I'm starting the new year off with a bang, friends! Hands down, this is my absolute favorite donut pan idea yet! Homemade Mexican hot chocolate tablets! David came up with this idea just a few weeks ago over dinner, and he got up and did his little touchdown-style-happy-victory dance after he told me, because he knew it was a winner. These are perfectly sized to make two cups of hot chocolate each (because donut pans are just awesome like that). What a culinary adventure I went on, finding the cookbook in the library, running around town looking for raw cacao beans, and finally destroying the motor on my eighteen year old blender! This was one of those journeys in the kitchen that I couldn't be sure would end well, but it really did.
This hot chocolate is earthy. It's a little green and a little grey in color. It's a little gritty. But it is an authentic experience to drink it. The cookbook I adapted the recipe from is called My Sweet Mexico by Fany Gerson. This book is fascinating. It's like reading the science behind all of these fantastic and sometimes strange candies and desserts from Mexico. David was born in Mexico, so it's really exciting to actually have recipes from his childhood at my fingertips!
The recipe yields 16 donut/tablets, each tablet making two cups of hot chocolate. You will need 1 lb. raw cacao beans, 1 cup whole raw almonds, five 3" long pieces of canela (look for the words Ceylon, or Mexican cinnamon), and 3 c. granulated sugar. I found my cacao beans at Rainbow Grocery here in San Francisco, but you can order them online if you can't find them. You will also need tin foil and four donut pans. AND, for serving, you'll need two cups of milk (almond tastes amazing here) for each tablet and a whisk to froth it all together.
Raw cacao beans. I was fascinated!
Start by preheating your oven to 350º. Place the almonds and canela sticks separately on a baking sheet and toast for five minutes. Remove the canela and leave the almonds in the oven to toast for five more minutes, stirring once or twice. Remove the almonds from the oven and let cool.
Prepare the cacao beans for roasting by arranging them in a single layer on a baking sheet. After the almonds are done, place the cacao beans in the oven and then decrease the temperature to 300º. Agitate the beans often so they roast evenly and don't burn. Roast for fifteen to twenty minutes. If you take a bean of the oven and hold it close to your nose, you will start to smell the pure, unsweetened chocolate smell. Any more than twenty minutes and you risk making the beans bitter. I did eighteen minutes to be safe, because I wasn't sure exactly what I was looking for, and they came out great.
Remove the cacao beans from the oven and let cool. In the meantime, there is the task of lining the donut pans with tin foil. I lined SO MANY pans making peppermint bark wheels over the holidays as gifts that I sort of never want to have do it again, but it is worth the effort for this hot chocolate!
When your pans are lined, shred the canela with a kitchen knife and coarsely chop the almonds. Set aside, you'll need these in a few minutes.
Now, I used a blender, and had it been a newer blender it would've gone a lot more smoothly. But my blender has been with me for eighteen years and made it to almost the end of the process. If you have a strong, newer blender with good, sharp blades, you'll be fine. If you have a food processor, all the better!
Pour your beans into your blender or processor and grind until they have broken down significantly and appear melted. Scrape down the sides of your blender/bowl to be sure all of the beans are breaking down.
With my wimpy blender I got this far without any effort:
But after applying some pressure with my good ol' potato masher, like this.....
.....I started to get a melted paste like this:
When you reach that consistency you can add the shredded canela and chopped almonds.
When that is all well-incorporated, add the sugar. This is the step that killed my blender. I was grateful for its hard work that day, and for all the many years of great service. I am presently without blender.
I ended up blending it con mis manos. To be sure it would set up really nicely in the pans I added one more step. I heated my oven again to just 225º, placed the final chocolate mixture in a metal bowl, and heated it in the oven for just a minute. I mixed it again with my hands and ended up with a smoother (but still grainy) texture. Do not overwarm! Chocolate is so temperamental. I was afraid I had brought too many of the oils to the surface by heating it, but everything turned out fine. Tread lightly if you need to do this step. I think if I had been using a food processor this extra heating step would've been unnecessary.
Fill your pans about 3/4 of the way, pressing the mixture into the pan cavities evenly and smoothing out the tops the best you can. Once you are done, let them sit to dry out overnight.
The next day they should look like this, all dried out (and apparently with some blooming action going on:
The tablets will keep for three months if stored in a dry place in an airtight container. At this point you can package them up with instructions for friends, or read on for how to prepare the hot chocolate to drink!
Mexican Hot Chocolate
Peel foil off of one donut tablet and place at bottom of small to medium sauce pan. Add two cups of almond or cow's milk to pan. Bring milk to a gentle simmer.
As milk is starting to heat up, place the end of your whisk in the CONVENIENTLY located hole in the donut, and spin the handle back and forth with the whisk upright, to break up the chocolate and to froth the milk. Keep going, keeping an eye on the temperature, until all solids are dissolved and the milk is hot and frothy. Divide between two mugs and serve.
If you're lucky like I was, you might serve with some homemade apple cider caramels your friend Erika might've made. Either way, this recipe is very authentic tasting, and totally delicious. MY FAVORITE!