Punch Up Hot Cocoa with Mexican Chocolate and Chile-Infused Mezcal
Winter nights are cozier when sipping Mexican hot chocolate with chile-infused mezcal and smoked sea salt marshmallows.
By Christina Barrueta | Photography by Rick Gayle
Here in Phoenix, ‘tis the season when our bright sunny days transition to chilly desert nights. Whether you’re cozying up inside or gathering around a fire pit under starry skies, the perfect comforting companion is a mug of rich hot chocolate. For an even more luxurious concoction, savor an adult version spiked with chile-infused mezcal and garnished with airy homemade marshmallows.
To make his Mexican winter treat, Efren Cimental, bartender at Kazimierz Wine & Whiskey Bar, gathered some of his favorite ingredients to create a grown-up indulgence. Available at local grocery stores, Abuelita or Ibarra brand Mexican chocolate tablets, which have a hint of cinnamon, form the base. As a complement, mezcal—the agave-based liquor sometimes referred to as “tequila’s smokier cousin”—is Cimental’s spirit of choice. “With more than 200 species of agave, there are many different flavor profiles, and I love the artisanal and ancestral traditions behind it,” he says. One of his favorites is Mezcal Naran Espadín/Joven, co-owned by Phoenix resident Ivan Carreño. “It has an earthy sweetness that really uplifts the chocolate,” Cimental says.
To further enhance its unique flavors, Cimental infuses the mezcal with ancho chiles, mild dried red poblano peppers that have raisin and chocolate undertones. He recommends infusing the mezcal for just a few hours to start, tasting at intervals until it reaches your desired strength. “The chile spice really complements the chocolate and mezcal, and you’ll get a little kick in the back end of it,” he raves.
To amplify the smoky sweetness of the hot chocolate, executive pastry chef Morgan Malzahn of Andaz Scottsdale Resort favors marshmallows scented with vanilla and smoked sea salt. “Salt makes the flavor more well-rounded, prevents it from being overly sweet and adds depth,” she says. Malzahn prefers sheets of gelatin for the smoothest texture (look for them on Amazon and at baking supply shops), and vanilla bean paste for a purer flavor. For a festive presentation, she says, “It’s fun to cut the marshmallows into shapes with cookie cutters, although I would steer away from cutters with tiny corners.”
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