Join me on this wandering train of thought…
I know about as much about Cinco de Mayo as I do about St. Patrick’s Day, i.e.: I celebrate both thematically, and not very historically, through food. Cinco de Mayo is a Mexican holiday. Churros, though probably of Portuguese origin, are common throughout Central and South America. Inspired by my love of chocolate and Mexican spice levels, my Spelt Flour Churro recipe includes a spicy, Dark Chocolate Chile Sauce, which leads me to the history of one South American chocolate hero and one South American chocolate heretic.
In reality, I’m talking about one, polarizing man.
Half a century ago, Ecuador was world famous for its cocoa, and the cocoa farmers were kings, but like all gambles with nature, no throne is ever safe from nature’s fury. A fungus called Witch’s Broom sucked the life from the cocoa trees and threatened world’s chocolate cravings. However, a short man, fondly and diminutively called Homerito, i.e.: little Homer, was intent on solving the crisis. Homero Castro was a plant scientist set on creating a new cocoa tree, one that would be highly productive and immune to Witch’s Broom. His enviable chocolate quest took him to Africa, the Caribbean and the Amazon, to collect different kinds of cocoa plants and crossbreed them (a modern-day Customs nightmare).
For twelve years, the entire life of a tween, he diligently crossed variety after variety, until finally, he believed he had succeeded. He arrived at a cocoa tree that was immune to the very fungus that threatened happiness itself. Castro named the new plant after himself and the city where he lived – Coleccion Castro Naranjal– CCN. He added the number 51 because of how many attempts it took to get it right- CCN-51. Cocoa farmers responded quickly and planted it by the acre. Chocolate tycoons arrived from all over the globe, and the cocoa crisis seemed to be averted except for one glaring detail: the taste!
Gary Guittard, owner of the company behind my recommendation for dark chocolate baking, likened the taste to “rusty nails.” These are not the fine palate notes or terroir adjectives you want from a cocoa bean description. The cocoa tycoons panned the product, the farmers were once again in dire straits, and Homero died tragically in a car accident, thinking his life’s ode was an utter failure.
However, the resourceful farmers determined a way to ferment the harvested beans, by sunning them in burlap sacks. The process eliminated the “rusty nails” quality, and CCN-51 was back in business! At this point in the historical tale, Homerito seems like an indisputable hero, but chocolate puritans scoff at the fermented CCN-51’s bland flavor. Gone are the nuances of these heritage cocoa beans, but as the chocolate industry discovered, the masses didn’t notice. We all want to think our tongue is God’s gift to rich flavors, but in reality, most of us never knew there was a switch.
As a chocolate lover, I mourn for the rips and tears in the ecosystem that put the sacred cocoa trees in danger and threatened the traditional farmers’ livelihood. However, as a chocolate lover who wants to keep eating chocolate, I see Homero as a hero. Like a true artist or tragic hero, he died without knowing the mark he left, so let’s all eat a spicy churro in honor of such culinary and botanical passion. Here’s to Homerito!
p.s: I first learned of this chocolate history through this great episode of Planet Money on NPR and this pertinent article.
Spelt Churros with Dark Chocolate Chile Dipping Sauce
About This Recipe: Made with wholesome spelt flour and fried in a non-gmo safflower oil, these churros are far healthier than their street food inspiration, but they’re equally crowd pleasing. The dark chocolate chile sauce starts with a homemade cinnamon simple syrup. If you want to skip this step, substitute pure maple syrup, agave or honey. I used a dried Morita chile, which I found at a local Mexican grocer. They had several varieties available, so follow your senses and see what smell and spice level inspires you. If you have extra chocolate sauce, it makes a great cake or ice cream topping.
yield: serves 12
1 cup (2 sticks) organic unsalted butter
4 Tablespoons organic evaporated cane sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
2 cups local, organic spelt flour
6 large eggs (organic/cage-free)
Organic, Non-Gmo Safflower oil, for frying
Organic Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting
Dark Chocolate Chile Sauce for dipping (recipe below)
In a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups water, butter, sugar, and salt; bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
Reduce heat to low, and sift in flour, stirring for 1 minute.
Transfer flour mixture to bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. On low speed, add eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition until incorporated; spoon mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a large, open-star tip (or your closest version).
Heat 4 to 5 inches of oil in a large Dutch-oven or skillet, until it registers 325℉ on a deep-fry thermometer. Holding pastry bag a few inches above the oil, squeeze out batter, snipping off 4-inch lengths with a knife or kitchen shears. (I piped mine onto a metal spatula fist and then lowered them into the oil). Fry, flipping once, until deep golden brown all over, about 1-2 minutes. Using a metal, slotted spoon or spatula, transfer churros to a paper towel-lined baking sheet to drain.
Roll churros in confectioners’ sugar. Serve immediately with Chocolate Dipping Sauce.
Cinnamon Simple Syrup
2 cups water
4 cinnamon sticks
1 1/2 cups organic raw cane sugar
In a small sauce pot, combine water and cinnamon sticks, and bring to boil.
Simmer for 10 minutes. Use tongs to remove cinnamon sticks. Return water to a boil, add sugar, and stir until sugar is dissolved. Set aside.
Dark Chocolate Chile Dipping Sauce for Churros
1 dried chile (I used a Morita chile)
1 cups plus 1 1/2 Tablespoons organic heavy cream
1 cup plus 1-1/2 Tablespoons cinnamon simple syrup (recipe above)
9 oz bittersweet chocolate (recommended: Guittard 63% cacao)
1 Tablespoon hot paprika
dash of cayenne pepper
In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup water to a boil. Turn off heat, and add dried chile; let stand until softened, about 10 minutes. Drain liquid; cut chili into small pieces.
Combine cream and simple syrup in a small saucepan set over medium heat; bring to a simmer.
Add chocolate, chili, paprika, and red pepper, stirring until chocolate melts to combine.
Serve warm with churros.
This Post Has 7 Comments
Reblogged this on Chef Steph's Blog.
I didn’t know any of this, and kudos for the spelt!
I just the love history lesson…how interesting! The churros and chocolate sauce look amazing 🙂
Glad you liked it! I thought it was really interesting as well, and I’m always inspired by people who exhibit such dedication to their work. Twelve years on that cocoa journey!
Ha ‘thematically through food’. Me too!
I’ve had mixed results with spelt flour but once my self imposed fried food ban is over I’m willing to give it a go.
I love that he was a little Homer that went on a little (comparatively) odyssey.
Ha! I never thought about the Odyssey connection. I like that analogy!