’s allure.

In honour of those Olmecs, Mayans, Aztecs and others, this chocolate sauce is bright with cinnamon and spicy with cayenne. I have outlined two other options at the bottom of the recipe as well.

Serve over ice cream or wherever chocolate sauce would be a benefit. I would add a spoonful to a steaming coffee, or even some to cold milk. This sauce will last for months when refrigerated. Great for gifts.

Mexican Chocolate Syrup*
Time: 15 minutes  |  Yield: 4 x 230 ml jars
1-1/4 cup cocoa powder (better cocoa, better syrup)
2-1/4 cups white sugar
1-3/4 cups water
1/2 cup vodka or white rum
1-1/2 tbsps cornstarch
1 tsp salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1-1/2 tsp cinnamon, or to taste
1 tsp cayenne, or 1-1/2 stop if you're brave

Combine all ingredients in a heavy bottomed sauce pan and mix well. Place over medium high heat. Whisk while it comes to a boil, then cook for  3-4 minutes.

Let cool slightly and decant into jars. The sauce will thicken up somewhat when refrigerated.

* For "regular" chocolate syrup simply omit the cinnamon and cayenne. For jalapeno chocolate syrup add strips of jalapeno pepper to the mixture while it boils. Then strain them out before placing the sauce in jars.


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