Mayan chocolate, bitter and sexy, with its resonant flavors of cinnamon and chili always reminds me not of Mexico, but of Amsterdam. It was in that cold and wet city that my husband and I tied the knot to the bells of the Oude Kerk six years ago. We’re not much for fanfare, we two. And while we’d planned the trip for months, it was only in the three days before we left that we decided to make the Valentine’s getaway a honeymoon. A trip to the county clerk for our $10 marriage license, $165 on eBay for our wedding rings, and we were set. No satin dresses, no expensive flowers, no wedding invitations. Just us, in love. We were young and poor and passionate (and, I imagine, you could say that not much has changed since then). We rented an apartment in de Wallen – one of the city’s oldest sections in which stunning architecture and history combine with Amsterdam’s most well-known indulgences: coffee shops and the red light district.
After a few days in the city, visiting the Stedelijk and spending hours walking from canal to canal, we met my brother-in-law at Central Station. He rode the train in from Italy where he’d spent a few years hopping from farm to farm. We surprised him with the news and signed our papers while he dished out a bowl full of risotto with winter vegetables – our reception dinner, if you will, combined with a cheap bottle of viognier. Intimate, quiet and simple. My brother-in-law stepped out of the apartment only to return a short time later with a box of truffles, among them Mayan chocolate. And, perfectly, our only wedding gift.
Bitter Mayan chocolate with its aromatic spices will always remind me of Amsterdam and of that quiet night we spent huddled in that apartment, laughing, telling stories, eating chocolates and reveling in a young love.
Mayan chocolate is infinitely complex, and worth savoring. Like a rich and complicated perfume, its flavor follows a sequence – vibrant top and middle notes fading away into a robust and lingering bottom note. The pleasure of Mayan chocolate begins first on the tongue with a powdery and astringent bitterness quickly outshined by floral notes of vanilla and orange that fade into the throat with the lingering and stimulating spice of cinnamon and chipotle chilies. Mayan chocolate is an experiential exercise in pleasure more than a treat or an indulgence.
So this Valentine’s day he greeted me with roses, and I greeted him with Mayan chocolates. May you celebrate today in the arms of someone who drives your passion.
Mayan Chocolate: How it Nourishes
Chocolate is a strong food – one whose bitterness is typically tempered by cream, milk powders and mountains of sugar. Most chocolates are further insulted by the addition of soy lecithin, an emulsifier which some manufacturers include in lieu of additional cocoa butter. In many conventional brands, soy lecithin is sourced from genetically engineered beans and is best avoided. Sadly, milk chocolate bars which typically contain milk powders are best avoided as milk powder is a source of oxidized cholesterol. What you want in a chocolate is high cocoa content, no emulsifiers, limited sugar and no milk powder. Read more about how to choose a good organic dark chocolate.
Chocolate is also rich in theobromine, a stimulant, and is best consumed in small pieces when consumed at all. Though a stimulant, chocolate also may offer cardioprotective and anticarcinogenic properties thanks to its rich combination of antioxidants – boasting an ORAC value of 20,832, a feat considering the ORAC value of raspberries and blueberries (both foods lauded for their antioxidant content) is 4,882 and 6,552, respectively1. Flavonoid-rich dark chocolate also helps to improve blood vessel flexibility, thereby decreasing risk of cardiovascular disease2. Chocolate is also rich in trace minerals including iron, phosphorus, zinc, copper and manganese3 – necessary components of vascular tone and cell health4. And for expectant mothers, chocolate intake may help to reduce the risk of preeclampsia5,6 while a Finnish study found that mothers who consumed chocolate daily during pregnancy reported better temperaments in their babies than those who avoided chocolate or only ate it seldomly7.
While I wouldn’t recommend chocolate as a dietary staple due to its naturally occurring stimulants and its tendency to be addictive, a little treat like these Mayan chocolate truffles might be a worthy indulgence now and then. Moreover, these chocolates contain about one-half a teaspoon of added sugar per piece – an indulgence well within the recommendation not to consume more than two teaspoons in one serving.
Where to Buy Good Quality Chocolate and Spices
The flavor of these truffles can be only as good as your ingredients. Make sure that you choose a good quality dark chocolate (I use dark chocolate with an 85% cocoa content), and it should also be ethically sourced from companies who adhere to fair trade standards as child slavery is rampant in the chocolate industry. Yes, it will be more expensive. But, remember, treats like these mayan chocolate truffles are just that – treats. For such a rare indulgence, the added expense won’t add up and you won’t be contributing to the problem of child slavery on West African cocoa plantations.
Spice makes these truffles, so purchasing a good quality spice is essential. If you don’t have a favorite local spice shop, you can purchase organic spices online in bulk. I buy from Mountain Rose Herbs which offers both culinary and medicinal herbs and spices.
This recipe for Mayan chocolate truffles calls for chocolate with an 85% cocoa content, bitterly and wonderfully dark; you’ll find that the addition of other flavors such as orange, cinnamon, vanilla and even chipotle chili powder enhance the complexity of the chocolate’s inherent flavor and aroma. You won’t miss that sugar one bit. Further, these Mayan chocolate truffles are more simplistic and rustic – they require no hand molding; rather, simply chill the chocolate in the refrigerator and cut away at it to form beautifully imperfect bite-sized pieces. Beauty lies in imperfection.
- 10 oz chocolate with 85% cocoa content (chopped coarsely) (I use this fair trade dark chocolate)
- zest of 1 orange
- 1 tsp cinnamon (buy spices here)
- 1/4 tsp chipotle chili powder
- 1 vanilla bean
- 1 dash unrefined sea salt
- 1 cup full fat coconut milk (buy coconut milk here)
- 1 tbsp coconut oil (buy coconut oil here)
- cocoa powder (for dredging truffles)
- Toss chopped chocolate into a mixing bowl with the zest of one orange, cinnamon, chipotle chili powder, the contents of one vanilla bean and a dash unrefined sea salt.
- Bring coconut milk and coconut oil to a slow simmer in a saucepan over a moderate flame.
- Pour coconut milk and oil over the chopped chocolate and seasonings then stir continuously with a wooden spoon until the chocolate is thoroughly melted and the mixture, or ganache, becomes thick, uniform and glossy.
- Transfer the mixture to a plate lined with parchment paper, molding into a log as best you can, and allow it to harden in the refrigerator for eight to twelve hours, or overnight.
- After the Mayan chocolate has hardened in the refrigerator for eight to twelve hours, remove it, unmold it from the parchment paper and carve it into irregular bite-sized chunks.
- Toss the chunks with cocoa powder and serve.