Today: The perfect from-scratch hot chocolate -- and a cozier Valentine's Day -- is just 3 pantry ingredients and 10 minutes away.
Think about trying to get a reservation on Valentine's Day. Then, of finding parking in the slush, of waiting at the door while icy fits of wind lap behind your ankles and up your back. Of trying to tune out other couples' murmurs and tears, of trying to make this evening meaningful, with neighbors at either elbow doing the same.
Now think of finding a quiet, warm place in your home with your loved ones, cradling a mug of hot, creamy, bittersweet chocolate, and drinking it down. That's better, isn't it?
It's easy to forget about hot chocolate entirely, or to think you need to buy it ready-made in packets or discs. But unlike with more consuming sorts of DIYing, I can almost guarantee you have every ingredient on hand, and ample time to try it out right this second. Do you have chocolate and milk and sugar and water? Do you have a smallish pot and a stovetop? Do you have 10 minutes? Hopefully you have a blender too, but even if you don't, the exercise will be worth it.
The recipe comes from Ladurée via our gentle guide in all things French pastry, Dorie Greenspan. "In France, hot chocolate is not just for kids, it's a restorative -- and a pleasure -- for grown-ups and it's offered in cafés and tea salons throughout the year," Greenspan told me. "The chocolate is carefully chosen, the proportion of chocolate to milk and water (I was surprised by the water) is precise, and the frothy step is considered a necessity, not a fillip."
To make it at home, you'll need to heat up milk, water, and sugar; whisk in chopped dark chocolate; then blend it for a good minute. You could transfer it to a regular blender, but this will be one of those moments -- like puréeing soup or making 2-minute mayo -- when you'll be chuffed you own an immersion blender.
Blending will perfectly emulsify the chocolatey mix, giving the drink more body and a nice frothy top. This one extra step will also cool it all down to the perfect temperature for guzzling just after ladling up -- just on the comfortable, fill-my-belly-now side of too-hot.
It won't be one of those sludgy drinking chocolates that's so rich it leaves you feeling a little short of breath. Instead, it just tastes like a very drinkable hot cocoa, a Swiss Miss with a deeper chocolate flavor and a hint more bitterness to offset the sugar. Even though this is the classy stuff, it still leans creamy and sweet. It won't make you grow up too much.
Whatever is leftover will stay pretty much perfectly emulsified in the fridge. You can either reheat it gently, or just drink it all cold, over an ice cube or two. It will taste like the kind of fancy chocolate milk that you buy in a glass bottle and assume must secretly have cream in it. Greenspan even uses the cold chocolate to make ice cream floats -- you could use vanilla or coffee or cinnamon, but her favorite is Cherry Garcia. (Valentines, are you listening?)
Adapted slightly from Paris Sweets (Clarkson Potter, 2002)
1/3 cup (80 grams) water
1/3 cup (65 grams) sugar
6 ounces (175 grams) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
Got a genius recipe to share -- from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks to Nozlee Samadzadeh and Molly Wizenberg for this one!
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Photos by Alpha Smoot