Ancho Mole Cookies

I wanted to make a pretty cookie, but it just wasn’t going to happen. I really thought I could do it. I’ve probably made thousands of cookies by now, but they were mostly the drop kind. Not the freeze, roll into a three-sided triangle shape, roll in sesame seeds, freeze again, slice really thin through the hard chocolate and nuts without distorting the shape kind. But the Ancho Mole Cookies sure tasted good, despite being less than the perfect triangles I was hoping for.

Epicurious had the recipe for Ancho Mole Cookies on their web site recently, and as soon as I saw it, I knew I was going to make it. The combination of chocolate, chile, cinnamon, sesame seeds, fruit, and nuts — ingredients in a classic mole sauce –was pure genius, and immediately caught my attention and went on the “bake soon” list. Plus, they were just so dang pretty. Perfect equilateral triangle slices, with dried fruit shining through like colored glass.

Russ noticed I was busy in the kitchen, and asked what I was making. “Cookies for the blog.” Russ: “My name is Blog. That’s my new name”. “Blog” gave them his seal of approval, really liking the chile bite combined with the chocolate, fruit and nuts, and he didn’t care that they weren’t equilateral triangles.

Instead of dried fruit, I used fruta cristalizada, a common treat in Mexico, where entire halves of camote (sweet potato), large chunks of papaya or calabaza (winter squash), whole figs and many other fruits are cooked in a sugar syrup until candied, but still tender on the inside. The colors are like gems. If you are not in Mexico, use any dried fruit you have on hand.

Make these cookies. Don’t be put off by my misshapen attempt. I plan on making them again, and just not obsessing over achieving a triangle cut as specified in the original Epicurious recipe. Round cookies are fine. A good cookie is a good cookie, regardless of shape.

Omit the chile if you are faint of heart/palate. And use white flour, if you are not of the whole wheat persuasion. If you use ancho chile powder, be prepared for a mouth tingling zip that leaves you reaching for another cookie.

Ancho Mole Cookies

  • 1 cup (4 oz/115 g) nuts (I used walnuts)
  • 1¼ cups (6.34 oz/180g) raw sesame seeds, divided
  • ¼ cup (.84 oz/24g) pure, ground ancho chile powder
  • ¼ cup (59ml) agave syrup
  • 2 cups (256 g) whole wheat or all-purpose flour
  • ½ tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 12 Tbsp. (6 oz/170 g)unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ½ cup (33.55 oz/100 g) sugar
  • 1¾ tsp. kosher salt
  • 3 large egg yolks (save the egg whites for brushing on the rolls)
  • 1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 cup (130 g) dried fruit, such as papaya, mango, or pineapple,, cut into (¾”) pieces. I used papaya cristalizada.The weight may vary, depending on the moisture content of the dried fruit.
  • 3/4 cup (4 oz/110 g) chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate
  1. Heat oven to 350 F. Toast nuts and 1/4 cup sesame seeds for 10 minutes, tossing halfway through. Set aside.
  2. Blend all dry ingredients, chile and cinnamon included.
  3. In standing mixer, cream butter and sugar until creamy, about 3 minutes. Add eggs and vanilla and beat an additional minute. Add agave syrup and beat until well blended.
  4. With mixer on low speed, gradually add dry ingredients until blended.
  5. Stir in nuts, toasted sesame seeds and dried fruit.
  6. Divide dough in half. Roll each half into a 10″ log and wrap each one in plastic wrap or wax paper, rolling again to make each log smooth. Freeze for 20 minutes on a flat surface.
  7. Now you have a choice. Either follow Epicurious’ instructions and slap the cold cylinder on the counter to form a 3-sided triangle form, OR skip that and leave as a perfectly round log shape. Whichever your choice, leave wrapped and freeze an additional 15 minutes.
  8. Working with one log at a time, unwrap and brush with egg white. Roll in remaining 1 cup of sesame seeds, covering surface completely. Freeze unwrapped for about an hour, until surface is firm but not frozen.
  9. Pre-heat oven to 350 F/180 C.
  10. Slice each log into 1/4″ (6.35 mm) slices. If dough warms and becomes soft while slicing, return to freezer for 10-15 minutes. Place on parchment-lined baking sheet, spaced 1″ (25 mm) apart.
  11. Bake 10-12 minutes, until edges are set, but centers are still soft. Let cool on baking sheets.

