Have you ever made hot chocolate? I mean real hot chocolate, no packets of chocolate-flavored powder or hot water involved?
I recently spent a few weeks in the Dominican Republic, and how to make real hot chocolate was one of the things I learned while I was there. Being that it was nearly 100-degree weather, one might ask why we were making hot chocolate. My best answer? When nature gives you cacao trees, you make chocolate! (The Dominican Republic is one of the world’s chief producers of chocolate; the trees flourish under the shade of larger trees and in the warm, tropical environment.)
We had a jump start on the process by using cacao beans that had already been harvested out of their fruit-like pod and dried in the sun. After making a nice fire and heating up the large steel roasting pot, the dried cacao beans were added to the pot. (Ripe pods of cacao are typically dried from three to seven days outside in the sun before they are roasted.)
The beans are then constantly stirred over the fire for 20-30 minutes, roasting them until they are crackling and crisp, but not burnt. A large wooden spoon is best for this task because that fire gets hot!
The beans are then transferred to a large pan where they are cooled. You’ll have to shell these suckers by hand, so for the sake of your fingers, make sure they’re just warm to the touch so you still have fingerprints at the end of the day. This is also the messiest part of the process. The thin paper-like shells come off easily, but also leave your fingers black and sooty.
This is where you sneak in a bean or two to see what they taste like. Still warm, they were toasty and crunchy bites of dark chocolate goodness. If you like bitter dark chocolate, you’d love freshly roasted beans. To me, they were so dark and bitter they tasted a little bit like coffee!
Now it’s time to break up the beans. We poured the shelled beans into a large wood mortar, and used a pestle larger than a baseball bat to crush the pieces. This was not for the faint of heart; it was a good 20 minutes of constant work. Several of us took turns with the pestle! About the time when the beans resemble a large, oily brown mush, you’re almost ready.
While this mush might look and smell good, it’s very bitter. We used raw sugar from sugar canes that had been ground earlier in the same mortar and pestle. To the eye though, it looked just liked powdered sugar. Slowly mix in sugar and continue mashing the mixture together, taking time to stir the mixture from the sides of the mortar every few minutes. Once you get your desired sweetness, you’re almost done. (If you’re just making chocolate, adding in sugar, flavorings or milk will yield the flavor of chocolate you desire. We simply divided the chocolate paste into small bags to take home!)
We then put the large pot over the fire again, and poured in fresh cow’s milk. Dominican cinnamon and vanilla were added to the milk, as was a large amount of the chocolate mixture. Stirring constantly, this was brought to a slow boil. It is then removed from the heat, and the hot chocolate is poured through a strainer to remove the large grains of chocolate.
Then you just pour the hot chocolate into mugs, and enjoy! Sipping on a mug of the freshest hot chocolate I’ve ever had was definitely a treat I’ll never forget!