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Making the most foam possible when whipping up a Mexican chocolate drink has been a serious matter for people in Mexico for centuries and centuries—crucial to the point of being a determining factor in whether one would be able to find a mate to spend the rest of your days with, or not. Don't believe me? As the story goes, women could find a husband in many Mexican regions if she was able to make a good and considerable amount of foam when making hot chocolate. And so, thank goodness they had the molinillo, a wooden whisk-like tool with the purpose of making the best quality, and most amount, of foam.
Suitors would supposedly not turn their heads in her direction, regardless of any other virtue, without it. (What’s more, it was the mother of the groom to be who judged how good the foam was.) On Sunday afternoons, potential grooms would walk around town as potential brides set up tables outside their homes and started making chocolate, whipping the mix as efficiently and effectively as they could. The more foam she made, the more attractive the bride was considered to be.
Creating a lot of foam is no easy feat: Think cappuccino foam with no machine. But it turns out that one's ability to produce an admirable chocolate foam could be a sign of admirable attributes to come: It could indicate how hardworking, dedicated, focused, energetic, and skilled a person can be. You not only have to break a sweat, but also develop an effective technique, and then there is also the matter of style…
Thankfully, my mother-in-law didn’t abide by that tradition, or I wouldn’t have gotten married. When I met my husband, the best I could whip up were some forgettable scrambled eggs and an extremely sweet limeade. Forget about a frothy, delicate, silky—worthy—foam to top a rich-tasting chocolate.
You can drink it hot or cold over a generous amount of ice. In any case, by tradition, foam must be made. Using an ancient tool passed down through generations just for this purpose—the molinillo—always helped, and does to this day.
The molinillo is a prized possession in any home, as it is in mine. I got mine on a trip to Michoacán, specifically in the market of Tzin Tzun Tzan, where there is a well-known molinillo maker. A molinillo requires a lot of artisanship to make: It is made from a single piece of wood, with moving rings, shapes, and indentations carved into its different parts, a sturdy base to rest in a pot, a soft round handle for easily rubbing between the hands, and gorgeous decorations. I found out about this maker through word of mouth; the man knows his craft! He helped me choose one, according to the size of my hands and the style of my whisking. He also taught me to whisk at a slight angle, to create more air bubbles from the bottom up. My molinillo keeps me connected to the generations that came before me, and it keeps me connected to Mexico—plus, I love romantic stories and passed-down tales, and this one definitely fits the bill.
- 2 cups milk or water
- 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate of good quality; if you find Mexican chocolate, even better
- 1 true cinnamon stick, about 2 inches long
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 tablespoons almond meal or finely ground almonds
- 4 tablespoons sugar, or to taste
What are the tools that remind you of old tales—or the tools that make you feel connected to cooks before you? Share them in the comments.