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Garden Lifestyle

Chocolat!

Here is a quick and easy recipe you can whip up anytime--especially on a cold winter night.

  • Ingredients to make the ancient xocoatl--a blend of cacao, vanilla bean, chiles and spices result in a delicious beverage purported to have aphrodisiac properties. Click on other pix to enlarge and read captions. 
    Photo/Illustration: Susan Belsinger
  • To make this ancient spiced drink, cocoa and bittesweet chocolate are essential, garden-grown chiles add heat, and mace adds a spice, while the vanilla bean adds an exotic aroma.
  • To make this rich and chocolatey, I use both cocoa and bittersweet chocolate. Whisk in the cocoa with the other spices into the warm milk; stir the chopped chocolate in at the end of cooking and whisk while it melts.
  • Using a piece of vanilla bean adds exotic aroma and flavor; if you don't have a vanilla bean, you can add pure vanilla extract in place of the vanilla bean--at the very end of cooking.
  • Homegrown chiles are essential to this beverage. Grind them in a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. I've tried all differetn ones from ancho and pasillas to cayenne or even habaneros. Add the heat slowly--once there--it can't be removed. I probably like it hotter than the average gardener. 
  • Mace is the outer covering of the nutmeg. I saw these trees in Jamaica and was fascinated by the fruit which contains the seed (nutmeg) and it is covered with a scarlet-red membrane which is the mace. They are dried and called mace blades--most often it is sold ground--one of my favorite spices, hands down! 
  • I keep a jar of vanilla bean sugar on hand to use in desserts, beverages and whipped cream. Just add a slivered vanilla bean to a jar of sugar and it will be ready to use in a week or so. As you use the sugar, add more plain sugar to replace waht you use. Sweeten the chocolat to taste. 
  • Heat the milk gently and add the cocoa powder, ground chile, vanilla bean and mace blades (or ground mace). You could use nutmeg or cinnamon in place of the mace.
  • Whisk the ingredients into the warm milk and cook over low heat. Add the chopped chocolate just before serving, whisking well as it melts. 
  • Chocolat is delicious served as is, with whipped cream, or even a shot of dark rum! Sometimes I make a quart and keep it in the fridge. Every now and then, I like a shotglass of it cold as an afternoon pick-me-up! Cheers!

Ingredients:

Serves 2

2 cups half-and-half cream or 1 cup whipping cream and 1 cup milk
2 to 3 tablespoons sugar
2 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, cut into pieces
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1-1/2-inch piece vanilla bean or 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 mace blade or 1 to 2 large pinches ground mace
1/4 to 1 teaspoon pasilla or ancho chile powder, or chiles of choice

Rich, dark, and smooth this hot chocolate is subtly uplifted with a hint of vanilla and the spice of ground chile. (Do not use chili powder—the mix of spices with cumin and oregano. Use pure ground red chile pepper like the rich pasilla, chile negro, or ancho.)  The word chocolate comes from the Aztec and Mayan “xocoatl” which translates as bitter drink. These Indians who believed it gave them power and energy mixed it with chiles, vanilla and spices. Cacao, vanilla bean, mace and chiles are all considered to be aphrodisiacs so make this luscious beverage for your valentine!

In the cafés in Europe, hot chocolate is usually prepared with melted chocolate rather than cocoa, and served with a dollop of whipped cream on top.  Here, experience the best of both worlds.  Try just 1/4 teaspoon of chile and then taste—and add more if desired—I like it with about 1/2 to 1 teaspoon (depending on the heat of the chiles) so it warms the tongue.

You can use all whole milk and no cream—it just isn’t as rich—almond milk and soy milk also can be substituted for the milk and/or cream. Honey or maple syrup can be substituted for sugar if desired.

In a heavy-bottomed non-reactive saucepan, combine the cream, sugar, cocoa powder, ground chile powder and vanilla bean and mace blade if using them. Place over medium heat and stir with a whisk. Keep stirring with a whisk until the sugar is dissolved; do not allow the hot chocolate to boil. 

Turn the heat to low and whisk so there is some froth on top.  If you are using vanilla extract or ground mace rather than the whole spice, stir it in along with the chopped chocolate and whisk until the chocolate melts; let sit a minute or two.  Whisk, taste for chile seasoning; adjust to taste.  Serve hot with whipped cream if desired. 

The chocolate can be cooled and refrigerated and reheated the next day.

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