July 29, 2008
Ancestral Spirits
Non-alcoholic, purely indulgent, hot chocolate as gift has endured the ages


Mayan Hot Chocolate

2 cups boiling water
1 chile pepper, cut in half, seeds removed (with gloves)
5 cups light cream or whole or nonfat milk
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 to 2 cinnamon sticks
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate or 3 tablets Mexican chocolate cut into 1/4 inch pieces
2 tablespoons sugar or honey
1 tablespoon almonds or hazelnuts, ground extra fine
Whipped cream

• In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, add chile pepper to boiling water. Cook until liquid is reduced to 1 cup.
• Remove chile pepper; strain water and set aside.

• In a medium saucepan over medium heat, combine cream or milk, vanilla bean and cinnamon stick until bubbles appear around the edge. Reduce heat to low; add chocolate and sugar or honey; whisk occasionally until chocolate is melted and sugar dissolves.
• Turn off heat; remove vanilla bean and cinnamon stick. Add chile-infused water, a little at a time, tasting to make sure the flavor isn’t too strong. If chocolate is too thick, thin with a little more milk.
• Serve in small cups and offer ground almonds or hazelnuts and whipped cream.

Mexican Hot Chocolate

2/3 cup milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
4 oz. semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/8 of a vanilla bean
2/3 of a cinnamon stick
1/3 tsp. almond extract

• Combine milk, cream, cinnamon sticks and vanilla in a 1-quart stainless steel pot and bring mixture to a boil. Have prepared chocolate in a mixing bowl.
• Allow the heated liquid to steep (rest off the heat) for 5 minutes, then pour over the top of the chopped chocolate.
• Stir the chocolate mixture until chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Pour the warm mixture through a strainer and it is ready to serve.
• Serve immediately or refrigerate.
• To reheat, place chocolate mixture in a 2-quart stainless steel pot on low heat—do not let sit, or it will burn. Stir mixture until warm. Immediately serve and place in 4-oz. portions with a dollop of slightly sweetened, softly-whipped cream and a light dusting of cinnamon.
Serves 4.

Or, try it like this:

3 ounces (tablet or cone) Mexican chocolate or bittersweet chocolate
3 cups milk
2 tablespoons sugar
Pinch salt
Miniature marshmallows, for serving
6 cinnamon sticks (preferably Mexican canela) for serving
• Using a sharp knife, break up the chocolate into smaller pieces.
• In a saucepan, combine the chopped chocolate, milk, sugar, and salt over medium-low flame. Heat and stir until chocolate is completely melted and milk is very hot, but not boiling, about 10 minutes.
• Remove from the heat and froth the chocolate milk with a mini whisk or molinillo. Divide the hot chocolate among big mugs, top each with a few marshmallows, and serve with the cinnamon sticks as stirrers.
Serves 4.



Cocoa powder—the powdery remains of chocolate liquor after cocoa butter is removed;
used in baking and in low-fat and low-calorie recipes and as a flavoring for ice cream.

Chocolate—a food made from roasted ground cacao beans.

Dutch-processed cocoa—cocoa powder treated with a mild alkalizing agent (such as baking soda)

Oh! we oft lament, if money only grew on trees we would have plenty, right?

Well chocolate does grow on trees, but even so, most of us can’t get enough of the stuff.
And so it has been for thousands of years.

Early chocolate was consumed exclusively in beverage form. The word chocolate is derived from the Mexican Indian words of choco (foam) and atl (water). Mexicans did and do believe that the spirit of the drink is in the foam and while Americans obsess with their coffee drinks, in Mexico they take time for hot chocolate at least twice a day.

Chocolate was first used by the Olmecs, the oldest civilization of the Americas, followed by the Maya, who consumed cacao-based drinks harvested from the beans growing in pods on trees upwards of 50 feet.

Cocoa beans were valued and often bestowed as gifts for coming of age or religious ceremonies. The beans were traded for other commodities, like cloth, jade and even ceremonial feathers. A prized drink called chocolatl made from roasted cocoa beans, water and a little spice was the reward.
It is widely held that Columbus tasted cocoa during his fourth voyage to the New World while in Nicaragua and even brought back beans to Europe, but no one knew how to use them.

Hernan Cortez was more savvy. When he landed with his Spanish conquistadors on the Mexican coast and marched on to see the famed riches of Emperor Montezuma and the Aztec empire, he was offered a golden goblet of the chocolatl.

Historian William Hickling’s History of the Conquest of Mexico reports that Montezuma used the drink as an aphrodisiac before visiting his harem and that he, “took no other beverage than the chocolatl, a potation of chocolate, flavored with vanilla and spices, and so prepared as to be reduced to a froth of the consistency of honey, which gradually dissolved in the mouth and was taken cold.”

When Cortes returned to Spain in 1528 he arrived with galleons laden with cocoa beans and chocolate drink-making equipment like the molinillo, a special foam-rendering whisk, explaining of his find, “The divine drink which builds up resistance and fights fatigue. A cup of this precious drink permits man to walk for a whole day without food.”

The first recorded recipe for a chocolate drink was in Spain by Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma, an Andalusian physician, who wrote that chocolate was healthy and made its drinkers fat and amiable and could be an aphrodisiac that causes fertility in woman and eases delivery.

The delicious recipe, according to whatscookingamerica.net, required 100 cocoa beans, two chiles, anise seed, vanilla, cinnamon, almonds, hazelnuts, sugar and annatto for color, creating the “king of chocolates.”

The recipe got warmer and sweeter in the hands of the Spanish and at one point nearly as controversial as liquor and wanton women. Historical entries show that the women of Chiapas were excommunicated by the bishop for refusing to give up sipping their cups of chocolate, which sustained them during lengthy high mass. Eventually, Pope Alexander VII declared that it didn’t break the fast, but only after the bishop was poisoned with chocolate.

By the 1700s, chocolate houses were as popular as today’s coffee houses, serving as precursors to cafes and bars and frequented by politicians and writers.

Today, we enjoy gathering in Valley coffee houses like Hailey Coffee Company, Zaney’s, The Grinder, Cowboy Coffee and Java on Fourth where one can still get a great hot chocolate, with or without caffeine. For those who want to take a trip back in time, try the following recipes at home.

This article appears in the Winter 2008 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.