This recipe was born of the dark arts. The amalgam of chocolate and spices creates a heady brew with hints of burnt sugar and sweet caramel. Chocolate, nutmeg, cinnamon and cayenne pepper come together in a spiced pot de crème. The mixture is then elevated by a drizzle of salted caramel almonds.
The Mayan influence has clearly cast its spell over me after just a brief time in Mexico. The Mayan God of Cocoa, Ek Chuah, is honored in a festival every April with the sacrifice of a cocoa colored dog. The Spaniards noted that priests would pierce their earlobes and let the blood drip on the cocoa as a sacrifice. Sacrificial victims were served cocoa to comfort them in the Mexica region before they were sacrificed in an annual festival. Ixcacao, the Goddess of cocoa was an ancient fertility goddess, an earth goddess in a matriarchal society where gathering crops and seeing to it that everyone was fed was woman’s work. Banishing hunger and providing for the safety and security of the people was her divine responsibility. I can relate to this a little more and I really do believe this is part of a divine responsibility that we all carry out through our actions in the kitchen. As a story teller I am still drawn to the fearsome bloody stories of the darkness and sacrifice. They bring an edgy excitement and keep me from getting trapped by my routine.
I broke my routine the other day. I’d been trying to get to a store during business hours, not as easy as one might think when you work long hours. I left work in the afternoon (only to return and work late) and stopped by my apartment. Guess who I saw?! The woman who moved out from the apartment below mine that I’ve spoken about here and here! She’s a cook and I didn’t know it until she moved out and left all of her wonderful cookbooks behind. I saw her checking her mail in front of the building. We had said hello in passing before so I went up to her and told her that I had found her treasure trove of cookbooks and asked how she liked her new place. She was so excited that someone had put them to good use and told me how hard it was to part with them, but NYC being NYC there isn’t always room for everything. I was right about her being a professional cook. She owns her own catering company. We talked about chefs and recipes and then had to run back to wherever we were running.
The next day she left me a cute hand-written note inviting me over for a bite to eat, drinks and to geek out over food and cooking this weekend. She only moved a block away and is so excited not to have a crooked kitchen anymore. So serendipitous! It’s the magic of the pudding. I’m telling you. Maybe Daniel Boulud will invite me into his kitchen tout suite as was part deux of the fantasy I posted.
But back to the pudding. Go ahead and make it. It is so rich and yet so subtle that it didn’t last long around here. It’s one of those “just one more spoonful” kind of desserts. Maybe it will work its dark magic on you too. Or at least lure you out of your routine long enough for you to begin a new cooking friendship!
SPICY MAYAN CHOCOLATE PUDDING W/ SALTED CARAMEL ALMONDS
For the pudding
- 1/2 cup of dark chocolate chips (if using the fancy kind, then chop it finely)
- 3 Tablespoons of cocoa powder
- 3 Tablespoons of corn starch
- 1/4 teaspoon of salt
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 3 large egg yolks
- 2 1/2 cups whole, 2% or skim milk
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Scant 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg (if possible, use freshly grated)
- 2 teaspoons of cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon cayenne or chipotle pepper (for more heat, add 1/8 of each)
For the salted caramel almonds
- 1/2 cup of almonds
- 1/4 cup of sugar
- splash of water
- sea salt crystals or kosher if you don’t have
For the Pudding
- In a heat resistant bowl mix the cocoa, cornstarch, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Slowly mix in the cream until it comes together (it’ll be quite thick). Add the eggs and whisk.
- Place the milk and sugar in a pan and heat it up so the sugar dissolves. Bring it to a gentle simmer (careful not to boil it). Remove from heat.
- Slowly whisk in the warm milk over the cocoa/egg mix, don’t pour it all at once or you’ll have scrambled chocolate eggs. Once you have poured the whole thing in, put the pudding mix back into the pot.
- Cook the pudding mix by placing the pot over medium heat – use a wooden spoon to stir and make sure to scrape every corner. Once it comes to a full boil, let it bubble for about 3 minutes and remove from heat.
- While the mix is still hot, add the chocolate chips and vanilla and stir until they are combined.
- Transfer the mix into a bowl and put some plastic wrap onto the surface of the pudding (so it doesn’t get a “skin”). Let it chill.
For the Salted Caramel Almonds
- Place almonds on a tray lined with a parchment paper.
- Make the caramel: place sugar in a pot and add a splash of water (about 3 tablespoons). Turn on the heat on medium and gently swirl here and there. Notice how the bubbles get thicker as it cooks. Once it turns caramel brown (NOT black or light blond), QUICKLY remove from the heat and drizzle over pistachios. You won’t have much time before it turns black. Sprinkle some salt before the caramel cools down.
- Once it’s cold, break it apart into small chunks
Get some cups, jars or bowls and add the chilled pudding. I think it tastes best after a day in the fridge. Top with salty caramel almonds chunks. Buen provecho!