I love traditions. Not only do they mark the passage of time, they can sometimes make the world feel a little bit smaller. There is something about celebrating and gathering, with friends and strangers, that is unifying, don’t you think?
One of my favorite autumn traditions is the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. Every year we gather with friends, family, and crowds of strangers to watch hundreds of hot air balloons fill the New Mexico skies. Rather than watching for yellowing leaves, siting hot air balloons in the sky around here is the first sign that fall has arrived. It lasts for a week and it seems like every year at least one of our fiesta attempts is foiled by wind or rain. This year, weather spoiled our first trip, but we didn’t let our soggy boots keep us from making a second attempt.
Every year, we get up at the ungodly hour of 4 AM, bundle everyone into coats, and head into the crowds gathering downtown. We console ourselves with thermoses filled with delicious New Mexican Hot Chocolate and are rewarded by the glow of the dawn patrol balloons just before the sun rises. Once the sun comes up, we wander among the balloon as they take flight.
This year was Rory’s first year, a family milestone. I have pictures of all of my kids as babies at the balloon fiesta, and every year since then. It’s a tradition I grew up loving and I’m passing it along to my little ones.
The hot chocolate, along with warm breakfast burritos, is a crucial part of our balloon fiesta tradition. I’m not convincing any of my family, friends, or children to leave their cozy beds for a cold dark crowded morning without that extra special hot chocolate. Once everyone’s got a warm cupful in their hands and in their bellies, the colorful mass ascension of more than 600 hot air balloons takes care of the rest. It’s so worth all the trouble.
This hot chocolate is extra special New Mexican Hot Chocolate, which means it’s got a bit of southwestern spice and flavor mixed in with all that dark chocolate cocoa. It’s the good stuff. Good enough to get everyone out of bed at 4 AM, which is saying something in this family of late risers.
This New Mexican Hot Chocolate is best enjoyed under an early morning rainbow of balloons, but if that isn’t in the cards, it also tastes pretty good around the breakfast table or by the fireplace on a chilly evening too. Drink up!
- 3 heaping tablespoons dark Dutch cocoa powder
- 1 pint heavy cream
- 4 cups whole milk (or 2%)
- 2 dried New Mexican red chiles (or to taste), stemmed, seeded, and crumbled
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 4 to 5 tablespoons sugar
- whipped cream for serving (optional)
- In a large pitcher, gently whisk together the cream and cocoa powder until smooth (be careful not to whip the cream). Stir in the milk, chiles, spices, and salt and refrigerate overnight.
- Strain the milk mixture into a large pot. Add the sugar to taste then warm over medium-low heat for approximately 20 minutes, or until bubbles begin to form around the edges and the chocolate is heated through. Stir occasionally as it heats. Serve with whipped cream if desired.