As I type this, there is a 70% chance of snow tonight, which means there’s a 30% chance that I will begrudgingly schlep my way through the office doors tomorrow, cursing the deceitful injustice that is Northwest Arkansas winter weather. It seems that every winter in our corner of the state, there are more “almost-snows” and “just-missed-us-blizzards” than there are real, true, honest-to-frosty snow storms. But just because the snow storms are few and far between around here, doesn’t mean I can’t bundle up in my leopard Snuggie by the fire and sip on a heavenly cold weather treat.
Now, to some people – OK, let’s get real – to most people, hot chocolate is a chalky, pale powder you mix with hot water (or hot milk if you’re feeling especially decadent) to form a thin, runny drink that, if you think real hard and squint your eyes just right, kinda tastes like chocolate. Mmmm… Delicious dipotassium phosphate… corn syrup… monoglycerides… hydrogenated coconut oil… and those funky white chunks they call marshmallows… Mainstream, instant hot chocolate has become a mere shadow of its thicker, richer, REALER former self. Not to worry: I’m bringin’ sexy hot chocolate back.
But first, a quick history lesson. Versions of hot chocolate date as far back as the Maya, roughly 2,000 years ago. Their rendition of the drink consisted of cocoa bean paste mixed with cornmeal, chili peppers and water, and was poured back and forth between two pots until a frothy, foamy drink formed. In 15th century Central America, the Aztecs adopted the cacao plant into their culture and developed Xocolatl, a drink made with cocoa beans, vanilla, chili peppers and super-bitter achiote. Because sugar had yet to make it to the Americas, Xocolatl was an… um, acquired taste.
After slaying the Aztecs in the 16th century, Hernan Cortes returned to Spain and brought chocolate back with him as a so-called souvenir. Over the next centuries, chocolate gained popularity in Europe, people figured out it was tastier with milk and sugar, the Dutch figured out how to make it into powder, the English figured out how to make it into a bar, the Spanish started making those dang good churros, the French came up with these great things called marshmallows, and badda bing, badda boom, hot chocolate became what it’s known as today. Mega-abridged history lesson over.
When it comes to hot chocolate, I’m a purist. I don’t want cinnamon. I don’t want mint. I don’t want chili. Heck, I don’t even want alcohol! I want the bare-bones basics of milk, chocolate, sugar, and some sweetened whipped cream to top the whole thing off. For my rendition, I began by heating up a blend of whole milk and half and half to just below a simmer. Off the heat, I added an equal parts mixture of dark chocolate and milk chocolate (Green & Black’s is one of my personal faves), a little sugar and some vanilla to deepen the flavor. After a brisk whisk, I got to work on my whipped cream.
As I mention in the recipe below, super cold ingredients are essential to a high volume, perfectly-peaked whipped cream. Be sure that your heavy cream is cold, and stick your mixing bowl and your beaters in the freezer for about ten minutes before you whip the cream. Heck, even stick your sugar in the freezer. About halfway through the whipping, add the sugar to the cream; if you add the sugar too early, the volume won’t be as great. A little pinch of salt helps, too.
So, whether it snows tonight or not – or ever, or not – I’m going to experience winter the right way, with a cup of honest-to-goodness hot chocolate in hand – with an emphasis on the goodness. Enjoy!
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4 c. whole milk
1 c. half and half
4 oz. dark chocolate, chopped
4 oz. milk chocolate, chopped
2 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
For the whipped cream:
1 c. heavy cream
1 Tbs. powdered sugar
In a saucepan, heat the milk and half and half over medium heat until small bubbles appear around the edges of the pan and the mixture is steaming. Remove from the heat and add the chocolates, sugar and vanilla, whisking vigorously to combine. Gently reheat over medium low heat, being careful not to boil, and serve with whipped cream.
To whip the cream*, beat the heavy cream on high in the bowl of a standing mixer with the whisk attachment, or in a large bowl and using a hand mixer. When the cream is almost done, add the sugar and beat until stiff peaks form, about 3 minutes total.
* Cold ingredients are best for whipping cream. Be sure the heavy cream is very cold, and put the bowl, the mixer attachments and the sugar in the freezer for a few minutes before whipping.
* If the above slideshow doesn’t load, you can view all the photos from this recipe on Flickr.
Laura is a regular contributor for the Fayetteville Flyer. She was born and raised in Fayetteville. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and avid cook. For more of Laura’s contributions, see her Flyer Foodie author page. For more cooking, recipes, and other food-related inspiration, visit Flyer Foodie on Facebook.