Notes ~

~ Ancho chiles are dried, smoked poblano chile, with a complex, smokey flavor. The powdered form is common, and is found in many salsas and moles.

~ Mole ( MOH-lay) is a classic Mexican sauce used for chicken, pork, almost any meat. I’ve even spooned it over sautéed tofu slices. The states of Oaxaca and Puebla are famous for their mole. Depending on ingredients, mole can be green, yellow, black or red, and there are more than a dozen different ways to prepare it. Fruit, chocolate, seeds, nuts and chile are typically found in mole sauces. Bottled Doña María mole sauce is the easy way to make a mole dish at home. You’ll find it in the Mexican food aisle if you are north of the border. For those of you south of the border, Doña María is in every little grocery store in Mexico.

© 2009-2021 COOKING IN MEXICO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

All photos and text are copyright protected. Do not copy or reproduce without permission.

Chocolate prune cake

Childhood memories of Cadbury Fruit and Nut chocolate bars from the years we lived in England come to mind now and then. Pastelerias (cake shops) in Mexico make very tempting, creative cakes, evidence of European immigrant and foreign government influence. What about a chocolate cake that takes its inspiration from Cadbury’s raisins and almonds? Am I starting a new thing? No. Recipes for Cadbury cakes are all over the internet, mostly from the U.K. Every time I think I might have come up with a new recipe, I find it’s been on the internet for years. Oh well, here’s a very different chocolate cake from this immigrant, me. It’s made moist with prune puree, filled with almonds and raisins, and special enough that it will be our New Year’s Eve dessert and see us into 2021.

Prune puree works some kind of culinary magic, so that less fat and sugar still produce plenty of sweetness and tenderness. Only 1/4 cup of sugar is used, and 1/4 cup coconut oil or butter. Coconut oil seems to work its own chemistry, making for more tender cakes.

At the risk of sounding like a commercial for Costco, bakers south of the border can get very good Kirkland brand almendras (almonds), ciruelas secas (prunes), and chispas de chocolate (chocolate chips). But don’t go to Costco for pasas (raisins). Mexico’s markets and little stores have the best, tinted with reds and purples, and two to three times larger than raisins north of the border. They taste sweeter, too, but maybe that’s due to my own enthusiasm for these colorful morsels. In Mexico, you can find them in generically labeled bags or in bulk.

Our New Year’s Eve menu is yet to be planned. Maybe French onion soup with a cheese souffle. No tamales or atole tomorrow night, you ask? Well, when Emperor Maximilian thought he could rule Mexico, his plans failed, but the wonderful cuisine of France stayed. I don’t think we’ll be the only ones in Mexico enjoying French dishes tomorrow night. Bon appetit! I mean, Buen provecho!

The Chocolate Prune Cake is already baked, and because it’s extra moist, it will still be fresh and tender tomorrow evening. That is, if we don’t eat it all by then. You may notice there remained five pieces for the photo above. Will I ever learn to take photos, then eat?

For New Year’s Eve, Russ and I will be staying home with our pup, Yolo, enjoying each other’s company, maybe a movie, and definitely good food. May you enjoy the same. Feliz Año Nuevo!

