So – firstly, what is Mexican Chocolate? Mexican Chocolate is made up of a combination of chocolate, cinnamon, sugar, nuts and chillies (sometimes other spices), most commonly found pounded into a paste and molded into round disks that are then used to make a hot chocolate drink. Or sometimes eaten by itself for a caffeine boost late at night (I only recommend this in times of necessity, it will make you jittery). The taste is warm and smoky, and the chocolate has a grainy texture – perfect for cozying up on a chilly, rainy fall day.
The ingredients for these brownies may require a trip to a specialty store, but the end result is well worth it. In this batch I’ve used one 6oz. bar of Dagoba Organic Chocolate 100% Unsweetened Baking Chocolate. The 100% means that the bar is made up entirely of cacao beans, no dairy fat (such as in semi-sweetened or milk chocolate) and no sugar added. At 4.99 per bar Dagoba is a nice, mid-range priced chocolate, but if you want to splurge on Valrhona (14.99 per lb.) or Scharffen Berger (8.99 per 12 oz) then go for it. Cocoa nibs – the by-product of roasted, shelled cacao beans – may be a bit harder to find. Pure Dark makes a dark chocolate covered nibs at 5.99 per 3 oz bag that you can find in the candy section of specialty stores (Pure Dark is a division of Mars Chocolate, so it’s a bit more mainstream). I like that these are covered, it protects them a bit in the mixing process, but it’s not necessary. Chipotle peppers – smoked-dried jalapenos – are relatively easy to find, and extremely cheap. They are nearly always located in the spice section, the ethnic section, or (as in our Food Lion) the fresh fruits and veggies section. Mexican vanilla will be a bit harder to find, and if you can’t locate any, regular vanilla is fine (usually Tahitian or some variant) – Mexican vanilla is a fragrant, intensely floral vanilla, and I find it to be fuller bodied (it’s my favorite). As for pecans – a 6 oz. bag right now is anywhere between 4-7$, depending on where you are. Pecans are native to South-Central North America and are found in a lot of Mexican cuisine. They are meaty in texture, and have a richer, less bitter flavor than walnuts.
Mexican Chocolate Brownies
Oven: 325 F; Makes about 24 Servings at one square per serving
- Three Chipotle Peppers
- One 3 oz. pkg of Cocoa Nibs
- One 6oz. bar of 100% Cocoa Baking Chocolate
- One 6oz. pkg of Pecans (toasted)
- Set Aside Together: 1 tsp. Sugar, 1/2tsp. Chili Powder, 1 tsp. Cinnamon
- 2 sticks (8 oz.) of Unsalted Sweet Cream Butter
- 1 & 1/2 cups Sugar
- 1/2 tsp. Salt
- 2 tsp. Cinnamon
- 1 tsp. Chili Powder
- 1/4 tsp. either finely ground coffee or espresso powder
- 4 Large Eggs
- 1 Tab. Vanilla
- 1 cup + 1 Tab. All Purpose Flour
- 1/4 cup Cocoa (go for a nicer, dark cocoa)
First thing’s first – take your three chipotle peppers, slice them longways down the middle and stick them in a glass to soak for about one hour.
You want to re-constitute the peppers so you don’t bite into your brownies later and wonder why there’s a bit of plastic in it. Cutting them in half will speed up the process. When they’re ready they’ll be more pliable and the inside flesh will be pulpy and red. When they’re ready to use, preset your oven to 325F. Drain your peppers, blot them with a paper towel, then slice them, again longways, into thin strips. Then dice the strips into small pieces and set aside for later.
Spread your pecans onto an un-greased baking sheet or pan, and toast in the oven, 7-10 minutes (not longer) – a good way to tell they’re done is if you can smell them. Take them out and set aside to cool. When they’re cool enough that you can handle them, chop the pecans finely and set aside.
Mexican Chocolate Crumble:
Now, this next part, you can do in a food processor if you’d like (a lot of people don’t have a mortar and pestle hanging around in their kitchens), but you have to be careful that you don’t make a paste. You just want to grind the nibs up enough to sprinkle. Here, we’re making something that we will sprinkle between layers of brownie to boost the flavor in the center (optionally, you can sprinkle on top and swirl with a toothpick – or your finger). If using a food processor/spice/coffee mill, you can add all of the following ingredients at once, and pulse until you reach the desired texture. If using an M&P (like me), start first with half the package (about 1 & 1/2 oz.) of cocoa nibs, pounding until about 2/3 is crushed and powdery.
