beyond tacos : Welcome to the pepper zone, home of the cool: new ways with chiles


It was the Mexicans who first learned about chocolate and chile. And it didn’t take them long to discover the sensual pleasure of the two in combination. Dark rich chocolate becomes twice as satisfying and mysterious when charged up with hot, spicy chile. Chile’s exciting heat, in turn, is gentled and lengthened in a chocolate base.

The Mexicans made the most of this in savory chile-chocolate sauces called moles. They learned to play off flavor and fever, to strike a balance between chocolate and chile with complex, mouth-filling tastes that give chicken, indeed anything, a new dimension.

And that was the size of it until our growing interest in Southwestern food inspired chefs to skew this chocolate/chile affinity from savory to sweet. Now spicy chocolate desserts are starting to appear on upscale menus.


Amy Ferguson, as the chef at Charley’s 517 in Houston, made culinary history when she sparked a chocolate souffle with ancho chiles. At the Fairmont in Dallas, Avner Samuel turns out a chocolate- ancho chile ice cream. Mexican pepper cookies spiked with chile powder are a best seller at Cindy’s Santa Fe Bakery in Santa Fe, N.M. And John Sedlar, chef/co-owner of St. Estephe’s in Manhattan Beach, makes his chocolate-chile ice cream with guajilla chiles because they are the only ones with a delayed action. “First you taste sweet, then bitter and cold. A couple of seconds later--the hot surprise,” Sedlar says.

Think about chocolate-chile brownies or chocolate ice fired by chile. Imagine chocolate sauce brought to life by a pinch of cayenne or old-fashioned devil’s food cake updated with a hint of hot jalapenos .

Move cayenne and chile powder over next to the cocoa and baking chocolate on your cupboard shelf and begin with the recipes below.


6 ancho chiles

2 teaspoons instant coffee granules


1 1/2 tablespoons milk

1 1/2 tablespoons whipping cream

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3 ounces extra bittersweet chocolate

3 egg yolks

3 egg whites


Creme Anglaise

Toast ancho chiles in 400-degree oven 3 to 4 minutes. Place in bowl and pour very hot water to cover. Soak 30 minutes. Drain, remove seeds and puree in food processor.

Dissolve instant coffee in 2 tablespoons hot water. Butter 1 1/2-quart souffle dish or 6 (8-ounce) souffle dishes. Dust with sugar, discarding any excess.

Combine milk, whipping cream and cinnamon in small saucepan and place over low heat. Add chocolate to melt. Stir in chile paste. Remove from heat. Whisk egg yolks, one at time, into chocolate mixture.

In mixing bowl, beat egg whites with salt until soft peaks form. Gradually add 1/4 cup sugar, beating until peaks are stiff and glossy. Gently fold into chocolate mixture 1/3 batch at time. Spoon mixture into prepared souffle dish.

Bake at 350 degrees until souffle has risen above edge of dish (it should be set but still wobbly in center), 20 to 25 minutes for large souffle, 15 to 20 for individual souffles. Serve immediately with cold Creme Anglaise. Makes 4 to 5 servings.

Creme Anglaise

3 tablespoons sugar

4 egg yolks

1 1/2 cups milk

1 teaspoon vanilla

Beat sugar and egg yolks in mixing bowl until pale and thick. Pour milk into saucepan and heat to boiling, stirring frequently. Slowly whisk some of hot milk into yolk mixture then return to saucepan. Over low heat, stir custard mixture constantly with wooden spoon until thickened and coats back of spoon lightly (160 degrees on thermometer).

Do not allow to boil. Strain into clean bowl and stir in vanilla. Cover and chill. Makes about 1 3/4 cups.


4 large ancho chiles, seeded

1 cup water

3 tablespoons sugar

1/2 pound dark sweet chocolate

1 pint whipping cream

12 egg yolks

2 cups sugar

1 quart milk

Place chiles, water and sugar in saucepan over high heat. Cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Puree in blender or food processor.

Chop chocolate in small pieces and set aside.

Bring whipping cream to boil in small saucepan and set aside.

Place sugar and egg yolks in another saucepan and mix well. Slowly whisk in boiled cream and cook over low heat until mixture is thickened and coats back of spoon. Remove from heat and stir in chocolate to melt. Add cold milk and chile paste. Freeze according to directions in ice cream maker. (Or place in shallow pan, cover and freeze until ice crystals form around edges. Puree in food processor and quickly return to freezer.)


7 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa (preferably good-quality Dutch)

1 tablespoon chile powder

1 cup water

4 cups milk

1 cup superfine granulated sugar

Mix cocoa and chile powder. Add to water in saucepan. Place over medium heat and simmer 5 minutes, whisking frequently. Remove from heat. Mix superfine sugar with milk, whisking to dissolve sugar.

Add mixture to warm cocoa mixture in saucepan. Whisk until smooth. Freeze in ice cream machine according to manufacturer’s instructions. Makes about 5 cups.


4 (4-ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate

1/2 cup butter

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper or to taste

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 1/4 cups sugar

1/2 cup flour

Combine chocolate and butter in saucepan and melt over low heat. Allow to cool 5 minutes and add vanilla, cayenne, eggs and sugar and beat well. Mix in flour.

Spoon mixture into greased and floured 8-inch square pan. Bake at 350 degrees about 35 to 45 minutes or until top is set but wood pick inserted in center comes out with little dough attached to it. Cut in squares. Makes about 14 to 16.


(developed to taste like

Cindy’s Santa Fe Bakery


1/2 cup margarine

2/3 cup sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon chile powder or 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1 1/2 cups flour

6 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

In bowl cream margarine and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla and beat well. Mix chile powder with flour, cocoa, baking soda and salt. Add to egg mixture.

Mix well and turn out onto sheet of wax paper. Shape into rolls about 1 inch in diameter with help of paper. Roll up in plastic wrap and chill several hours or overnight.

Slice dough into about 1/2-inch thick rounds and place on greased baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees 8 to 10 minutes, or until cookies are firm. Remove from baking sheets and cool on racks. Makes about 36 to 40 cookies.