For our New Year’s Eve celebration, my family and I got to do something very special in our book–we got to make and drink hot chocolate the way my late dad used to make it. Preparing it from scratch was a holiday tradition we used to do when my dad was still alive.
I wrote about it to a few friends a few months ago: How every December, my dad would buy raw cacao beans in the wet markets of Divisoria or Binondo, cook them at home, put them in a bilao to cool them a bit, then we would all start peeling them. Our fingers getting all dark after. How my siblings and I actually looked forward to this ‘chore’ every time, because we knew what followed would be my dad bringing the shelled beans back to the wet market for grinding and he would come back with a large container of dark, bitter gooey chocolate, which we would happily roll on a bit of sugar and have it for afternoon snack. This also meant that for that Christmas he would be making each one of us mugs of hot chocolate. How much I missed peeling those cacao beans. How much I missed my dad.
When he was paralyzed by a stroke three years before he died, making that hot chocolate drink from scratch was pushed aside along with everything else. The life we knew then changed.
A few days before New Year’s Eve, while I was telling my mom what my sister and I were planning to cook, my brother asked why we didn’t have hot chocolate last Christmas–even just the local tablea (blocks/balls of cocoa powder) that we had started buying in recent years. I told my mom I would look for some a day before my sister gets home. But the morning of the 30th, mom surprised us by heading off to Divisoria early in the morning and coming home with a bag full of raw cacao beans. We were going to make some old-fashion tsokolate eh! Just the way dad used to make it for us.
Tsokolate or local chocolate mixture for the thick hot cocoa drink Filipinos love during the cool holidays season is made from cacao and peanuts. I almost forgot that my dad used to add peanuts to the cacao beans before grinding them together. (I think because I was never too fond of peeling the nuts.)
First, we cooked the raw peanuts over high heat for several minutes until they were cooked and their coating could easily be peeled off. Not so easy when there’s a lot of them and you had to make sure every brown peanut coat would be removed. My mom did this by putting the cooked peanuts in a bilao (a local circular basket), crushing the cooked peanuts with a pestle or even just a clean empty bottle so that its coating would fall off, then she would deftly toss the peanuts in the air, catch them in the bilao again and only the brown coating would fall to the ground. My dad also knew how to do this. It’s a skill my siblings and I never acquired though, unless we wanted more peanuts falling to the ground.
Then we cooked the raw cacao beans over high heat. (One thing I think I have acquired from my parents is the habit of not paying much attention to cooking time. It’s all, “Once you know it’s cooked…” That makes me a bad recipe writer.) Once cooked, we toss the beans onto another bilao and–this is the part I love best because it makes me feel like a kid again and makes me remember all those December afternoons my sister and I used to do this with our dad–start rubbing or squeezing the bean out of its paper-like skin.
I love the feeling of those cooked cacao beans between my fingers, its skin cracking and getting this golden brown gem of bean in my hand. And the fragrant smell is just intoxicating. I can easily see why it was used as currency in the Americas before the colonial times. Look at those shiny beauties!
After we’ve peeled every single bean, we then crushed it and mixed it with the crushed peanuts. Put in in a food processor to grind it until it became this dark brown, glossy paste of chocolate mixture that we would drop spoonfuls of into a bowl of water, stir and mash it continuously until it started boiling and the liquid reached our desired consistency.
In terms of measurement, my dad and my grandmother preferred 2 parts peanuts, 1 part cacao. Not sure if this is the way they did it in Pampanga, where they hailed from, or just a preference of the family. We did it 1.25 part peanuts to 1 part cacao, which still made the hot chocolate drink have that good gritty texture and extra nutty flavor the way I liked it when I was a kid.