You've got to hand it to Moctezuma II.
He may have lost the entire Aztec empire to Spain, but the guy did introduce his conqueror, Hernando Cortés, to the earliest version of hot chocolate (cacahuatl, the Nahuatl word for "cacao water"). And when the victorious Cortés returned to Spain, he brought chocolate to the king, who loved it, and declared it the King's Official Drink. Spanish royals who married into French nobility brought chocolate to France, and so on and so on as the upper class of Europe intermarried. Isn't that sweet?
Actually, it is sweet. The Mexican chocolate we buy today — most often under the brand names Ibarra, made in Guadalajara, and Abuelita, made by Nestlé and more common in Mexico — is chocolate ground with sugar and cinnamon. And from what I've read, the addition of sugar, cinnamon, almonds or vanilla can be attributed either to chefs in Spain, or to Spanish nuns in the state of Puebla.
What goes around, comes around.
Sweet Mexican chocolate, sold in small disks, makes amazing hot chocolate, cookies, and decadent pecan pie bars. And it's a fundamental ingredient in molé, where it tempers and deepens the flavor of chile peppers. You can substitute unsweetened chocolate, or even dark chocolate, though you'll need to adjust the sugar and spice proportions in most recipes, but it's easy to find real Mexican chocolate in the supermarket, even in my small Rhode Island town.
In Mexico, you froth your hot chocolate with a wooden utensil called a molinillo, held between the palms and rotated back and forth. (We have four in the Ninecooks kitchen.) During the chorus of the popular sing-song rhyme below, children rub their palms together and pretend to "stir" the chocolate. They repeat the verse, faster and faster each time. (Listen to the Chocolate Song, and teach it to your children.)
Bate, bate, chocolate,
Tu nariz de cacahuate
Uno, dos, tres, CHO!
Uno, dos, tres, CO!
Uno, dos, tres, LA!
Uno, dos, tres, TE!
Bate, bate, chocolate!
Bate, bate, bate, bate,
Bate, bate, CHO-CO-LA-TE!
There's a great story behind this recipe, which was given to me by Señora Amparo Gonzales at the Restaurant Regis, Tlacolula, Oaxaca, Mexico. Serves 8-10.
12 chicken thighs, bone-in and skin on
1 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 Tbsp canola oil
10 ancho chiles, dried
2 Tbsp raisins
1/4 cup sliced almonds
1/2 tsp cinnamon
8 grinds black pepper, or to taste
1 tsp dried Mexican oregano
3 whole cloves
2 tsp dried thyme leaf
1/4 cup lightly toasted sesame seeds
1/3 cup crushed oyster crackers (or soda crackers – something with low salt content)
1 cup canned ground tomato (or tomato puree, or fresh peeled, seeded chopped tomato)
a 3" x 1/2" piece of Mexican chocolate (Ibarra or Abuelita)
2 cups or more chicken broth
salt and sugar to taste
1 package smallest size corn or spinach tortillas (or whole wheat, or flour – whatever you prefer)
Preheat oven to 325°F. Rub chicken thighs with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place skin side up in a roasting pan just large enough to hold them. Add 1/4 inch of cold water. Cover with aluminum foil. Roast in the oven for 1-1/2 hours or as long as it takes to complete the rest of the menu. (Believe it or not, the chicken will not overcook. It will get more and more tender.)
Soak the chili peppers in warm water to soften, then remove stems. Drain and chop roughly.
In a small dry (no oil) frying pan, toast the sesame seeds until they just turn light brown. Remove from pan and set aside.
In a 3-1/2 quart pot or deep frying pan, saute the onion and garlic in canola oil until the onions are translucent. Add the chiles and saute for 2-3 minutes. Add raisins, almonds, spices, sesame seeds, and crackers. Stir constantly over low-medium heat for a few minutes, until you have a thick paste and all ingredients are cooked through. Puree mixture in a food processor with a few tablespoons of broth, and return mixture to the pan. Add tomatoes, chocolate and enough chicken broth to make a smooth sauce. Continue stirring and cook until the chocolate is melted and the sauce is thickened, but still a little bit runny. Add more broth (or water) as needed to achieve desired consistency. Add salt and sugar if needed.
In a dry skillet or griddle, heat tortillas on both sides until lightly browned but still pliable (1 minute on each side on a hot griddle).
Remove chicken from the oven and place on a serving platter. Cover with molé sauce, and serve with tortillas.
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