Oh, dear reader, I know the signs. A blog in its last death-throes. The “sorry”s and “back soon”s and promises of reform, the ever decreasing posts. I recognize the symptoms, and I’ll admit it’s not easy to keep alive these little homes we carve out of thin air. But this one’s not going away. Just give its authors time to crawl out from under the mounds of school work and work work, of books and papers and dishes and (yes) a few DVDs; they’ll be back around any day to visit their favorite spots and share their favorite adventures. Until then, I’ll leave you with this recipe for homemade chocolate, Oaxaca style.
I began thinking about chocolate a few weeks ago. Really, I was thinking about pleasure. We were eating at NOPA, which surprises us by how good it is every time we go there and, since we were with a good friend who we rarely see, we were more extravagant than usual. We started with cocktails, then shared a variety of small plates and main dishes, a good bottle of wine, a couple of desserts (their desserts are fabulous), and more drinks. It was a good meal, and it started me thinking about a New York Times Op-Ed from back in February 2006 (Go With Your Gut, by Harriet Brown), which suggests that the more we enjoy what we eat, the more nutrition we derive from it.
It’s a tempting thought, not least because, well, don’t we all wish our every indulgence might yield some hidden benefit? But it makes sense, too. Our bodies, if we can remember how to follow their lead, know what to hunger for.
This recipe comes from Susanna Trilling, by way of her Seasons of My Heart cookbook. I modified it to include less cinnamon and sugar, and prepared it using a food processor, rather than the traditional grinding stone or mill methods. You can find raw cacao at natural foods stores (we got ours at Rainbow Grocery) or online. This chocolate is unrefined and a bit granular. Though it is delicious straight, it is at its best prepared as hot chocolate, the traditional use in Oaxaca. Melt one stick in 12 ounces of hot milk or water, crushing and stirring gently with a spoon. It is also excellent for baking, though the cinnamon gives it a slightly different taste.
Homemade Chocolate, Oaxaca Style
1/2 ounce Mexican cinnamon sticks, broken (or about 2 tablespoons ground)
1 pound first-class fermented cacao beans
10 ounces - 1 1/4 pound finely granulated sugar
In a cast iron pan, toast the cinnamon until fragrant, stirring constantly, then set aside to cool. If using cinnamon sticks, grind in a spice mill or coffee grinder until fine. Add the cacao to the pan and toast, stirring constantly until the beans begin to crack and brown. Allow to cool, then remove and discard shells.
In a food processor, combine cinnamon and cacao beans and mix until finely ground. Add about 8 ounces of sugar and mix again until sugar is fully incorporated. Taste for sweetness and continue adding slowly until desired sweetness is achieved. Do not add more than the chocolate can absorb. The original recipe called for 1 1/4 - 1 1/2 lbs sugar. I used about 10 ounces. Grind the mixture until it is shiny and very smooth.
Turn onto a large wooding cutting board and pat into a square 1/4 inch thick until it is shiny. Slide a chef’s knife under the chocolate to release it from the board, flip it, and pat the other side until shiny as well (you may need to transfer it to a second chopping board to turn it over). Cut into pieces 1 inch by 4 inches and place on wax paper to solidify, up to two hours depending on temperature and humidity. Store chocolate in a sealed plastic bag or glass container.
Eat and savor.