Use A Molinillo To Elevate Mexican Hot Chocolate To Its Full Potential

With the convenience of stir-and-serve powdered hot chocolate, it's hard to imagine a significantly elevated cocoa experience that's worth the extra effort. But, there definitely is one, and it involves intricately carved works of art gloriously whipping wonder into cups of rich, authentic Mexican-style hot chocolate. That art comes in the form of a wooden tool called a molinillo, which is key to cultivating and perfecting your ultimate hot chocolate recipe.

A molinillo is a simple tool that's powered by one thing: your own two hands. The intent is to mix up the ingredients in a stovetop or clay-pot batch of Mexican hot chocolate while creating a creamy froth by whipping and churning the chocolate. Picture a Western-style whisk, and you get the general idea –– but a molinillo is made of real wood with carved grooves, uniquely designed for whisking warm milk, spices, and pure chocolate bits into complexly layered hot cocoa. When grasping the shaft and rolling it back and forth between your palms, the motion adds air, oxygenating the mixture while introducing both light texture and volume. They come in small and large sizes, depending on how many cups you'd like to make. 

Jules Vertrees, co-founder of Verve Culture, which curates and sources cooking accessories from global artisans, explained to Tasting Table that molinillos are traditionally hand-carved by skilled, generational crafters in small villages. She shared with us how it works and introduced us to molinillo artists in Mexico.  

Art of the molinillo

Each molinillo created for Verve Culture is made by hand, noted Vertrees, and it's carved from a solid piece of alder wood. Dark accents are then burned into the wood, skillfully creating a functional hot chocolate tool with highly decorative carvings. "Each of our molinillo artisans have a deep history with woodworking — some spending nearly 50 years making molinillos. It's a craft that's shared and passed on to keep these rich, intricate pieces alive," she explained.

Two of the company's molinillo artisans supplying weekly deliveries to the USA have family workshops in villages about two hours from Mexico City. Juan Alonso works alongside his sons, Estabon and Luis, making intricately carved molinillos — both small handheld ones for making hot chocolate and much larger pieces spanning up to four feet. Antelmo Gonzalez and his wife Norma employ traditional molinillo art techniques passed down from his uncles, with their designs even being repurposed into dining-table legs using wild tamarind.

It's probably obvious that a molinillo isn't relevant for use in powdered quick-mix hot chocolates, but if you have time and a devotion to pure drinking chocolate, it's a fun kitchen tool with a lot of history, dating back centuries in Aztec culture. To simplify the process, you can use chocolate tablets or hot chocolate disks flavored with nuts and spices from family-owned Oaxacan chocolatiers.    

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