Yes, I know, it’s been ages since you’ve heard from me, but I have a legitimate reason for the silence and, no, my “reason” isn’t that I’ve been lazy. If you are reading this post for illumination on where I’ve been and what I’ve been doing these past three months, I’m sorry to disappoint, but I’m saving that story for another day. Stay tuned.
Today, you’ll find me sitting at a dining room table, swaddled in a bright orange down comforter in a chilly, yet cozy cabin just off the main road in Angels Camp, CA. Outside my window, sun-spattered rolling golden hills dotted with majestic live oaks belie the chilly temperatures outside my door. Yesterday, an unexpected “bomb cyclone” made for a grey, cold and wet day – and fevered conversations about hot chocolate steaming away on the camp stove.
Let’s face it, American hot chocolate is insipid at best – lackluster, brown-colored Swiss Miss® water at its worst. We are not celebrated for our chocolate beverage prowess in the States. The Spanish, with their thick chocolate and churros, are world-renowned for their rich, dark, dippable rather than drinkable, chocolate and they stand proudly at the apex of the hot chocolate pyramid of deliciousness. Not far behind them are the French and their “chocolat chaud,” The rich beverage available for sipping on chilly Parisian streets. Christmas mornings, my sister combines copious quantities of Ghirardelli Double Chocolate cocoa powder, a smidge of sugar, and an equal ratio of whole milk to heavy whipping cream in an effort to recall her memories of the decadent beverage sipped in the City of Lights. Her final result? Satisfying, but not quite mind-blowing. I must admit, however, until last night, I was entirely in the dark when it came to Cioccolata Calda, Italy’s version of the drink. I’ve been fortunate to visit Italy and, during my travels, study, as well as indulge in, its cuisine. Accordingly, I’m familiar with Italian espresso, various wines and their regions, amaro, limoncello, nocino, grappa, and the early evening Aperol spritz, leaving nary any room for something as seemingly innocuous as hot chocolate. Oh, what have I been missing?!
Last night, with my first (scalding) sip, my hot chocolate world expanded. I could use poetic words like “decadent,” “rich,” “silky,” and “fudgy” to describe this ganache in a mug, but today I’ve decided to be straightforward – the Italians can call their hot chocolate what they like, but it is, in essence, a mug of warm chocolate pudding before it has been allowed to set – milk, cream, cornstarch and dark chocolate…the makings of a most excellent creamy dessert – and damn indulgent hot chocolate. It would be made only more satisfying with crisp biscotti for dunking. This Christmas, I’ll be taking the reins on the morning beverage; step aside, Sis.
Forgive the less than professional photo – and the inartfully dolloped cream. As mentioned above, my inaugural recipe was created over a camp stove; the cream “whipped” in a vigorously shaken plastic container. Nevertheless, the results did not disappoint, possibly even made more delicious by our rustic surroundings. The Spanish may have Chocolate and Churros; we had Patagonia and Cioccolata Calda.
Tip: You don’t want the hot chocolate to boil (212° F), but you need to heat it to a temperature of 203° F for the cornstarch’s thickening properties to activate. Don’t rush the process by turning up the heat – be patient, heat it slowly, and stir often.
Italian Hot Chocolate
This ultra-thick, rich and not overly sweet elixir will change the way you think about hot chocolate. This recipe should make two servings, but I find it so decadent (even for me!) that it can easily stretch to 4 servings. With the addition of coffee, this belly warmer also makes a five-star mocha.
- 1 cup whole milk, divided
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 3 Tablespoons sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
- 4 ½ oz. dark chocolate, finely chopped
- Tiny pinch salt (optional)
- Lightly sweetened, freshly whipped cream
- In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, whisk together ¾ cup whole milk, heavy whipping cream and sugar until small bubbles begin to form around the edges (don’t boil).
- Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the remaining ¼ cup milk and cornstarch. Set aside.
- Once the milk is heated, add the cornstarch mixture and whisk for 30 seconds to combine. Add dark chocolate and salt and continue whisking for about 7 minutes until the chocolate has fully melted and the mixture thickly coats the back of a spoon (similar to a thin chocolate sauce). Pour into 2 coffee mugs (or 4 demitasse cups if you want to show restraint). Top with a dollop of freshly whipped cream. Careful – since this hot chocolate is so thick, it holds heat better than your regular brew; sip carefully.