So, my best friend Michael sends me a text yesterday, asking me how costly/difficult it would be to whip up a largish batch of my Aztec Hot Chocolate for a party he's attending this evening. It appears to have a Mexican theme. They're a few days late, but I'm told they're also bringing things like "taco dip" so, there you are.
For the record, I like taco dip, but I would not take it to a party to which everyone was asked to bring a Mexican dish. I'd probably take a lot of chiles rellenos.
Nonetheless, this is the fun part of being me: "Hey, can you make me a half gallon or so of that Aztec hot chocolate?" All this for, as he pointed out when he picked up the brimming air-pot full of spiced-cocoa goodness, a party to which I was not invited. Now I want to have a party. Not for Mexican food, but for taco dip. As many sorts of taco dip as I could conceive...
Chocolate, as you may know, is a new world product and was most originally a drink, xocolatl, loosely translated as "sour water" What we usually call "Mexican" hot chocolate in this country is basically champurrado without the masa harina. Thus, cocoa, water/milk, cinnamon, and sometimes other spices or vanilla. A few years back I spotted a Hershey's brand hot cocoa mix labeled Aztec... something... It did not contain the flesh of a sacrificed enemy stewed with salt, but it did contain ground chili peppers, an adjunct to chocolate that is becoming more and more popular.
Frankly, the Hershey's stuf f was lousy. So, I set out to make my own. I'm trying not to ramble so much when I post to LJ, so I'm going right to a vague recipe. My method is a bit odd, but I've found I get the best flavor by simmering milk with aromatics while making an intensely spiced simple syrup (sweetened with honey) that I stir into the milk before adding the chocolate. This seems to lend the drink a smoother body as well.
Otter's Aztec Hot Chocolate (for a crowd, makes a little more than 1/2 gallon)
1/2 gallon milk
8-10oz high quality bittersweet chocolate (no less than 70% cocoa)
2 cups water
3/4 cup honey
3 cinnamon sticks
2 dried New Mexico chile peppers
Zest of 1 orange
2 tsp vanilla (preferably Mexican vanilla)
2-3 whole cloves
1/8th tsp cayenne pepper (optional)
pinch salt (don't leave out a pinch of salt, nor the vanilla, they help to activate the flavors)
In a small sauce pan, bring the two cups water to a boil with one of the dried peppers, two of the cinnamon sticks, and the cloves. Reduce the heat to low, add the orange zest (it can be in long strips or chopped, it doesn't matter) and simmer until reduced by about one third, at least 10 minutes or so. Strain, reserving the cinnamon sticks and pepper, stir in the honey to make a flavorful simple syrup.
Meanwhile, bring the milk to a simmer in a large saucepan or dutch-oven over medium heat with the remaining pepper and cinnamon stick. Add the vanilla and cayenne, is using, reduce the heat to low, and simmer gently 10-15 minutes. When the above syrup is done reducing, add the pepper and cinnamon sticks to the milk.
Finely chop, grind, or grate the chocolate. 8oz. of chocolate will produce a drink that is not too rich, not too sweet, but possible a touch thin for some. 10oz of chocolate will produce a dangerously decadent beverage.
Stir the honey-syrup into the milk mixture and taste. You should be able to pick out spice flavors, including the cinnamon, hints of orange, and a bit of heat from the chili peppers. If not, simmer a bit more, and consider a touch of ground cinnamon (do not add ground chili powder unless you are certain it is nothing but ground chilis and doesn't contain things like garlic and oregano as such things often do, also avoid adding any ground spices that contain emulsifiers or anti-caking agents). When you are satisfied with the spice flavor, strain the milk through a fine mesh sieve and whisk in the chocolate. It should melt almost instantly if you've got it chopped or ground finely.
Serve hot, garnished with whipped cream and/or a sprinkle of cinnamon.