My mom is the best cook I know.
She used to make the most incredible ponche, or warm fruit punch, every New Year’s. Just once a year.
My sisters and I used to pace up and down the kitchen as she peeled, diced and threw the ingredients, many of which were only available at this time of year in the markets, into a gigantic pot. To tame our impatience she would peel for us a few pieces of fresh sugar cane and cut it into smaller sticks, so we could chew and suck its sweetly tangy juice, ever so slowly, as we waited for the ponche to be served.
Continue reading Ponche: Or My Mom’s New Year’s Warm Fruit Punch
MEXICAN FRENCH TOAST ROLLS
6 slices white bread
Cajeta, La Lechera dulce de leche, nutella or any preserves
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
Trim the crust from the bread. Flatten the slices slightly with a rolling pin. In the center of each bread slice, add about 1 teaspoon of the filling of your choice.
Roll the bread and the mixture like a cigar or a rolled taco; set aside until you finish all of the slices.
In a bowl mix the egg and the cup of milk, whisk until well combined. In another extended bowl, mix the sugar with the cinnamon.
Set a skillet over medium heat. Add a tablespoon of butter.
Soak the bread rolls in the milk mixture until fully coated. Add them to the hot pan, which should have the butter already melted, cook the rolls until they’re golden brown and look fully cooked. Roll the fingers in the sugar and cinnamon mixture; they are ready to eat!
Mexican chocolate is quite different from regular bittersweet chocolate sold throughout the world.
It is sweeter, yet with contrasting layers of flavor that seem to sweep your tongue in waves as you take a bite. It is also grainy, practically gritty. It is traditionally made from a mixture of toasted cacao beans, ground almonds, regular sugar and cinnamon.
Native from Mexico, in pre-hispanic times cacao beans were transformed into a chocolate paste. In that form, chocolate was combined with water and drank every day, by the liters, by Aztec Emperor Moctezuma. It was served for him, in hand carved precious mugs and spiced up with ground chiles and sometimes honey. Only the high tier of the Aztec hierarchy had access to it, on special occasions. It was only after the Spaniards arrived that it turned into a sweeter ingredient by adding the sugar, cinnamon and almonds.
Continue reading Mexican Chocolate
Sliced bread brushed with melted butter, toasted until golden, layered with handfuls of nuts and dried fruits, drenched in Piloncillo syrup, topped with crumbled salty cheese and baked until it all comes together…. Once out of the oven, it tastes like a cross between French Toast and Bread Pudding. Crisp-on-the-top and moist-in-the-center, every spoonful a delightful mess.
It reminds me of how my father loves to slice sweet bananas over his savory lentil soup; or how my family goes crazy over piling ates (fruit pastes) with Manchego cheese, as so many Mexicans do; or how I used to love eating a handful of chocolate covered raisins right after a handful salty pop corn, and then repeat it again and again at the movies growing up, as long as the movie lasted. Capirotada has that same wild mix.
Once you finish your piece, I bet you will beg for a bit more of that addicting combination. That’s probably why I have received so many requests for a recipe.
Continue reading Going Nuts and Bananas for Capirotada
SPICED MEXICAN COFFEE
Café de Olla
Heat the water in a pot set over medium heat (using a clay pot is the traditional way to prepare it and it gives it a very unique flavor, but it isn’t necessary). When the water comes to a boil, lower the heat and add the coffee, piloncillo, and a cinnamon stick.
Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring until the piloncillo dissolves. Remove from the heat, let it stand covered for 5 to 10 minutes and strain before serving. Alternatively, you may remove the cinnamon and use a French press to strain the coffee as well.
HORCHATA WITH CINNAMON AND VANILLA
Horchata: Agua de Arroz y Canela
2 cups long or extra long white rice
3 cups hot water
1 cinnamon stick, (ceylon or true cinnamon, if you can)
1 tbsp vanilla extract
4 cups milk
1 1/4 cup sugar
Ground cinnamon to sprinkle on top, optional
Place the rice in a bowl and cover with hot water. Roughly crumble a piece of True cinnamon into the rice mix (Cassia will not let you break it…) and let is all sit and rest anywhere from 2 to 8 hours outside of the refrigerator.
Place half of the rice mixture in the blender with half of the milk and vanilla and blend until smooth, then strain into a pitcher or container (if using Cassia cinnamon, remove it). Place the other half of the rice mixture in the blender with the remaining milk and the sugar, pure until smooth and strain into the same pitcher or container.
Stir well and serve over ice cubes, or place in the refrigerator until it is cold. Serve with more ice cubes to your liking, and sprinkle some ground cinnamon on top if you wish.
CINNAMON AND CORN MASA DUMPLINGS
Chochoyotes de Canela
Makes about 15 chochoyotes
1 cup corn masa flour, such as Maseca
3/4 cup water
1 1/2 tbsp lard or vegetable shortening
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp kosher or sea salt, or to taste
1/2 tsp sugar
Mix the corn masa flour with water and knead until the dough is smooth and has no lumps, about a minute. Add the lard, cinnamon, sugar and salt and mix until it is well incorporated.