Chocolate Prune Cake ~ 9 – 12 servings

  • 1.5 cups (10.6 oz/300 g) pitted prunes
  • 1 cup (6.7 oz/190 g) chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate, divided
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup (60 ml) melted coconut oil or butter
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 cup (4.5 oz/125 g) whole wheat pastry flour or regular whole wheat flour (for gluten free, see notes below)
  • 1/2 cup (1.65 oz/48 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup (1.75 oz/50 g) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (3 oz/85 g) almonds, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup (2.25 oz/63 g) raisins
  • Confectioner’s sugar to dust on cake (optional)
  1. Cut parchment paper to fit bottom of 8″ or 9″ baking pan. Grease and flour sides of pan.
  2. Simmer prunes in 1.5 cups (355 ml) water for 10 minutes, or until prunes are very tender. (See note below.)
  3. Puree undrained prunes, while still very warm, in food processor with 1/2 cup chocolate chips, eggs, oil and vanilla.
  4. Preheat oven to 350° F (180° C).
  5. Sift dry ingredients into large bowl.
  6. Stir prune mixture into dry ingredients with remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips, almonds and raisins.
  7. Pour into prepared baking pan and bake for 35-45 minutes, or until toothpick tests mostly dry. This is a very moist cake, so some crumbs will stick to toothpick when cake is done.
  8. Cook in pan for 5 minues.
  9. Run a thin knife around inside edges and invert onto cake rack to cool.

~ Notes

~ Prunes from Costco are very moist, almost wet. But if your prunes are the drier variety, use 1 3/4 cups of water to simmer prunes.

~ Pastry flour, with its lower gluten content, is preferred for tender cakes, but not available in Mexico unless you have a large supermarket that carries Bob’s Red Mill products. Most of us in Mexico will have to make do with regular flour, whole wheat or white.

~ For a gluten free cake, replace the wheat flour with Bob’s Red Mill 1 – 1 Baking Flour. According to Bob’s website, this flour can replace regular flour with an equal amount of Bob’s Red Mill 1 – 1 flour, cup per cup. I have not tried this, but it has very good reviews on Amazon.

© 2009-2020 COOKING IN MEXICO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

All photos and text are copyright protected. Do not copy or reproduce without permission.

Tequila balls

Holiday food traditions are enduring and endearing, wherever we expats find ourselves in the world. The foods we associate with Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, or Ramadan follow us as we relocate, and keep the holidays normal and familiar. And boy, do we need a sense of normalcy this year. Here in Mexico, I still make treats at Christmastime that we enjoyed decades ago when we lived in the U.S., but ingedients not found in Mexico (or our little town of Mascota) have been swapped out for close substitutes. Pumpkin pie is now made with calabaza (Mexican winter squash); mincemeat pie filling is homemade, instead of from a Cross and Blackwell jar; and tequila balls, formerly known as rum balls, are moistened with our state of Jalisco’s renown tequila. I think it’s called being flexible, and expats learn to be good at that.

Graham crackers aren’t common in Mexico, if they even exist here at all. But Hony Bran crackers come pretty darn close. After twenty-two years living and cooking in Mexico, the taste of graham crackers has become a distant memory and Hony Bran fills the gap when a graham cracker pie crust is needed. Or tequila balls.

And then we moved to Mascota five years ago and discovered their two CBTa stores, retail outlets for locally made foods, like dairy products of all kinds, preserved fruit, coffee, and cookies galore. I don’t know how cookies came to be a Mascota thing, but locally made galletas (cookies) are in every little store. Galletas de avena y salvado (cookies with oats and wheat bran) are hearty cookies, not too sweet, that just taste like they have to be good for you. They even look healthy. With that kind of reasoning, we have no problem eating a lot of them. CBTa stands for Centro de Bachillerato Tecnologico Agropecuario, the name of Mascota’s technical high school that teaches trades. Don’t ask me why the “a” in CBTa is lower-case. Some things we gringos are not meant to know.

So tequila replaced rum, galletas de avena y salvado replaced Hony Bran, which had already replaced graham crackers, and tequila balls became a new Christmas treat in Mexico.

If you are in the U.S. or Canada, use graham crackers (or any other dry cookie). If you are in Mexico, use Hony Bran crackers. If you are my one reader in Mascota (hola, Maria!), use galletas de avena y salvado from the CBTa store.

