Cupcake Rampage: Aztec Xocolatl Cupcakes
I have a problem with chocolate. Not an addiction kind of problem, it’s more like the complex gauntlet of feelings a married couple goes through leading up to a separation or estrangement. My problem isn’t with chocolate per se, but rather the lofty pedestal it’s been placed upon as food of the gods. The appeal of chocolate has become so pervasive and universal as to make it ubiquitously available, which has invariably led to a massive spectrum of quality, the majority of which have been dulled and flattened to appease the less sophisticated Western palate. Most commercially available chocolate shares the same stigma as boxed macaroni and cheese; so many people are used to the low balled version that the “real thing” would taste almost alien to them.
Now, I’m not trying to be a snot-nosed foodie and say that you haven’t tried real chocolate until you’ve tasted a raw cacao bean or anything, but I’m also of the mind that the more often chocolate is utilized or abused in products, the less special it becomes. This is why I don’t bake with chocolate very often, not because I don’t like it, but because it’s such a mysterious, multidimensional, powerful ingredient that I want to make sure I use its magic properly.
Then again, the ancient Aztecs didn’t quite think that way when it came to their version of hot chocolate. Before that asshole Cortez came along and wrecked everything, they were known to guzzle gallons of what they called xocolatl, (pronounced “HOCK-a-lottle”) and since they didn’t know from sugar, they tempered its natural astringency with hot peppers and other spices. The recipe that follows isn’t an attempt to recreate that brew with any degree of authenticity, but rather an experiment to see what other kinds of personality traits can be brought out of something that usually tastes the same every time you eat it, like chocolate.
There are a lot of different flours in this recipe, but they’re mostly for texture, so don’t be too intimidated. Xocolatl and other rustic strains of Mexican hot chocolate have plenty of toothy sediment in them; the tender grit of the corn flour and almond meal are a homage to that unique mouthfeel.
Aztec Xocolatl Cupcakes
I adapted this recipe from the Mexican Hot Chocolate Cupcakes from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World.
Wet Team A:
- 1 cup light coconut milk
- 1 tablespoon ground flax seed
Wet Team B:
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup lightly packed brown sugar (light or dark, it’s up to you)
- 1/3 cup canola oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 teaspoon almond extract
- 1/2 teaspoon orange extract
- 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
- 2 tablespoons corn flour or masa harina
- 1/4 cup almond meal
- 1/2 cup minus 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon instant coffee granules
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/8 teaspoon (or less if you’re a gringo) cayenne pepper
Preheat your oven to 350° F and line a muffin tin with paper liners.
Whisk the coconut milk and flaxseed together in a bowl and set aside for at least 10 minutes.
Fun fact: when ground, flax seed can absorb up to six times its weight in liquid.
In another, larger bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. If your instant coffee is on the chunky side, just whisk it in separately.
If you bake with any kind of relative frequency, you may want to consider grinding your own spices sooner or later. Some spices like ginger are more practical in their prepackaged form, but stuff like cinnamon and cloves are almost always cheaper to buy whole. If you own a coffee grinder, you’re halfway there already, as most commercially-available models are designed with small workbowls that are ideal for grinding up only a few teaspoons at a time. Plus, once you get into the habit of grinding, you can eventually move on to making your own curry powders, barbecue rubs, and pumpkin pie spice mixes.
Add the sugars, oil, and extracts to the coconut milk mixture and whisk just to combine.
This recipe works just as well with all white sugar if you don’t have (or like) brown sugar; the two can be swapped out on a 1:1 basis. If you want to shake things up a bit, use all white sugar, but add in a tablespoon and a half of dark molasses (not blackstrap, that’s something completely different) with the wet ingredients.
Divide the batter evenly into the muffin tin, filling the cups about three-quarters of the way up. When they bake, these cupcakes will develop those pretty cracked tops that are such a mark of quality on properly-made brownies.
Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then de-pan and cool completely on a cooling rack.
Top with equal parts sifted powdered sugar, sifted cocoa powder, and ground cinnamon. No stupid frosting to make this time!
Have a glass of milk handy. The cayene pepper doesn’t make these cupcakes totally spicy, but they lend a nice note of heat in the back of your throat, just like a good shot of whiskey.