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Make It Hot, But Not Yet

I hate being cold, but I love getting warm.  As soon as I found this recipe for “Age of Discovery” Vanilla-Scented Hot Chocolate from Maricel E. Presilla’s The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes, I had to try it.  Based on a seventeenth-century treatise by Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma, the drink discovered in Mexico and brought to Spain was touted as a cure-all.  I had set off to make this a couple of months ago but had gotten sidetracked.  After the sudden onset of summer heat last week, I thought this would be my last hot chocolate for awhile.

I felt a little like an explorer just gathering the ingredients along Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.  I found most of the spices at Two for the Pot.  A quiet tea and coffee shop with English candy bars and a few rows of spices in large glass jars, they always have exactly what I’m looking for when all else fails.  I went on to Sahadi’s for the almonds and hazelnuts.  Only missing the dried rosebuds, I stopped into the Oriental Pastry & Grocery.  A perfect complement to the more accessible Sahadi’s, it’s crowded with heavy burlap sacks full of grains, snaky hookahs and bins of dried fruits.  If I ever seriously sought a magic lantern, I’d start here.  I walked in on a friendly conversation between an older, middle-eastern man behind counter and a neighborhood regular.  Reminiscing about the young men from the area who’d been lost in Korea, he reasoned that at least they hadn’t left behind children.  Taken aback, the counterman answered solemnly “yes, but they had parents.” Discovering that one put the same faith in the past that the other did in the future, they were both quiet.  The moment passed and they seemed more concerned with me and what I would do with the dried flowers.

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Laying out my ingredients at home, it felt more like alchemy than cooking.  The first time I tried this recipe, I rushed it with poor results.  This time I took the time to toast and steep and bring things to a slow boil, enjoying the process.  The result was a dark orange liquid with a deep almond-vanilla flavor and a nice froth.  Remembering that in the tropics, you can drink your coffee strong and sweet in small doses year round, I decided to serve it as dessert in espresso cups with a few italian almond cookies.  This way I can still enjoy what I miss of winter even as I look forward to summer.

“Age of Discovery” Vanilla-Scented Hot Chocolate
This recipe is adapted from Maricel E. Presilla’s The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural & Natural History of Cacao with Recipes

8 cups milk or water
1/4 cup achiote (annato) seeds
12 blanched almonds
12 toasted and skinned hazelnuts
2 to 3  vanilla beans (preferably Mexican from Papantla), split lengthwise, seeds scraped out
1/4 ounce dried rosebuds (sold as rosa de Castilla in Hispanic Markets)
2 (3-inch) sticks true cinnamon (soft Ceylon cinnamon, sold as canela in Hispanic markets)
1 tablespoon aniseeds
2 whole dried árbol or serrano chiles
8 ounces dark chocolate, preferably El Rey Gran Sáman (70% cacao) or Chocovic Ocumare (71% cacao), finely chopped
Pinch of salt
Sugar
1 tablespoon orange-blossom water (optional)

Heat the milk or water with the achiote seeds to a low boil over medium heat stirring frequently.  Reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes.

Grind the almonds and toasted hazelnuts in a food processor to a fine consistency.

Strain out the achiote seeds and return the milk to the saucepan.  Add the ground nuts, vanilla beans, scraped seeds, rosebuds, cinnamon, aniseeds and chiles and return to a low boil.  Reduce to low heat and simmer for an additional 10 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in the chocolate and salt.  Add orange-blossom water and sugar to taste.

Strain the mixture into a tall pot and beat with a Mexican molinillo (wooden chocolate mill), immersion blender, or whisk until frothy.  Serve immediately.

Makes 12 small servings.

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