My first experience with pioloncillo sugar was not nearly as romantic as I’d imagined it would be when I watched Tio Tomas gently break small chunks of the stuff from its cone and stir it into a pot of steaming Champurrado in the movie Quinceañera (a fantastic film about gentrification of Hispanic neighborhoods in LA). Tio Tomas lived in a back house in an Echo Park neighborhood, surviving by selling Champurrado from a grocery store shopping cart that he pushed around the neighborhood.
My pioloncillo sugar was as hard as a rock. I tried to break off pieces, but the best I could do was to break it in half, and only that by gripping it firmly with both hands and grunting like a strong-man. Hrmm. Next, I tried to grate it with a grater. This worked better, though the progress was slow and my arm felt as if it would fall off after I’d only made half a centimeter of progress. So, I went for the big guns—the food processor. At first, I put the whole cone half in and turned the machine on. You can imagine the awful noise that made! (Imagine putting a rock in your food processor and turning it on.) Worried about breaking my mom’s food processor, I took the cone out and managed to cut it into smaller pieces using a big knife and lot of force. These smaller pieces made more, smaller noises as they rattled around like gravel in the bowl of the food processor, but eventually they got smaller and smaller, until they were small enough that I thought they’d dissolve nicely in the bath of warm milk for which they were destined.
All this to recreate the delicious Oaxacan chocolate ice cream I’d eaten on two recent visits to the Linkery. And it was so worth it. I’ve tried making Mexican ice creams from recipes that use ordinary chocolate and add spices, and have always been disappointed with the results. Now that I’ve gotten my hands on some real Mexican chocolate, I’ll never go back to imitating it by adding cinnamon, nutmeg, and other spices to plain chocolate. The flavor you get when you try to imitate Mexican chocolate is coarse and tastes overtly spiced, while true Mexican chocolate is subtly complex.
My version of this ice cream is a lot more chocolaty than the Linkery’s, but what can I say, I’m a chocoholic. If it can be made darker and more chocolaty, I’m all about it. I modified a reliably rich and delicious recipe, using Mexican chocolate in place of dutch-processed cocoa powder and bittersweet chocolate. I replaced the sugar with pioloncillo sugar, to give a warm, molassesey flavor, and I decreased the amount of sugar, since the Mexican chocolate is much sweeter than my standard 70% Lindt. The result is a rich, creamy, complex ice cream, studded with crunchy cocoa nibs. Feel free to leave out the cocoa nibs, and I think I might next time, as the smooth creaminess is one of the pleasures of this ice cream, and the nibs do detract from that a bit.
p.s. Today’s my birfday! And I’m off to Chicago for the weekend for a conference. See you next week!
Oaxacan Chocolate Ice Cream
250 grams Mayordomo chocolate*
4 oz pioloncillo sugar (half a cone)*
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
3 large egg yolks
2 oz cocoa nibs (optional)
*Mayordomo chocolate and piloconcillo sugar are products of Mexico. You can find them at Mexican specialty stores, or on the web, for example at Melissa Guerra. Mayordomo chocolate comes in several varieties, and you should use whichever variety you like. I used 125g of the Classico and 125g of a la Canela.
Chop chocolate and place in a medium bowl. Grate pioloncillo sugar, or chop it into smallish pieces and whizz it in the food processor, or break it into small chunks, if soft enough. In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, combine sugar, vanilla, cream, and milk. Bring mixture just to a boil, stirring occasionally. Be sure that all sugar has dissolved.
In a bowl, beat yolks until smooth. Add hot cream mixture to yolks in a very slow stream, whisking constantly. Return mixture to pan. Cook custard over moderately low heat, stirring constantly, until a thermometer registers 160° F. Pour hot custard through a sieve over chopped chocolate, whisking until melted. Chill custard, its surface covered with plastic wrap, at least 3 hours, or until cold, and up to 1 day.
Transfer custard to bowl of a standing electric mixer and beat just until thick and fluffy. Freeze custard in an ice-cream maker, adding cocoa nibs, if using, as manufacturer directs (usually in the last 5 minutes). Transfer ice cream to an airtight container and put in freezer to harden. Ice cream may be made 1 week ahead.
Makes 1 quart.