You may be aware that chocolate, or at least cocoa, came from the Aztecs, a great civilization that for centuries before the end of 15th century, dominated what is modern-day Mexico. When the Spanish colonized Latin America, they brought the cocoa bean and an ancient form of chocolate (called Xocoatl, a drink) back to Europe. Sicily at the time was under Spanish rule, and wealthy nobles in the town of Modica sought the luxurious beans, knowing that Aztec emperors enjoyed the exotic drink Xocoatl daily.
The creative Modican chefs combined their native sugar, which had been brought and cultivated heavily by the Arabs in the 9th and 10th centuries, with the cocoa beans. What they did, a method and recipe that still exists today, was, using a mortar and pestle, they ground the beans into a paste. They then heated the paste to 45 degrees centigrade, a temperature at which the cocoa doesn’t completely become a liquid. At this point, they mix by hand the warm paste together with sugar granuals, suspending (never melting) the sugar into the cocoa paste.
Once they’ve created a perfect balance of sugar to cocoa, the blend is poured into molds, which are shook to distribute the chocolate evenly to form a bar, which is then left to harden and cool. The result is a grainy, dark, bitter-sweet delicacy that hangs in your mouth, and in my case, gives me the perfect afternoon buzz (The reason why I eat it almost every day: It makes me very productive!). One glorious piece of Modican chocolate, like those pictured at Antica Dolceria Bonajuto in Modica, is a meal unto itself!
On Day 2 of our September 2018 Stirring Sicily tour, we’ll be in Modica, learning how to make this typical chocolate and other sweets during a hands-on cooking experience. Learn more at https://experiencesicily.com/stirring-sicily-east/.