Add in the reserved sugar and spices (see above) and continue until most of the mixture is crushed, then set aside.
Batter: When making your brownie batter, it’s best to have all your ingredients prepared before you begin melting the butter. In a bowl, combine your sugar, salt, and spices (the coffee here will enhance the flavor of the chocolate, without adding any coffee taste), whisk together and set aside. In another bowl, add together your flour, cocoa, and nuts, and set this aside as well. A helpful tip – when you make cookies and brownies, adding nuts or chocolate chips or dried fruit to your flour first will not only sift your flour (saving you an extra step), but it will protect your added ingredients so that they aren’t torn up by the beater or whisk when you mix them in! Yay! Go ahead and crack all your eggs together in a measuring cup, and add your vanilla (the best time to add vanilla in most any baking recipe is when you are adding the eggs).
Chop up the 6 oz. of chocolate – the easiest way to do this is to cut from the corners of the bar, you’re almost shaving the chocolate off. Put the chocolate in the mixing bowl.
Melt the two sticks of butter – you can do this in the microwave or over the stove, but overall I’d recommend the stove, the butter gets hotter, and there’s less of a chance that you’ll burn yourself (a lesson from childhood). Pour the melted butter over the chocolate, allow to sit for about thirty seconds, and then stir (gently!) with a whisk.
You want the chocolate to be completely melted into the butter, no chunks of chocolate floating and no butter fat uncombined.
For this recipe, I prefer using a whisk, because it’s such a soft batter, the whisk puts a little more air into it, but it’s such a friendly recipe, you can use beaters, or even just whisk/beat it by hand, if you prefer. When your chocolate is combined, quickly add your sugar and mix together on a low speed until all is combined. Scrape down the sides, add vanilla and eggs (altogether), and beat at a higher speed, until the batter starts to look a bit fluffy. Add your chipotle peppers, mix in, and then add your flour mixture, mixing it it on LOW speed, until all is combined.
Do you like thin brownies, or thick ones? The pan I’m using to bake with is a 7X7X3 ” pan, so I get a fairly tall brownie square. If you are using a longer, rectangular pan, and want a thinner brownie, your baking time will be twenty minutes. For thicker brownies (like mine), your time will be thirty minutes. Spray your pan GENEROUSLY with baking spray – there’s no need for paper or flour when you spray the pan properly. I’m using a Pillsbury Baking Spray, but you could use Baker’s Joy (my favorite), or Pam Baking Spray. Do NOT use cooking or vegetable or any spray that doesn’t have ‘baking’ in the name – it will make a mess of your baked goods. Period.
Spoon in about a half of your batter and spread evenly to the edges in your pan. Sprinkle your chocolate crumble all over, and then spread on the rest of your batter on top of it.
Sprinkle a handful or two of your leftover cocoa nibs over the top before putting in the oven. Bake at 325F 20-30 minutes, depending on your choice of thickness. The top will be dry, but give a little bit when you press on it. When they’re done, remove from the oven and allow to rest for two hours before cutting. Don’t worry, they’ll still be warm when you cut into them, but this will give all the molecules a chance to settle down after being so busy rearranging themselves in the oven.
Dairy-Free: To make these completely dairy-free, use cocoa nibs that aren’t coated in chocolate, and substitute the butter with Earth Balance Buttery Spread (my favorite non-dairy, vegan friendly choice, just be sure to reduce the salt in this recipe to 1/4 tsp.)
Vegan: Besides the Earth Balance, you can substitute 1 & 1/3 cup veggie or canola oil for eggs (that’s 1/3 cup per egg). It will keep the same texture, no worries. ^_^
Pumpkin: Take one cup of canned pumpkin and beat in 1/4 cup sugar, 1 egg, 1 tsp. each allspice, ginger, nutmeg. spoon drops over full pan of batter, swirl with a toothpick (or your finger) and if desired, sprinkle with 2/3cup of pumpkin seeds. ^_^
When you make the recipe, be sure to post a picture and let me know how they turned out. Questions? Comments? Okay – get to it, and enjoy!