Browsing through the pages of The Wall Street Journal a couple of weeks ago, I came upon an article entitled Cocoa-Dependent. I liked the sound of that clever expression… cocoa-dependent. The piece was a peon to the revivifying impact of cocoa on body and soul, and it opened with the following tribute:
“This time of year, no one needs to be reminded that they like hot chocolate – that it’s good, that it’s the antidote to the cold and the general dreariness that can permeate life come deep winter. But as we drag ourselves into pandemic year two, small comforts have assumed outsize importance. What else explains the insane viral sensation of hot chocolate bombs from a few months ago? This winter, not only do we like hot chocolate; we need it.
It’s an instant pick-me-up. It’s a chocolate bar that does not need to be chewed, just poured down your throat, warming your esophagus, your belly and, ultimately, your soul. This soothing drink is exactly the kind of harmless sedative America needs right now, the ultimate expression of self-love – or, at least, self-mercy.”
Drinking Chocolate Boom
The story referenced Matthew Caputo, co-owner of A Priori Chocolate, a Utah-based importer and distributor of dozens of craft chocolate brands.
Mr. Caputo reported that “sales of drinking chocolates have gone up at least five times from past winters, and manufacturers are having difficulty keeping up with demand.” The sales boom has been precipitated, Mr. Caputo believes, by all the outdoor gatherings and activities we have engaged in lately. As the story stated succinctly:
When we’re chilly, hot chocolate is what we crave.
A Sweet History
According to The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, the chocolate saga began in South America 56 centuries ago, at least 1,670 years before the Egyptians built their first step pyramid – so you could say it’s deeply embedded in human DNA.
The variations of hot chocolate concoctions are virtually inexhaustible, from those made with semisweet Valrhona chocolate, milk and cream topped with Chartreuse, to a creamy Belgian-style hot chocolate made with dark chocolate and milk topped with a toasted marshmallow.
Aficionado of Hot Chocolate
One of the great aficionados of hot chocolate is a gentleman called David Lebovitz, who has been researching and writing about chocolate – and many of the other iconic cocktails, aperitifs and café traditions of France for over two decades. His book Drinking French is an astonishing and delightful investigation into French culinary culture, with a focus on beverages – both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
One of Mr. Lebovitz’s signature recipes is for Belgian hot chocolate and, among the many artery clogging recommendations he so brilliantly makes, few surpass the following for ingenuity and pure unadulterated taste.
Belgian Hot Chocolate
This recipe could easily be cut in half, although any extra can be kept in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If made ahead, it’ll get richer as it sits and it can be easily rewarmed when ready to enjoy. This recipe serves six to eight, although you might find it serves a few more than indicated. Leftover mix can be stored in the refrigerator for a few days, and re-warmed in a saucepan over low heat. If you like thick hot chocolate, making it a day in advance will give it time to thicken up.
Ingredients (6-8 Servings)
- 1 quart (1litre) half-and-half or whole milk
- 8 ounces (230g) bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
- 4 ounces (115g) milk chocolate, chopped
- tiny pinch of salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- In a medium saucepan, warm about one-third of the half-and-half or milk, with the chopped dark and milk chocolates, stirring until the chocolate is melted.
- Whisk in the remaining half-and-half or milk as well as the salt and cinnamon, heating until the mixture is warmed through.
- Use a hand-held blender, or a whisk, to mix the hot chocolate until it’s completely smooth. (Do not use a standard blender as blending hot liquid can result in the lid coming off while blending.) The chocolate is ready to serve now, however, if you let it sit for a few hours, it’ll get richer and thicker the longer it’s left to sit.