Winter and hot chocolate are blissfully synonymous, aren’t they? Snow and sugar are visual twins too, the latter used in films to appear as snow. A cup of cocoa, real cocoa, with marshmallows after a wet and cold sledding ride is a drink that you somehow remember forever.
Can you recall your mom’s pan of hot chocolate on the stovetop and how she skimmed off “the skin”? It almost seems like sacrilege to pour your instant powdered hot chocolate from a packet when there is so much good cocoa out there nowadays.
And hot chocolate just isn’t the same without snow. Winter forces us inside, and we are less prone to travel than we are in summer, but hot chocolate is a destination that can take you from your best local café or pub to your nearest ski resort to a journey through Europe, weaving your way through Switzerland and France in search of the finest cup. And we shouldn’t be too hard on instant hot chocolate since it tastes pretty good on that camping trip. Even bad hot chocolate is good hot chocolate.
You might think that a country like Denmark invented hot chocolate, but it originated in Spain in 1528 when Cortés introduced cocoa beans to that country. Originally a bitter Mayan drink that was later used for medicinal purposes, cocoa has evolved to the gourmet status it maintains today. In some countries, like Italy, it resembles thick and dark chocolate syrupy pudding that glistens, instead of the paler hot chocolate with marshmallows you might be accustomed to seeing.
There is much argument about where the best hot chocolate in the world is. One Greenwich, CT, resident visits Denmark every year and says Conditori La Glace is by far the best hot chocolate in Copenhagen. “The entire ambiance and great pastries contribute to the joy of a hot chocolate,” he says, “while taking a break from Christmas shopping on a snowy day in Denmark.”
Conditori La Glace’s hot chocolate is made with sweet milk, full cream, and blocks of chocolate and served with whipped cream. If you can drink more, you can have your pot refilled once. “We want our customers to sink down into a time gap,” the confectionary told Act Two in an email, “where there is enough time to enjoy a whole pot of a hot beverage.”
Hot chocolate not only tastes beautiful, it looks beautiful. Adults and children both like the drink, and it has a history and process that also makes it educational. So why not elevate that simple cup of post-sleigh-riding hot chocolate made at home and turn it into a winter destination? Winter is a bit limited in trips. You either go somewhere sunny or go skiing. But finding the best hot cocoa locally, regionally, or internationally is a good way to put a little chocolate into the season.
If you want to make your own at home, it’s hard to know where to begin with the countless recipes out there, whether you want your hot chocolate to be Irish, Mayan (with chile), or Italian (cioccolato caldo). Bobby Flay’s coconut hot chocolate with almond-fluff whipped cream – recipe below – has a complex page of ingredients so involved that you wonder if it’s worth the ornate recipe to even make it.
How about lacing your hot chocolate with a little dark rum to warm the winter soul even more? Do you dress it with whip cream or let marshmallows swim in it? There’s even vegan hot chocolate now made with soy milk.
Whatever recipe you choose, you should always use real dark chocolate and whole milk. If you start there, you can hardly go wrong. Preferably use brown sugar, heat the milk and sugar first then fold in the chocolate. Add a pinch of salt and any spice you want like cinnamon or chile powder. Recipes abound online, and you can riff off them with relative ease as long as you stick to the basics above.
And if you can’t make it to Spain or Belgium this winter, try some of the international recipes at home after a snowball fight. They are simpler than you think and might bring a little warm chocolate right into your cold winter kitchen. Don’t forget to keep a little peppermint schnapps on hand for an especially warm holiday taste.
2 cups boiling water 1 chile pepper (cut in half with seeds removed) 5 cups light cream (or whole or nonfat milk) 1 vanilla bean (split lengthwise) 1 to 2 cinnamon sticks 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate (or 3 tablets Mexican Chocolate cut into 1/4-inch pieces) 2 tablespoons granulated sugar or honey 1 tablespoon grounded extra fine almonds or hazelnuts
Over medium-high heat, add chile pepper to boiling water in a large saucepan. Cook until the liquid is reduced to 1 cup. Remove the chile pepper and strain water. Set aside. In a medium saucepan, combine cream or milk, vanilla bean and cinnamon stick over medium heat until bubbles form around the edge.
Reduce the heat to low and add chocolate and sugar (or honey). Occasionally whisk until the chocolate melts and sugar dissolves. Turn off the heat and remove the vanilla bean and cinnamon stick. Next, add the chile-infused water (small amounts at a time). Taste-test along the way to make sure the flavor isn’t too strong. If chocolate is too thick, use a little more milk to thin out. Serve in small cups with ground nuts and whipped cream on the side.
Recipe from 100CafeStreet
For the whipped cream:
3/4 cup very cold heavy cream 1/2 cup marshmallow fluff 2 tablespoons almond-flavored liqueur (such as amaretto), or ¼ teaspoon pure almond extract ¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
For the chocolate:
1 cup whole milk 1¼-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk 2 tablespoons good-quality unsweetened cocoa powder (such as Valrhona or Ghirardelli), plus more for garnish 3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar 1/2 cup good-quality bittersweet chocolate chips (such as Callebaut or Ghirardelli) 1/4 teaspoon pure vanilla extract Pinch of fine sea salt 1/2 cup sweetened shredded coconut, lightly toasted
Make the whipped cream: Combine the heavy cream, fluff, almond liqueur and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment; whip until soft peaks form.
Make the hot chocolate: Combine the whole milk and coconut milk in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Whisk in the cocoa powder, brown sugar, chocolate chips, vanilla and salt; cook, whisking constantly, until the sugar and chocolate melt and the mixture is smooth and thick, about 5 minutes.
Divide the hot chocolate among mugs and top with a large dollop of the whipped cream. Dust with cocoa powder and garnish with toasted coconut.
Recipe from FoodNetwork
1/2 lb good-quality semisweet chocolate (or bittersweet) 4 cups milk 2 tablespoons sugar 1 teaspoon cinnamon
If your chocolate is in a bar form, chop or grate. Solid bars do not melt well. Put chocolate, milk and sugar in a heavy saucepan over low heat. Whisk slowly until the chocolate melts and sugar dissolves. When it is smooth and steamy, put into mugs and top with a little cinnamon.
Recipe from Food
by Mark Damon Puckett