Ladies and Gents . . . this is, perhaps, the best cup of hot chocolate you’ll ever have. It was, without a doubt, the best we’ve ever had. Just the right amount of bitter mixed with just the right amount of sugar (i.e. very little). Perfectly grainy, almost velvet on the tongue, and exactly to our liking: sin leche. Admittedly, our two days spent at “El Jiri” were pretty blissful even without the chocolate-making lesson (i.e. delicious food prepared by the multi-talented Ana; the best scintillatingly hot, high-pressured shower we’ve taken in Bolivia; beautiful landscaping accompanied by peace, tranquility, and quietude; continuous conversation with Mario about everything from coffee cultivation to the history of the region). But the cup of homemade hot chocolate accompanied by the lightest, non-sweet zepolli-esque pastries I’ve ever tasted, really made the whole experience seem like paradise. I realize this recipe might not be possible for most of you in the States (unless you have a secret connection with cacao bean distributers), but have a look and see what’s what regardless. Hell, maybe there’s a shop in some “undiscovered” part of Brooklyn with the goods? On second thought, anyone want to go in on a fair-trade cacao bean importing business?
Anyhoo, I’ve adjusted a few things here and there to account for the lack of supplies and to account for differences in kitchens. Prevecho!
Prep time: Prep shmep!
Cooking time: 15 minutes; 5 minutes
Waiting time: zip!
Ingredients per taza de chocolate caliente:
1-2 cacao fruits*
sugar to taste
1 cup milk or water, depending on your preference
1 clay pot**
1 medium stovetop pot
1 non-plastic spatula
1 cooling tray or dishtowel
2 small bowls
1 grinder/grain mill/cuisinart***
1 whisk (or wooden jowl with whisk on the end)
1. Cut open each cacao fruit and scoop out the beans. If you’re working with already-dried cacao beans, pick about 25 -35 or so.****
2. In a medium-sized clay pot, toast the beans under an open flame for approximately 15 minutes, stirring constantly so as not to burn. You’ll know they’re done when they turn charcoal and start to crack and make a popping sound. You’ll also begin to notice a distinct (and delicious) chocolate aroma emanating from the pot.
3. Before they get too burned, remove the still crackling beans from the heat and place in a single layer on a tray or on a dishtowel, just until they are cool enough to touch (but not cold, as a little bit of heat goes a long way in the next step). As you can see, newspaper works fine too.
4. Carefully remove the outer shell of each seed by pressing gently on the bean and peeling off the top layer. Discard the unwanted shells and place the beans in a small bowl. (It’s OK if the beans break while peeling. Just be sure to separate the edible parts from the shells!)
5. Pour the cacao beans into the grinder and quickly turn the crank so that the beans are evenly ground into a granulated but still gooey liquid. Make sure to get the residue from the crank itself as it tends to stick to the gears!
6. Before the granulated chocolate mixture gets too hard (it will harden with prolonged exposure to the air), transfer it into a stovetop pot, add the milk or water, sugar (if using), and heat slowly over medium heat, stirring briskly and constantly with a wooden jowl or wire whisk. Be careful not to boil or burn. (If you are using milk, skim any film off the top before serving.)
7. Pour into your favorite mug and enjoy!
*According to Mario, each cacao fruit yields around 20-25 beans. Although we didn’t get a chance to try it, Mario also assured us that the “meat” of the cacao fruit is quite delicious—perfect for snacking. Or, if you’re more adventurous, try blending it with a bit of sugar, crushed ice, and―I dare say―booze, for a frothy summertime aperitif.
**When toasting the cacao beans, Mario used a clay pot over a roaring fire. As some of you might not have a small clay pot suitable for this purpose or a raging fire, I would suggest using a frying pan over a gas range―the same way you might toast, say, cumin or coriander seeds prior to crushing and adding to a lentil soup.
***As you can see in the photos, Mario used a special coffee/cacao mill for grinding the toasted beans into pulp. As most of you don’t have one of these nifty contraptions, I’m curious what might happen if you used a Cuisinart instead. Might just do the trick?
****The cacao fruit pictured here is a bit premature. Normally, when the fruit is fully ripened, the beans are plucked, fermented, and dried over a couple-day period, much like the way coffee beans are picked, sorted, shelled, fermented, washed, dried, and toasted over a similar timeframe. We were not involved in this process when making hot chocolate with Mario and encountered the cacao beans after they had already been processed. Unfortunately, I’m not positive on the exact time frame from fruit to dried bean . . . I’ll have to get back to you on that one!
A few more photos of our chocolate-making experience:
I’ve been wondering when the chocolate entry would arrive. Sounds fantastic. MMMMMM…..
Wow. Livin’ the dream!
I’m pretty sure the principles of roasting cacao are in line with that of coffee. Therefore, you could probably roast cacao on the stovetop in a cast-iron, or in the oven, or even in an old-fashioned popcorn popper, either stovetop or hot-air-style. Or, if you have a rotisserie on your bbq, you could fashion yourself some kind of cylindrical drum and roast the beans that way. As for the mill, no special apparatus needed — anything that handles coffee can handle the cacao, although if it really gets that gooey, you’ll want something that can be taken apart and cleaned with relative ease (and you might not want to use your actual coffee grinder, just so that it stays dry and ready for coffee). Grain-grinders like Emilio’s can be snagged on ebay for $20 or less. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, as my coffee roasting machine was actually refurbished and sold to me under the guise of it being a chocolate-roasting machine. His website sells cacao and equipment for home chocolate-making. Y’all beat me to it!
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