This recipe was adapted from my tattered Joy of Cooking cookbook for “Rum Drops, Uncooked”. This recipe is so easy, your child or grandchild could help roll the balls. No baking required. Joy instructs us to let the balls ripen for 12 hours, to disperse the alcohol flavor, I guess. But with less than 1/2 teaspoon of tequila per ball, any lingering alcohol taste is not a problem for this alcohol abstainer. I suggest you ignore the final recipe instruction, as I do. It’s Christmas, after all!

And now, the popular request from last week’s post on Star Fruit Upside-down Cake. Well, requested twice.  “Would love a pic of your campesino tree”, in reference to our Christmas “tree” that’s really a dried flower stalk from the Blue Agave plant, the agave from which tequila is made. There are no green boughs or pine aroma in our house, but it’s our tree, and seems to have become an annual tradition for us, along with tequila balls. It’s only as I type this that I realize how the request for photos of the tequila Blue Agave “tree” nicely dovetails with the recipe for tequila balls.

The mother agave plant begins to die when it produces the flower stalk. But life continues when seed pods and plantlets fall to the ground. The photo on the right shows both still attached to our tree, adding its own decorations.

Feliz Navidad, dear readers. I appreciate each and every one of you. I wish you good times and good food with your loved ones. Safe holidays!

Tequila Balls

  • 2 cups (7 oz/200 g) graham cracker crumbs (use food processor or rolling pin to crush)
  • 1 cup (3.6 oz/104 g) finely chopped walnuts (use food processor, or knife)
  • 3/4 cup (2.6 oz/75 g) sifted confectioner’s sugar (powdered sugar, or azúcar glass in Mexico)
  • 2 tablespoons sifted, unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1.5 (22 ml) tablespoons honey
  • 4 tablespoons (60 ml) tequila
  • Additional cocoa powder and confectioner’s sugar to coat balls
  1. Thoroughly blend all dry ingredients.
  2. Warm honey and blend with tequila.
  3. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients for an evenly moist consistency. Mixture should clump together when squeezed in your hand.
  4. Roll into small balls. I formed balls about 20 grams in weight, for a diameter of 1 3/8″ (3.5 cm), but roll whatever seems the right size for you.
  5. Roll balls in cocoa powder and/or confectioner’s sugar.
  6. Store in an air-tight container for 12 hours “to ripen”.

© 2009-2020 COOKING IN MEXICO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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Star fruit upside-down cake

We decorated the Christmas tree this week, which is the official beginning of the holidays in our house. It’s not really a tree in the botanical sense of the word, but the cut-off, dried flower stalk of an agave plant. This is what campesinos use for their Christmas trees in Mexico, so we have been told, and it sounded like a good idea to us. With real pine trees, from Oregon no less, starting at $100 in Puerto Vallarta, our agave flower stalk is convenient (our lower front yard) and cheap (free). Once the tree is decorated, it’s my cue to start Christmas baking. Russ’es fruitcake is doused with spirits and spirited away, hidden from him until Christmas week. Tequila balls, aka rum balls north of the border, are ageing, and a bright, star fruit upside-down cake seems Christmasy with its golden, crosscut slices.

Star fruit, also known as carambola in Spanish speaking countries, are from tropical regions, but somehow one is thriving in our neighbor Chuy’s yard at 4,000 feet elevation in the mountains. In keeping with the local spirit of generosity, we received a large bag, too many for two people to consume. We are doing our best, eating star fruit every day in fruit salads, and now in an upside-down cake.

My favorite upside-down cake recipe is from Joy of Cooking, well used, stained, and somewhat tattered. It was my first cookbook, and is still the one I turn to most often. Where else could you read about steaming fresh bracken fern or making oxtail soup? Some of the recipes may be dated, but so many have been tried and true through the decades, and the recipe for Skillet or Upside-down Cake (page 607 in my 1967 edition) is one of them. The sweet-tart star fruit made a great cake topping. I confirmed this by eating two slices in a row.

