Traditional Mexican chocolate, with its intensely tannic, spicy flavor, is an essential ingredient for complex moles, or sauces, like the ones chef Rick Bayless makes at his Chicago restaurant Topolobampo (see a recipe for his pork with mole negro sauce). Unlike European-style baking chocolate, traditional Mexican chocolate is never conched (rolled together with vanilla, sugar, and cocoa butter until it becomes smooth). Instead, the cacao beans are coarsely ground, toasted, and combined with cinnamon and ground almonds; then the mixture is molded into cylinders or disks. While the best Mexican chocolate is still handmade on a grinding stone, there are several good commercial brands widely available in the States. The most popular is Ibarra ($4.25 per 18.6-ounce box).
Traditional Mexican chocolate, with its intensely tannic, spicy flavor, is an essential ingredient for complex moles and sauces.