A Spoonful of Sugar?

“Anything is good if it’s made of chocolate.”
 – Jo Brand 

My first impressions of Granada are rather more favourable than of the gritty León: yet another classic colonial town with beautiful churches, cathedrals and general architecture.

Being Easter Sunday, I decided to indulge in a course in local chocolate making! The process was great fun, starting from the dried bean right through to a bar of chocolate!

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Roasting the, previously fermented and dried, Cacao beans – a wok can be used in place of this traditional ‘ceramic pot over an open fire’ method!

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The outer ‘husks’ are then removed (a ‘crushing’ technique before peeling seems to be the most effective method!) to leave Cacao nibs which you then ground with a pestle and mortar into a cocoa mass called chocolate liquor. The natural fat in the bean produces a surprising amount of moisture once ground thoroughly!

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We then used this chocolate liquor to recreate ancient Aztec and Mayan recipes! Cacao has been cultivated for at least three millennia in Central America, with it’s earliest documented use being by the Mayans in 1100BC! Adding boiling water, cinnamon  honey and pepper and then mixing naturally through pouring from one jug into another produces the original Mayan take on Hot Chocolate!

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The Aztec version involves simply adding chilli and cardamom to this concoction creating a bizarrely uplifting drink! It was in fact believed to fight fatigue. I was shocked to find out that there is actually no caffeine in chocolate, as I had previously thought, but the similar, mood enhancing, theobromine possibly explaining why chocolate supposedly makes people ‘happier’! These chocolate drinks were consumed widely in Mayan and Aztec culture, also being used at sacred ceremonies and even as sacrifices for the gods and as currency!

The Europeans were the ones to include the additions of refined sugar and milk, ingredients unknown to the inhabitants of Central America. We also had a crack at making this more modern take on the drink through adding three teaspoons of the Cacao mass to a cup of hot milk then two teaspoons of sugar, resulting in a much more familiar taste! Unlike the Mayans and Aztecs, however, the Europeans never integrated chocolate into their general diet, isolating it instead into the ‘sweats and deserts’ category. Perhaps this idea may itself evolve with the help of some of the more adventurous modern chefs!

Following the class, I headed out to the local Easter service in the country’s most renowned cathedral (Granada Cathedral). Despite the fact that my Spanish has come a long way since Argentina I must admit that I struggled to understand the service but enjoyed the atmosphere, nevertheless! I then found myself stuck in an Easter procession on the way back, with fireworks and a loud brass band accompanying me to the hostel!

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So there’s my Easter experience in Central America! More to follow tomorrow…