Is there anything quite so comforting, after a chilly day’s outing, as a cup of hot chocolate? It almost makes me look forward to the cold weather. But, if you ask me, most kinds you can find commercially, either entirely pre-made or from a mix, is either too thin or too bland or too sweet—or all of the above. So I’ve developed by own recipe that I’d like to share with you, one that produces a fine cup of thick, deep, intense ambrosia, which is just perfection topped with an ethereal layer of slightly sweetened whipped cream.
It’s actually incredibly easy to make—almost as easy as using a mix—but for a little extra effort you get a quantum leap forward in taste and texture. Made right with quality ingredients, I think this hot chocolate is as good as any you can buy at any price, and I’ve tasted the hot chocolate at some of the world most famous cafés: Angelina in Paris, in the coffee houses of Vienna, at Caffè Florian on St. Mark’s Square in Venice. Besides which, what can beat sipping some hot cocoa while you cozy up with a good book by your own roaring fire?
For each cup:
- 2-4 heaping Tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder, preferably Dutch
- 1-2 Tablespoon(s) Demerara sugar
- 1 cupful of whole milk
For the whipped cream:
- 1/2 cup whipping cream
- 1 Tb. caster or confectioner’s sugar
- A few drops of vanilla or orange extract (optional)
Add the cocoa powder and sugar to a heavy pot. Whisk in just enough water to form a thick paste. Heat over a low flame, stirring stirring constantly. The paste will bubble gently and after a minute or two, it should darken in color as the sugar begins to caramelize.
Now add the milk, little by little, whisking vigorously so that the chocolate paste and milk are completely amalgamated. Let the mixture heat up, until it is just about to boil—but remove it from the heat just before it does. The liquid should be quite thick and very dark in color.
Pour the hot chocolate into a cup (or mug) then top with a generous dollop of whipped cream, and enjoy right away!
The secret of this great hot chocolate is to use lots of cocoa, at least 2 heaping Tablespoons per cupful of milk but more is even better, enough to thicken your hot chocolate, with just enough sugar to balance its bitterness without really sweetening it, and to caramelize the cocoa and sugar before adding the milk. The caramelization step is key: it gives the hot chocolate its special, deep flavor and color. And don’t bring your hot cocoa to a boil—it will give your mixture an ‘off’ boiled milk taste. And, anyway, hot chocolate should be hot, but not scalding. Otherwise, you’ll miss the wonderful flavors.
You can add the whipped cream of not, but I like it. This hot chocolate is so intense that you need something light and mild to balance out its intensity. A bit of vanilla or (for a change of pace) orange extract really brings the whole thing to another level.
For measuring, I like to use an actual cup (as pictured above) rather than a mug, even if true cups seem to be becoming a specialty item these days. A mug normally holds about 50% more, so adjust quantities accordingly if using one.
Of course, the cocoa you use will have a decisive effect on your results. The main thing is to avoid pre-sweetened cocoa, which is always too sweet and usually includes powdered milk as well. You can find unsweetened cocoa in almost any supermarket in the baking section. I am particularly fond of Dutch cocao powder, like Droste, which I find gives your the most intense and fragrant brew. In the US, the Scharffen Berger brand is also excellent. But even Hershey’s produced a “Dutched”cocoa and the San Francisco based Ghirardelli brand is not bad, either, although not quite as rich in flavor and it does not caramelize as well as Dutch cocoa.
And need I say that whole milk works best for hot chocolate? Yes, you can reduce fat and calories by using 2% or even skim milk but then, what’s the point? Splurge a little! It’s only a cup, after all…
Post scriptum: As it turns out, this is my 300th post. Where has the time gone?