AMALIA’S KITCHEN: Family, Love and Guatemalan Chocolate

Guatemala award-winning chef and author Amalia Moreno-Damgaard

Award-winning chef and author Amalia Moreno-Damgaard

I surely had a blast this past holiday season with family and friends visiting me for two weeks from Guatemala and Denmark. As we move into the New Year, and Valentine’s Day (día del Cariño) on the 14th, I want to share a dessert recipe that I made for them during their visit.

I created classic chocolate-covered strawberries as an appetizer paired with champagne one evening and chocolate and vanilla crepes for breakfast one morning. My teenage son made hot chocolate another day.

A big favorite was the dark chocolate crepes, which include dulce de leche, berries and mint. The batter can be converted easily to gluten-free by substituting wheat for rice or yucca flour.

Because Guatemala is the cradle of the Mayan civilization and chocolate was key for classic Mayan rituals and ceremonies, it continues to be thought of as food of the gods, and it also has a very special place in Guatemalan hearts and cuisine.

Guatemala chocolateArtisanal chocolate producers, from rustic mom-and-pop shops to larger processors, are abundant throughout the country. Higher concentrations are in La Antigua Guatemala and Mixco (near Guatemala City), which is called “La Tierra del Chocolate” (the land of chocolate). Guatemalan chocolate is made with freshly ground roasted cocoa beans, canela (Ceylon cinnamon), sugar and sometimes other flavorings.

The chocolate is then pressed into tablets or thick rounds that must be dissolved in hot water or milk for cooking and eating. Cocoa powder, by contrast, is more processed and contains other ingredients. Cocoa powder tastes good when it’s dissolved in hot milk, but it doesn’t taste good in just hot water.

Because Guatemalan chocolate is so different from cocoa powder, there’s a world of difference between Guatemalan hot chocolate and American hot cocoa, both in flavor and consistency. For this reason, cocoa is not a good substitute in Guatemalan cooking.

Guatemalan chocolate is also an important ingredient in the classic dish mole de platano (plantain mole) and for tamales negros (black sweet tamales), which are traditionally eaten at Christmas. Sauces can be made by combining chocolate with a higher cocoa butter content commercial chocolate. Because of the high content of sugar and texture, it is not conducive for eating straight out of the package. The nuances and deep rich flavor and aroma are best appreciated in culinary creations.

Chocolate is available wrapped in manila paper packages in attractive Mayan textile bags at many open-air markets in Antigua and Guatemala City and make great gifts. At supermarkets and grocery stores, chocolate is also available in tablets wrapped in waxed paper with the printed logo of the manufacturer. The chocolate that sells without a logo in bags is artisan and the other one is produced commercially.

Wishing you a sweet Valentine’s Day!!

Guatemalan Dark Chocolate Crepes with Dulce de Leche

Recipe by Chef Amalia Moreno-Damgaard

Guatemala chocolateCrepes are not a traditional Guatemalan dessert, but they are popular in Guatemala City. Two Guatemalan ingredients, dark chocolate and dulce de leche, work deliciously with crepes in contrast with the berries and mint.

Canillitas de leche (little milk legs) are the Guatemalan version of dulce de leche presented in a unique way. Dulce de leche is popular throughout Latin America, and every country has its own version and name for it. This is a quick and delicious way to make this dessert into a sauce rather than as the traditional Guatemalan fudge.

Makes 20 to 25 6-inch crepes

Quick Dulce de Leche (Dulce de Leche Rápido)
1 14-ounce can condensed milk
1 14-ounce can evaporated milk
1 stick canela (Ceylon cinnamon)
1 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise (or 2 teaspoons vanilla extract)

Crepe mix (Mezcla para Crepas)
1 1/2 cups dark chocolate milk
3 large eggs
2 1/2 ounces (5 tablespoons) water
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
High-heat cooking spray

Adorno (Garnish)
Guatemalan dark chocolate, ancho and rum sauce
Raspberries
Mint sprigs

Mix all the dulce de leche ingredients in a pan and cook slowly over medium-low heat until the mixture is medium brown and thick, about 1 hour. During the cooking time, stir frequently to keep it from sticking to the pan. When the mixture is ready, let it cool.

Combine all the crepe mix ingredients in a blender in the order listed. Allow the batter to rest for 10 minutes to get rid of any air bubbles. (Alternatively, whisk all the ingredients in a bowl by hand.)

Heat a crepe pan or small nonstick skillet and keep it at medium-low heat. Spray it with cooking spray before about every third crepe. Pour about 2 tablespoons of the batter on the skillet to make uniform crepes and swirl the batter around quickly to fully coat the skillet with a thin layer.

Cook each crepe until matte or until edges loosen, almost 1 minute on one side and 1 1/2 minutes on the other side. Crepes should be thin and flexible. It may take a couple of crepes to get the hang of it.

Fill the crepes with dulce de leche and roll them or make triangle shapes.

Serve the crepes garnished with chocolate sauce, raspberries and mint sprigs.

Amalia’s Note
To make dark chocolate milk: In a saucepan, combine 1 1/3 cups of skim milk with 4 ounces of Guatemalan dark chocolate. Bring to a quick boil, lower the heat, and simmer uncovered until the chocolate is fully dissolved. Keep a close eye, as milk will foam and boil over. Chill before serving.

Revue’s “AMALIA’S KITCHEN” by award-winning chef and author Amalia Moreno-Damgaard (AmaliaLLC.com)

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