Maya Mayhem

by Fresh and Frugal

One of the later moments in which I suppose my love of food came to the surface — and one of the more unexpected — was when the opportunity arose to take a course called Food in the Ancient World. I had latched onto one particular professor in the anthropology department whose teaching style and personality I absolutely adored, and one day after class, she mentioned that I might find this course interesting. Without skipping a beat, I took her up on her offer and, despite my status as an undergrad, enrolled in her graduate seminar. Every Wednesday between 9:30 am and 12:30, a rag-tag group of grads and a smattering of undergrads sat in a room and discussed everything from what constitutes a feast to the history of bread, from beer as payment (those Incas knew a thing or two) to elite food items. This is the class and this is the woman who piqued my interest in chocolate.

Don’t get me wrong. Like most other women, chocolate and I have a complicated but loving relationship. Sometimes after one of my worse days, when he’s in a particularly dark mood, we meet with a little vino: likely a dry cab sav. Usually we try to stay away from the alcohol though and keep it healthy with milk. Sometimes though, when we’re feeling particularly rich, he brings along a few friends: dried cranberries, almonds, sometimes he even wraps up a little turkish delight and brings it home. Anyway, enough about that relationship. I’ve gotten a little sidetracked.

After taking the class on food in the ancient world, it became difficult to not take a quick look through the eentsy weentsy anthropology section at Boxcar Books, a volunteer-run bookstore in Bloomington where I donated hefty chunks of my time. They also stocked some text books, and I couldn’t imagine my luck when I came across one about the history of chocolate. Needless to say, I devoured it in two days. Images stuck in my brain like nuts to the outside of a truffle: Maya pouring a chocolate drink into a vessel on the ground, from their shoulder level to make it frothy; the cacao tree, pod, and guts; the all-too-familiar flashy Hershey’s logo. Tucked into these pages was the first I’d ever heard, however, about mixing chili or cayenne with dark chocolate.

Only a few days later, I flipped through a magazine while standing in line at the grocery. Somewhat to my surprise, it featured chocolate that month (maybe it was February?) and listed a number of recent, “interesting” chocolate products: bacon-infused milk chocolate, chocolate-covered potato chips, and chili oil infused dark chocolate. Chili oil! Like the Maya! … Kind of. With my hairbrained attitude of constant enthusiasm for everything ancient and everything food, what could be more fun? So I dashed to the candy aisle and after a moment of searching, popped a ($4.00?!) bar into my cart. Since then, any time I feel particularly sad or upset, I splurge on a bottle of red wine and one of those bars of chocolate.

My goal has been, for a while, to find either a cheaper but equally good bar of chocolate or a way to recreate it on my own, at home. Imagine my excitement and surprise when, as I flipped through Try It You Might Like It, I found Mexican Chocolate Icebox Cookies. One bite, and I realized that it was a little spicier than I had anticipated, but it was love. Love at first bite.

Maya Mayhem

1 1/2 c flour

3/4 c cocoa powder

3/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

12 tbsp butter @ room temp

1 c sugar

1 1/2 tsp vanilla

1 egg

Mix the butter and sugar together well. Add the vanilla and the egg.

In a separate bowl, stir together all the dry ingredients. Add these to the wet mixture, and mix thoroughly.

Form into two logs (about 9″ long) and wrap in foil or clear wrap. I tried to figure out how to coat the logs evenly in red sprinkles without making a mess, but failed miserably. Freeze overnight, or up to 6 months.

When you’re ready for the cookies, slice the logs into pieces (a la pillsbury) while preheating to 375. All they need is 8-10 minutes in the oven, and you’re in business.

Tip: If they’re too spicy for you while warm, give them a while to cool thoroughly. For some reason, room-temp spicy cookies are less painful than warm spicy cookies. Oh, and have a glass of milk at hand.