This recipe first appeared in the Virginia Wine Gazette.
Peppers (aka chiles) and chocolate are products of the Americas – unknown in Europe until the Spanish conquistadors brought them home in the 16th century. Can you imagine Belgium or Switzerland without chocolate? Calabrian or Greek cuisines without hot peppers?
Cocoa was an expensive beverage – and an acquired taste, too, since it was served without sugar or milk, both unknown in Mesoamerica, but with hot chilies and vanilla, both Mesoamerican native spices. Expensive, bitter and spicy, it’s no wonder cocoa was considered a medication.
Yet, once the Europeans added sugar and milk, hot cocoa, as we know it today, took off. Starting in the 18th century, various processes were developed to form chocolate bars and candies. The modern eating chocolate bar was born in the mid-19th century.
As other tropical areas of the world started to grow the cocoa tree for its seeds, the cocoa bean, which is dried and fermented, chocolate’s popularity was sealed.
Chiles and cocoa work great together indeed: a number of chocolatiers are teasing our taste buds by adding the spice to their gorgeous chocolate confections. You can do it at home too! Add unsweetened cocoa to your favorite chili recipe. Throw a pinch of hot ground chile in chocolate desserts.
I make no claim for their health benefits nor for their possible aphrodisiac qualities, but I can assure you that chocolate and chiles, alone or together, are wonderful winter fare – in fact wonderful fare any time of the year.
Below is a variation of what I called 3-2-1 custard: the Spicy Chocolate Custard. 3 eggs/2 cups milk/ 1 cup chocolate chips: those are easy proportions to remember, negating the need for printed recipe if you need to whip a dessert quickly. You may tweak the spices and flavoring endlessly for subtle differences.
Spicy Chocolate Custard
6 servings (a generous ½ cup each – or stretch this very intense custard to 8 smaller servings)
- 3 eggs, preferably from pastured hens
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- dash each of salt, cinnamon and cayenne
- 2 cups whole milk, preferably organic from pastured cows
- 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (or chopped eating-quality bittersweet chocolate)
Put water to boil in a kettle.
Warm up milk until barely simmering. Add chocolate, stirring constantly until completely melted – about 1 minute.
Whisk eggs, salt and spices in a large bowl. Slowly pour in the hot milk, whisking briskly and constantly to avoid curdling the eggs.
Preheat oven to 325 F. Pour custard back into saucepan, whisking constantly while the oven is preheating.
Distribute custard among 6 small ovenproof containers. Place containers in a deep ovenproof pan, ensuring they do not touch. Pour hot water in pan until it reaches ½ way up the custard containers. Carefully transfer to oven. Bake 30 minutes.
Let cool. To sweeten (if desired), offer maple syrup and freshly whipped cream on the side.
Loacavore Log: eggs from the hen house, milk (Trickling Springs Creamery), chile from last summer’s garden