Joy of Cooking calls for beating the egg whites, then folding in the other ingredients for an airy cake. As is my norm, I substituted whole wheat flour and used considerably less sugar. Years ago, I began decreasing sugar in baking recipes and found that taste buds easily adjusted. The palate’s senses are relative, it seems. What was once an OK sweet level is now so cloying in its excess. Use white flour and quadruple the sugar if you prefer the original recipe.

Star Fruit Upside Down Cake serves 8

  • 1/4 cup (2 oz/57 g) butter, plus 1 tablespoon (.5 oz/14 g) butter
  • 1/4 cup (1.8 oz/55 g) brown sugar
  • 6 oz (170 g) star fruit, sliced 1/4″ (.64 cm) thick, seeds removed
  • 1/4 cup (28 g) dried cranberries
  • 1 cup (4.4 oz/125 g) whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup (1.78 oz/50 g) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. If using a 9″ (23 cm) cast iron skillet, melt 1/4 cup (57 g) butter over low heat, stirring in brown sugar until sugar is dissolved and mixture is foamy. If using a cake pan, melt butter in a small saucepan and stir in brown sugar until foaming. Spread evenly in cake pan.
  2. Place sliced star fruit closely together, filling gaps between slices with cranberries.
  3. Pre-heat oven to 350F (190C).
  4. Sift flour, baking powder and salt in small bowl, and set aside.
  5. Whisk egg yolks with 1/4 cup sugar and vanilla in small bowl.
  6. Beat egg whites at low speed until frothy. Add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, beating after each addition.
  7. Fold in egg yolk mixture.
  8. Fold in flour mixture, 1/4 cup at a time, until there is no visible dry flour.
  9. Spoon batter into pan over fruit, smoothing it level.
  10. Bake for 30-40 minutes, checking with a toothpick for a dry crumb.
  11. Let rest in pan for 2-3 minutes. Slide thin knife around inside edge of pan and carefully invert onto plate, scraping out any butter/sugar that remains in pan.
  12. Serve warm or cool with crema, crème fraîche, or Greek yogurt. It goes without saying that slices are wonderful for breakfast with coffee or tea.

Notes ~

~ Star fruit is a fall and winter fruit. It is fully ripe when the ribs are starting to turn brown. The thin, outer layer of brown ribs can be removed with a vegetable peeler. A sweet aroma also indicates ripeness.

~ Slices make attractive garnishes on fish and other main dishes, and combine well with avocado and orange juice for a refreshing salad.

~ Whole wheat flour should be fresh, otherwise it can have a bitter flavor. For this reason, it’s best kept refrigerated. When fresh, it has a nutty, sweet flavor compared to white flour, which has no flavor at all. Anything baked with whole wheat flour not only tastes better, but has a higher nutritional content because the bran and wheat germ have not been removed. In Mexico, Espuma de Chapala Harina Integral is my choice for whole wheat flour, though it needs to be sifted for cake baking to remove the bran. Save the bran for muffins.

© 2009-2020 COOKING IN MEXICO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

All photos and text are copyright protected. Do not copy or reproduce without permission.

Kuchen de manzana con migas

Just to set things straight, this is not a dessert from Mexico. It is from south of the border, but way south. In fact, south of the Equator. When thousands of Germans immigrated to Chile (and many other countries, including Mexico) in the 19th century, they took their recipes for breads, pastries and cakes (and beer!) with them. Kuchen de Manzana con Migas evolved in Chile, based on Apple Kuchen from Germany. It translates to Apple Cake with Crumbs, or crumble, as we might say.

There are German communities in Mexico, and I would like to think that somewhere a Mexican-German family is baking Kuchen de Manzana today. Maybe Frida Kahlo, of German heritage, baked this cake. Maybe Vincente Fox, the former president (whose immigrant ancestors changed their name from Fuchs to Fox), enjoyed it at his family’s table. In any case, this is a cake worthy of Chile’s and Mexico’s German immigrant heritage.

