Chile Powder Gives Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies The Perfect Flavor Kick

Few pairings captivate the palate like chocolate and spice. Historically, spicy chocolate has existed since the Mayans drank hot chocolate infused with chile peppers around 1500 BCE. Since then, pairing chocolate with chile powder has been popular in the food world, extending beyond hot chocolate. These days, you can find spicy chocolate, cocoa spice rubs for your proteins, spicy brownies, spicy truffles, and spicy chocolate ice cream.

Chocolate thumbprint cookies also benefit from the addition of chile powder, which elevates the sweet treat with the perfect flavor kick. Infusing chocolate with chile powder is quite simple. Let's take Tasting Table recipe developer Rika Hoffman's chile chocolate hazelnut thumbprint cookies recipe, for example. In her recipe, Hoffman makes a velvety ganache and adds cayenne pepper and chipotle chile powder to infuse the chocolate with heat and a kick. Hoffman adds a pinch of salt and a dash of cinnamon to the mix to further balance the flavors. For those who love spicy foods, Hoffman recommends adding more cayenne powder for extra heat. If you're craving even more heat, once you fully assemble the cookies, consider dusting the tops of the chocolate ganache with chile powder. For a pop of red color and no extra heat, opt for a dusting of paprika.

Cutting through the sweetness and richness

Chocolate and chile powder are a master pairing because chocolate has nuanced sweetness and mild bitterness, which the heat from chile powder can harmonize with and balance. Chocolate can also sometimes feel a little rich and indulgent — this is where the chile powder comes in, cutting through the richness and sweetness. At the same time, chocolate's creaminess and milder flavors help mellow out and temper the heat of the chile powder.

On the food science level of why the flavor combo works so well, science has shown that eating chocolate helps your body release endorphins, otherwise known as feel-good chemicals. On top of that, the heat and kick from chile powder also help you release endorphins; hence, your pleasure can double when you eat chocolate and chile powder together. The next time you feel your chocolate thumbprint cookies — or any chocolate desserts, like brownies or dark chocolate truffles, for that matter — need a kick, use chile powder.