It may have been Spanish nuns in Mexico who first had the idea of shaping chocolate into bars and slabs. Convent kitchens weere regarded as a kind of laboratory where improved and more exquisite chocolate recipes were created. It was here that the technique of roasting and grinding cocoa beans was perfected.
The Traditional Mexican Kitchen
In pre-Columbian times in Mexico, kitchens of the rural populations were equipped in much the same way as the kitchens of many rural people there today. The traditional hearth consists of stones, usually arranged in a semicircle, and coated with clay. A perforated metal sheet holds the nuts and seeds for roasting. The draft for the fire beneath the roasting surfaces is produced by a fire made from rushes.
An important feature of the kitchens is the metate, a three-legged quern, or primitive type of han-operated mill, which is used as an all-purpose mixer. The stone is about 12 x 16 inches, flat in the middle and rising slightly toward the ends. It is made of gray or black porous basalt – its slight roughness assists grinding – and stands onthe floor. Its stone legs are of different lengths, so that it inclines at the angle that requires the least amount of effert to be used. The women kneed at the narrow end of the quern and reduce the cocoa to a fine powder with a continuous movement of a metlpil, or oblong stone, back and forth.
History of xocóatl in Mexico
When Cortés and his men arrived for an audience with Moctezuma in Tenochtitlán in 1519, they found the Aztec ruler sipping “bitter water” (xocóatl) from golden goblets. The drink was concocted from ground cacao beans boiled in water, then flavored with vanilla and other tropical spices — sugar didn’t come to the New World until the Spanish did.
The Aztecs encountered cacao through trade with the Maya who, along with the ancient Olmec, established cacao plantations more than 3,000 years ago. The Aztecs were so enamored that they exacted huge quantities of cacao as tribute from their many subjects. Even so, cacao was reserved for the ruling class. The Aztecs believed the great serpent god Quetzalcóatl had bestowed cacao as a gift to the human world, and xocóatl figured prominently in religious ceremonies.
Traditional Mexican Chocolate Recipe
In the traditional chocolate recipe, 4 1/2 pounds of sugar and 3 1/2 ounces of cinnamon stick and almonds are added to 2 pounds of cocoa beans. First the cinnamon is reduced to a fine powder. Next, it is ground into a sticky mixture with the cocoa and roasted almonds. Then the sugar is worked in evenly. When the mixture becomes malleable, it is pressed into cakes or bars or shaped into balls.
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