It’s apple time in Mexico, when small manzanas criollas, sometimes called manzanas nacionales, start making an appearance in the local grocery stores. They always used to have a wormhole or two, and be a little misshapen. That wormhole was, for me, a seal of not being sprayed. At least, I liked to tell myself that. Now the only ones I see are wormhole-less, sprayed no doubt, but still good and definitely better than the carbon footprint it takes to get apples from Washington State to Mexico.

This cake has three elements — an egg-rich, buttery, cake-like crust, an apple filling, and a streusel crumb topping. It is baked to my usual specs of using part whole wheat flour and less sugar. I used homemade, cultured butter, but sweet cream butter will work just as well. It took a few zen minutes to arrange the apple slices. Not to create a pattern, but to fit the slices as closely as possible. When ready to serve, dust the cake with azúcar glass (confectioner’s sugar) if you wish, but I think that might be gilding the lily.

Kuchen de Manzana con Migas serves 8

Crust

  • 1 cup (120 g) whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup (120 g) white, all purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt (1/4 teaspoon if using salted butter)
  • 1 stick plus 1 tablespoon (128 grams) very cold butter, cut into 1″ (2.5 cm) pieces
  • 2 large eggs

Filling

  • 1.8 lbs. (850 k) apples
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • juice of 1/2 lemon

Crumb Topping

  • 1 cup (120) g) whole wheat flour (or white ( flour)
  • 1/3 cup (67 g) brown sugar or musovado, not packed (for those in Mexico, this is known as azúcar mascabado)
  • 8 tablespoons (113 g) butter
  • pinch of salt if butter is unsalted
  1. Line bottom of a 9″ (228 mm) springform pan with parchment paper. Butter sides. Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC) and adjust oven rack to center of oven.
  2. For crust, mix flours, baking powder, sugar and salt briefly in food processor or by hand.
  3. Add butter, and process just until mixture resembles cornmeal, or blend butter into flour mixture with a pastry cutter.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing just until dough starts to form a ball.
  5. Press into springform pan, pressing dough 1.5″ (38 mm) up sides of pan. Chill in freezer while preparing filling and topping.
  6. For filling, peel and core apples. Slice into quarters, then slice each quarter into 4 slices. Toss with lemon juice and sugar. Set aside.
  7. For topping, blend flour and sugar in food processor or by hand. Blend in butter until crumbly looking, and starting to form small lumps.
  8. Arrange apples slices on pastry crust, fitting slices closely to each other.
  9. Evenly top apple slices with crumb topping.
  10. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour 10 minutes, or until topping is starting to brown and apples test tender with a paring knife or skewer.
  11. Cool on cake rack 30 minutes. Run thin knife around inside of pan to release sides. Remove side of pan. Cool for one more hour before slicing. Refrigerate leftovers.

Notes ~

~ My grocery receipt lists these apples as “manzana criolla” — wild apple. But they are not wild at all. Apples originated in central Asia, and they likely arrived in Mexico with Spanish colonists. These apples from Pepe’s in Mascota are Galas, so Russ says, and I think he’s right. Galas keep their shape when baked, and their natural sweetness allows for a decrease of sugar in a recipe.

~ Other apples which maintain their shape and texture when baked include Granny Smith, Winesap, Pink Lady, Braeburn and Honeycrisp.

~ Mascabado sugar is Mexico’s equivalent of brown sugar. It is less refined than white sugar, containing some molasses, and comes either light or dark brown in color. Muscovado, also unrefined cane sugar, is the same thing.

~ Mangos, pineapples, and bananas are typically thought of as the fruit of Mexico, and it came as a surprise to us to discover an apple season when we moved here. Our part of Mexico, the mountains of Jalisco, grows peaches and plums. We have yet to encounter local cherries and apricots, but I’m hopeful.

© 2009-2020 COOKING IN MEXICO ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

All photos and text are copyright protected. Do not copy or reproduce without permission.