To Make a Proper Hot Chocolate…

Hot, frothy, neither too thick nor too thin…

There are several schools of thought with regard to the making of a proper mug of hot chocolate.  One side insists that a rejuvenating drink may be made by whisking cocoa powder and sugar into hot milk.  Another insists that, for one to have truly excellent hot chocolate, two tablespoons’ (1/8 of a cup) of dark chocolate callets (chips) must be melted into the mixture as the milk simmers on a stovetop.  Spaniards, Latin Americans, and just about most chocoholic Filipinos, however, will tell you that the best drink is made with tablea (chocolate liquor / cocoa mass pressed into small circular or ovoid molds) cooked in hot water and beaten with a batidor (wooden spurtle / quirl / whisk) till good and frothy.  It is a method that, according to Like Water for Chocolate author Laura Esquivel, produces a delectable chocolate that is more digestible than one made with milk.

Having worked with chocolate for almost a year now, I am not inclined to listen to any one school of thought regarding the matter.  Indeed, the best hot chocolate is, in my opinion, the one done to your own recipe, the one developed according to your taste.  (Which probably explains why I cheer on Joanne Harris’s heroine Vianne Rocher; she does hot choc to her own recipe.)

My taste, you may have noticed, is rather odd in the sense that I prefer things either extremely plain or absolutely baroque and laden with all sorts of indulgences.  However, it is interesting to note that my personal version of hot chocolate is actually quite moderate.  Half-milk and half-water, it does not distract the drinker from the taste of the actual chocolate with the creaminess of milk but neither does it slap the drinker in the face with over-intensity and bitterness.  Plus, I insist that you use the best dark and milk chocolate that you can find.  It is, in my opinion, the quality of the chocolate that counts with regard to the drink’s pleasurable qualities.  Cocoa powder, as fragrant as it is, is better off used for baking or for rolling truffles in; it tastes insipid as a beverage, believe me!

As with all good recipes, it is entirely up to you what else you wish to throw into your mug.

Proper Hot Chocolate

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup milk (full-fat is best, but low-fat is also excellent.  Do not, however, use skimmed!)
  • 25 grams best quality dark chocolate (approximately two tablespoons if you’re using callets)
  • 25 grams best quality milk chocolate

In a saucepan, stir together the milk and water.  Add the chocolates and cook over low-medium heat, stirring until all the chocolate has melted and is well incorporated into the liquid.  Bring close to a boil – just over a simmer but not enough to roll – and remove from heat.  Whisk vigorously with a wire balloon whisk until good and frothy.  Pour into a mug to serve.

On Variations… While I normally take this in the morning to get my day off to a lovely start, this also makes a rich, comforting nightcap with the addition of a good tablespoon of dark rum or Spanish brandy.  A tablespoon of homemade ganache also adds richness and flavor, and who can say no to a topping of freshly whipped cream and a dusting of cinnamon?

Chocolate-wise, use only the best: Heavenly Chocolates sells single-origin, Swiss Dark, and French Dark callets specifically for making hot chocolate.  You could also break up Cote d’Or dark chocolate bars; Frey Chocobloc Noir and dark Toblerone add a nougatine sweetness, too.  For milk chocolate, Ghirardelli is the best way to go.