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Here is my interpretation of the hot bitter cacao-based Mayan drink xocolatl. I only made 2 1/2 gallons for 150 people because I didn’t think many people would like it, or even try it. I was so wrong. I should have made double the amount that I did. So while this recipe only makes about 150 3-oz servings, I would suggest doubling the serving size.

The pre-contact Mayans drank hot cacao drinks the way we drink black coffee or strong tea- as a stimulating beverage. It’s powerful, so only powerful people could drink it.

Possibly the most important part of these cacao drinks is the “broth” at the base. This isn’t the meat broth or pulse broth we’re familiar with from medieval European cooking, but chile broth. The liquid resulting from rehydrating dry chiles- of whatever kind- is a beautiful rich broth that can be used to add a subtle heat to all kinds of dishes. The chile broth added a lovely back-of-the-throat warmth to both the cacao drink and the braised turkeys. I look forward to playing with this technique more in my home cooking.

Madhavi’s Xocolatl

2 pounds of raw cacao paste
2 whole vanilla beans, slit down the length
2 teaspoons of fresh-ground achiote
1/4 c whole allspice berries
2 1/2 gallons of water
6 oz dried guajillo chiles
1-2 c honey
1 tsp + of salt

First make the chile broth. Heat the water to boiling and add the chiles. Let them steep until the water is cold.

Chop the chocolate into splinters. Strain the chile broth, use the chiles for something else. Start the chile broth heating in a wide pot over medium heat. Add the chocolate and whisk until the chocolate is completely melted. Whisk in the rest of the ingredients, including the first cup of honey, and bring the mixture almost to a boil. Turn the heat off and let everything bloom and steep for at least an hour. Taste and add more honey only if necessary. It should be bitter but not unpleasantly so. Strain through a fine wire strainer.

If you want to serve it hot, then heat back to almost boiling slowly, whisking like mad the whole time. The mixture will scorch very quickly!

I loved this drink so much more than the over-sweetened, milky “hot chocolate”. If you want to try it on a home scale, you can buy 4 oz bags of cacao nibs, which can be used in the same way. A heaping tablespoon of cacao nibs makes a big mug of Xocolatl.

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