Make little balls of about 1 inch with your hands. Using your little finger, make a dip in the middle of the dumpling. One by one add them to the simmering sauce, mole or soup that they will be cooked in. It will take about 10 to 15 minutes for the chochoyotes to be fully cooked.
PIGGIES: CINNAMON AND PILONCILLO COOKIES
Chochinitos: Galletas de Piloncillo y Canela
Makes 30 medium sized cookies (with a 4-inch cookie cutter)
12 oz piloncillo, chopped or grated, or substitute for 1 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup water
1 true or ceylon cinnamon stick, about 3″ long
2 sticks or 1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tbsp honey
4 1/4 cups all purpose flour, you may need a bit more
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten
Butter to grease a cookie/baking sheet
2 to 3 tbsp all purpose flour, you may need a bit more or less, to roll out the dough
1 egg, lightly beaten to be used as a glaze
Confectioner’s sugar to sprinkle on top, optional
In a saucepan, combine grated piloncillo or dark brown sugar with water and cinnamon. Place over medium heat, once it simmers, lower the heat to keep it at a medium-low simmer for about 15 minutes, until it thickens to a light syrup consistency. Turn off the heat and remove the cinnamon stick. You should have now about 1 1/4 cups piloncillo liquid, need not be exact! Add butter and honey into the hot liquid and stir until it dissolves.
In a mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Make a hole in the center and pour in the piloncillo mixture. Mix it all together with a spatula until it is well incorporated. Combine the eggs into the dough, which will be sticky and gooey. Seriously: it will be GOOEY and that is OK.
Place plastic wrap in the bottom of a mixing bowl to have wings on the sides. With a spatula, push the dough onto the plastic wrap, wrap the dough, and refrigerate anywhere from 2 hours to a couple days.
When you are ready to make the cookies, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease a couple cookie or baking sheets with butter.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and sprinkle a couple tablespoons of flour on a countertop. Rub a bit of flour on the rolling pin as well. Roll out the dough which will now be firmer, until you have about 1/4 -inch thickness. Using piggie cookie cutters (or other shapes, but then you may need to change the name!) press down on the dough, moving it a bit on the counter top, to make it easier to lift the shaped dough.
Place the piggies on the baking sheet as you shape them along. Gently brush the cookie tops with the remaining egg. Roll the leftover dough into a ball, wrap it with the plastic wrap, and place it in the freezer for at least 10 minutes before using it again, or it will be too soft and sticky. Repeat to make the remaining cookies.
Bake the cookies anywhere from 7 to 9 minutes. Remove them from the oven and place on a cooking rack. You may sprinkle confectioners’ sugar on top. Keep them covered so they remain soft.
My boys love to eat them with a tall glass of milk, I like them with a hot cup of coffee.
AMARALLITO MOLE WITH CHICKEN
Mole Amarillito con Pollo
Serves 6 to 8
2 ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded
2 guajillo chiles, stemmed and seeded
1 lb or about 8 to 10 tomatillos, husked and rinsed
1 Roma tomato
4 garlic cloves
2 whole cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp oregano
2 tsp kosher or sea salt, or to taste
1/4 tsp black pepper, ground
3 tbsp vegetable oil
8 chicken pieces, with skin and bones
1/4 cup white onion, chopped
5 cups chicken broth
3 medium fresh hoja santaor 5 dried, optional
Cinnamon Masa Dumplings, optional (recipe in same episode!)
On an already hot comal or dry skillet set over medium heat, toast the chiles for about 10 to 15 seconds per side. They will become more pliable and release their aroma. Remove the chiles from the pan and place them in a cooking pot along with the tomatillos, tomato and garlic cloves. Cover with water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, and simmer for 10 minutes, until they are soft and cooked. Transfer to a blender along with 2 whole cloves, ground cinnamon, oregano, salt and pepper. Puree until smooth and set aside.
In a large skillet, heat 3 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat. Gently add the chicken pieces skin side down first, and brown on each side for 3 to 4 minutes. Incorporate the onion and cook 2 to 3 minutes, until soft and translucent. Pour the reserved pureed sauce on top, add the hojas santas if using, and cook until it has seasoned and thickened, about 8 to 10 minutes.
Add the chicken stock, bring to a simmer and keep at a steady simmer on medium heat for about 15 to 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low, add the masa dumplings one by one to the pan. Cook for another 12 to 15 minutes, or until the dumplings are cooked and the mole thickens enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.
Mexico is now the largest importer of cinnamon in the world–but how do they use it that’s so special? Just how different is the Ceylon or True cinnamon used in Mexico from the Cassia cinnamon of Southeast Asia?