I don’t remember the first time my mom served me Mexican hot cocoa, but I remember the package distinctly– a hexagonal yellow box with friendly white letters carried by a red banner above a vaguely disturbing image of a matronly grandma. I loved the way the chocolate came in circular disks, with wedges to prepare the various servings, and a propensity to shatter into wonderfully thin shards when you cut them. This was more than just hot cocoa, this was chocolate para mesa, combining chocolate and cinnamon into a spicy but smooth, special warm drink. The emphasis was on “special,” as despite my protests, mom would only prepare it sparingly and on special occasions. (By the way, now it’s distributed by Nestle in the US.)
Since moving away from Southern California, Mexican food is often difficult to come by, and I have to rely on my own preparation to remind me of more authentic tastes. Sometimes, when those special occasions come around, I make my own chocolate para mesa, adding sugar, cinnamon, and a dash of chili powder to cocoa powder and milk, and reminisce about the staring contests I would engage with Abuelita as I waited for mom to brew the milk. (Seriously, Abuelita should thrown down with Aunt Jememiah in a geriatric mascot cage match.)
Since getting some cocoa from a trip to a coffee farm in Bali, Indonesia, it seemed a perfect time to see if you could apply the same principles to make a more spicy version of a cocoa layer cake. I was pleasantly surprised with the results. The cake was dense and tasty, full of chocolate flavor. In fact, the cinnamon and chili were kind of lost as distinctive flavors in and of themselves, but they did instead seem to enhance the chocolate flavor overall. I might try lessening the cocoa (1/2 cup? 5/8?) of cocoa to see if it would make the cinnamon/chili pop a bit more.
Abuelita Cocoa Cake
- 2 cups cake flour
- 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
- 1 tbsp cinnamon
- 1/8 tsp red chili powder (cayenne pepper)
- 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup buttermilk
- Confectioners sugar and cinnamon for dusting
- Whipped cream (optional)
Combine flour, cocoa, cinnamon, chili, baking soda, and salt.
Cream together butter and both sugars until well-blended and fluffy. Blend in the eggs one at a time. Add vanilla.
Mix in the dry ingredients mixture and buttermilk, alternately, bit by bit. The batter should be thick but add a bit more milk if needed.
Pour into a dusted, buttered cake pan (such as a 9-inch round. I divided the batter into my silicon bundt and cupcake pans) and bake at 350 until springy to the touch and tested clean.
Approximately 50 minutes to 1 hour. Cool in the pan for another hour. Serve warm, with a dusting of confectioners sugar and cinnamon, topped with whipped cream. Other ideas– Since I didn’t add anything to the whipped cream this time, I might try whipping it with some extra cinnamon or make an actual frosting with cinnamon. A chocolate ganache prepared with cinnamon/chili might be amazing, too!