Hot chocolate is such a perfect winter warmer that we tend to forget that it originated in Mexico. The Aztecs prized chocolate as the drink of the wealthy, and prepared both hot and cold versions.
Hot chocolate is still a big seller in Mexico, but it’s not exactly the same as you’ll find here. The biggest difference between Canadian hot chocolate and Mexican is the spice. North of the Rio Grande, hot chocolate is sweet – often sickly sweet. South of the border, though, the sweetness is cut with a bit of spice, usually cinnamon and some kind of pepper. Mexican hot chocolate is nearly always made with milk rather than water, giving it a delicious creaminess.
To make a drink that’s even more warming, try adding a shot of cinnamon whisky. There are numerous brands on the market, but by far the biggest seller is Fireball.
This recipe from Bon Appetit gives you full control over the spiciness of the drink. But for a shortcut, just pick up a package of Mexican hot chocolate tablets – Nestle’s Abeulita brand is authentically Mexican, and available in most Canadian grocery stores. The tablets contain sugar, chocolate and spice, and can just be dissolved in a saucepan of milk.
Be sure to whip the hot chocolate before serving – a hand-carved wooden tool called a molinillo is traditional, but you can just use a whisk to give the drink a lovely frothiness.
3 cups whole milk
3 tablespoons crushed cinnamon sticks (if you can find it, Mexican cinnamon bark is highly fragrant and crushes easily)
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
3 tablespoons demerara or granulated sugar
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground chile de árbol or cayenne pepper, plus more for serving
Lightly sweetened whipped cream (for serving)
Bring milk and cinnamon to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, whisking occasionally and making sure milk doesn’t boil, until cinnamon is floral and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Whisk in chocolate, sugar, vanilla, salt, and ¼ tsp. ground chile and cook, whisking frequently, until mixture is smooth and creamy and chocolate is melted, about 5 minutes.
Divide hot chocolate among four mugs. Top with whipped cream and dust with cocoa powder or chile de arbol.