origin: (1700's) Spanish; handmill.
A Mexican wooden whisk, twirled between the palms to add air into liquid. Hand-carved out of one piece of wood, each one is unique.
In the past, it is said that a woman would find a good husband if she could impress his mother with a perfectly frothed cup of hot cocoa -- a molinillo is essential for this. Even still, it's a great deal of work to make something like a cappuccino without machinery, so perhaps her skill at the task symbolized her willingness to work hard and her ability to care.
Nectar of the Gods: previous to this, ancient Aztec's would aerate the vitally important spicy cocoa (sans milk) by pouring it back and forth from great heights. This was done to keep the drink from separating and getting unpleasantly grainy from the more primitive grinding methods of the cocoa bean. Spaniards in Mexico, who grabbed onto this recipe, wanted something more sophisticated for their mixing process, over time they developed this fanciful wooden whisk, but the old world method is still in use!
Mexican Hot Chocolate
Makes 2 cups
2 cups whole milk
6 sections Ibarra chocolate blocks
1/2 vanilla fresh bean (optional, but so delicious*)
1/4 tsp. ground chili (preferably ancho chili; do not substitute chili powder**)
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
pinch of salt
whipped cream to top
With a sharp knife, gently slice vanilla bean from end to end, using the tip of the knife to scoop out the beans.
In a small saucepan, warm milk, chocolate, vanilla, chili, cinnamon and salt over medium-low heat until chocolate is dissolved.
Froth with a molinillo (or a hand blender) until a thick foam appears. Top with whipped cream and sprinkle with ground chili. Serve hot.
* Since vanilla beans are expensive, you can substitute extract, but using the real thing gives the drink an added richness and depth.
** Chili powder sold in the U.S. typically has other spices mixed in. Make sure to add pure chili. Another option is to grind your own, and strain out the pieces before serving. [source]