In case you don't know why we celebrate this day, it commemorates the Mexican army’s unlikely victory over invading French forces at the Battle of Puebla (Mexico) on 5 May 1862. Cinco de Mayo is not a federal holiday in Mexico and has limited significance nationwide there, but is observed in the United States and around the world as a celebration of Mexican heritage and pride. This past Sunday, our neighborhood celebrated this festive occasion in appreciation of the culture, joy and enrichment added to our daily lives by our Mexican friends and neighbors. Margaritas poured freely and a lively Mariachi band played favorites. These chocolate cookies, infused with ancient Mexican flavors, were our contribution to the feast.
Once again, I must credit my mother for the original recipe. But, like so many good recipes, this is the perfect vehicle for experimentation in flavor. While the secondary flavoring of her recipe was vanilla-based I now substitute peppermint or orange extract to add a special dimension for the holidays, especially Christmas. This past weekend, though, I decided to make them keeping the vanilla extract and adding two additional quintessential, traditional Mexican flavors associated with chocolate: cinnamon and chile.
Have you ever had a cup of Mexican hot chocolate? It is a very special brew and unlike other hot chocolates or hot cocoas you might find. The two most easily found brands of this chocolate are Ibarra and Abuelita. Abuelita means "grandmother" in Spanish and there is a great photo of her on the box. The boxes, by the way, are hexagonal and are colored yellow and red, which takes their colors from the Spanish flag. Quite distinctive packaging. The chocolate comes in little disks, each of which is divided into eighths. Two of the sections is just about perfect for a nice cup of hot chocolate. The traditional method to make this is to heat the milk and add the tablet. The, by rolling a molinillo between the palms of your hands on the top of the disk, it grinds, emulsifies and froths the chocolate. Alas, not every one has a molinillo, so while visiting Santa Fe I was taught at Café Pasqual's to add the hot milk and chopped chocolate to a blender and blend till the chocolate is melted and the brew is frothy. This works perfectly!
So, by taking a lead from the ingredients off the box of Mexican chocolate, I have been able to transform many recipes to give them this wonderful flavor combination. These cookies are just one example. I have named them Mexican Canyon Cookies for the deep, dark chocolate canyons that occur in their dusty, white, desert-like surfaces.
Mexican Canyon Cookies
1/2 cup canola oil
4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon hot chile powder, or more/less to taste
1/2 to 1 cup confectioners' sugar
Mix the oil, melted chocolate and sugar well in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating well with each addition. Add vanilla and set aside.
In another large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and chile powder (cayenne pepper works well). Add this mixture to the chocolate mixture and beat till smooth and all ingredients are evenly distributed. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
Preheat oven to 350ºF. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Put 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar in a shallow soup bowl for dusting cookies. Using a teaspoon, scoop spoonfuls of the dough and roll in your hands to make 1-inch balls. You should have about 60 when you are done. Roll 15 in the sugar and place on one of the prepared baking sheets spacing them 2 inches apart. Repeat with another 15. Bake them for 12 minutes and cool on racks. Reline the pans with parchment and, when cool, repeat with the remaining 30 balls.