A few years ago, I attended a charity event in Albuquerque called Mayan Mystic Charity. My son, who lives in Albuquerque, had just broken up with his significant other, and at the suggestion of a friend asked me, his mother to attend the event with him as his date…such a sweet boy!
It was at this event that I had my first taste of chile and chocolate and I have loved it ever since. The sweetness and smoothness of the chocolate sliding down your throat; followed by a faint tingle in the back of your throat is pleasurably seductive.
This combination of chocolate-chiles was used by early Aztecs as determined by archaeological discoveries of storage vessels containing cacao pods and chiles. The chiles and cacao pods were also used as tax payment to Montezuma, the emperor of Tenochtitlan (which is now Mexico City). The great Montezuma liked his cup of hot cocoa flavored with vanilla, honey and spiked with a good dose of red chile. The Conquistadors picked up the habit, too, and brought it across the pond and, of course, the rest is confectionery and gastronomic history.
The story of how chocolate was added to savory chile sauces involves nuns. It seems that mole poblano was created in the 16th century by the nuns in the convent of Santa Rosa in the city of Puebla. Evidently the archbishop was coming to visit and the nuns were concerned because they had no food sophisticated enough to serve someone of his importance. As they all prayed for guidance, one of the nuns had a vision. She directed everyone to begin chopping and grinding everything edible they could find in the kitchen. Into the pot went dried red chiles, fresh chiles, tomatoes, a variety of nuts, sugar, tortillas, onions, bananas, dried fruits and raisins, garlic and dozens of herbs and spices. The final and crucial ingredient was the enchanted one: chocolate. Then the nuns killed their only turkey and served it, with the mole sauce, to the archbishop, who avowed it to be the most excellent dish he had ever consumed!
About ten years ago the chocolate-chile combination seemed to be rediscovered by chefs as they realized how beautifully the combination worked. Who knows, maybe they tasted mole and decided that chiles might work in a myriad of chocolate creations, savory and sweet. Even now, many artisan chocolatiers now proffer some variety of “Aztec” chocolate, spiced with the original “new world” flavors of chile and cinnamon.
I recently offered the following dessert to a group of friends. I didn’t tell them what the dessert was; however they could see that it was a chocolate mousse. What they didn’t realize, until the first bite, was the addition of chile powder. They immediately recognized it and described the dessert in such amazing adjectives…luxurious, silky, smooth, but with slight kick of spiciness, a light but bright accent, lingering at the back of the palate. The next morning they all called and asked for the recipe! So now, I’m offering it to you to try on your friends.
As a footnote, when I was putting away all of the ingredients I used in the mousse recipe, I placed the box of cocoa powder up on a top shelf of my cabinet. Unfortunately, I didn’t get it quite up to the shelf and it dropped, hit me on the head, and spilled its contents all over my face, my glasses, my tee-shirt and my jeans. It also spewed its contents on a counter top, the stove and the floor. It took me a couple of hours to clean up the mess; leaving my personal cleanup to last. However, my husband came to the rescue and vacuumed me clean!
Red Chile Spiked Chocolate Mousse
8 servings, about 1/2 cup each
The idea of chile with chocolate still surprises most people, but the duo pairs beautifully in many chocolate desserts.
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin
4 tablespoons water, divided
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch-process
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons mild-to-medium New Mexican red chile powder
1 teaspoon instant espresso powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
3/4 cup low-fat milk
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (see cooking tip below)
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
8 teaspoons dried egg whites (see Note), reconstituted according to package directions (equivalent to 4 egg whites)
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
Sprinkle gelatin over 2 tablespoons water in a small bowl; set aside.
Combine cocoa, granulated sugar, chile powder, espresso powder and salt in a large saucepan. Whisk in egg, then milk. Cook over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until steaming and just beginning to thicken, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and immediately whisk in the softened gelatin, chocolate and vanilla. Stir until chocolate is melted and fully incorporated.
Beat egg whites, brown sugar and cream of tartar in a medium bowl in an electric mixer on high speed just until firm peaks form.
Stir one-fourth of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture until smooth. Fold in the remaining egg whites until fully incorporated. Spoon the mousse into 8 dessert glasses or cups.
Chill the mousse until set, at least 2 hours. Top with some whipped cream and a chocolate-covered coffee bean..
Pasteurized dried egg whites are a wise choice in recipes that call for uncooked egg whites. Look for brands like Just Whites in the baking or natural foods section of most supermarkets.
Cooking Tip: If you have a block or a square of chocolate, grating it on a box grater allows the chocolate to melt faster when you are heating it.