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I didn’t actually have a crappy day, but when I do, this is my drug of choice. This, my friends, is the World’s Best Hot Chocolate.No, don’t dismiss it so readily. When I first read about this hot chocolate, I said, “Yeah, big deal. It’s hot chocolate. How special can it be?” Then I tried it, and I would have been more than happy to swallow not just those words, but also the first folio of the multi-volume Oxford English Dictionary, if only it could be dipped in this hot chocolate. This is not the stuff you make from the powdered mix when you’re camping. This is not the stuff you pay $4 for at the top of the ski slope. This is not even the stuff you stand in line for 45 minutes for at Ghirardelli Square while you’re freezing your ass off waiting for the Fourth of July fireworks to start. (Which I did, and yeah, it really is good cocoa. Just not as good as this.)

This stuff is, quite simply, the Platonic Ideal of Cocoa. If you ever read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, closed your eyes, and imagined what it would be like to dip a mug into Wonka’s chocolate river and drink deep, this is it. It tastes exactly like drinking the perfect bar of dark chocolate, melted. It will repair your darkest mood, put a broken heart on the road to recovery, and, single readers, I’m convinced that learning how to make this stuff will do wonders for your love life.

The recipe is a simplification of Jeff Steingarten’s Chocolat Chaud recipe in It Must Have Been Something I Ate. The original called for whole milk diluted with spring water, and required 5 minutes of blending in order to create froth. It also made way more than even the most determined chocoholic could consume. As written, the recipe made four six-ounce cups, but this stuff is so rich that you can only drink it in demi tasse-sized doses. I’ve cut the recipe in half, which still serves four beautifully when served in espresso cups and accompanied by a couple of cookies. (It also allowed me to use exactly one of the small 2 oz bars of Scharffen Berger dark chocolate per batch.) I substituted 1 or 2% milk for the whole milk with water, since he was already diluting the whole milk, and I eliminated the frothing step altogether, because I tend to be lazy when I want a last-minute chocolate fix.

Try it. Seriously.

World’s Best Hot Chocolate
(Serves 4 on a normal day, or 2 on a truly abysmal day)

1 1/4 cups lowfat milk
2 tablespoons sugar
2 oz (50 grams) dark chocolate (use the good stuff)
2 tablespoons good quality cocoa powder (I use Ghirardelli)

Optional: cinnamon, nutmeg, powdered chiles, vanilla or almond extract, or espresso powder

Chop the chocolate with a serrated knife, and combine with the cocoa and any spices or the espresso powder, if using.

In a small saucepan, combine the milk and sugar, and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Once it simmers, pull it off the heat and add the chocolate mixture, whisking thoroughly. Return to the heat and bring back up to a simmer, whisking vigorously until the chocolate is dissolved and the mixture is thick and homogeneous.

(If using vanilla or any other extract, add it at the last minute, off the heat, to preserve the flavor.)

Serve in demi-tasse, espresso, or other small cups, with a couple of good cookies. (Ladyfingers, shortbread, Mexican Wedding Cookies, amaretti, meringues, or other fairly plain, non-chocolate ones work best.)

Leftovers, if there are any, keep perfectly well in the fridge for at least a day and can be reheated in the microwave.
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If the situation is really, really dire, I would recommend adding a stiff shot of Kahlua, Amaretto, Frangelico, or Bailey’s.Incidentally, this is a perfect diet food. No, I’m not kidding. For those brief and shining moments when I’m trying to stick to a healthier eating plan, I use this as a guilt-free dessert. Since it’s so incredibly rich and flavorful, a tiny cup of it will satisfy me completely, and then I won’t go rampaging through every cupboard, eating half a dozen things I really didn’t want in my effort to find the one thing I did want. Better to head the whole process off and have one small thing I’ll really enjoy, I think.

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