Saturday, January 8, 2011

Real Hot Chocolate

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Paris a few times, and one of my favorite places is a salon de thé called Angelina. One of the historic restaurants of Paris, Angelina was built in 1903 and has a wonderfully ornate interior with high ceilings and large street-front windows. It's usually bustling because it's in a tourist area on the rue de Rivoli, but somehow that doesn't diminish its charm. It’s a beautiful space in which to linger with a beverage and pastry, such as the famous Mont Blanc, a sweet “white mountain” of meringue, whipped cream, and chestnut cream.

Thick, NOT watery.

Angelina offers a selection of high-quality teas and coffees, as well as light lunches and pastries. However the real draw, for me and thousands of others, is le chocolat Africaine, arguably the best hot chocolate in Paris (or the world!). To say le chocolat Africaine is rich is an understatement. It’s one of the most intense chocolate experiences I’ve ever had, like a drinkable chocolate mousse, a high point in the life of a chocolate lover. It's very thick and is served in a small pitcher from which you can pour two or three smallish cups, which is about all you'll want. Appeals to open an Angelina franchise in my midwestern city have, alas, gone unfulfilled.

There's a cinnamon stick floating in there.

When the weather turns cold, I find myself longing for good hot chocolate and turn to the recipe below. It’s not as rich as le chocolat Africaine—and that’s probably a good thing—but it is in the same ballpark. Increase the thickness and intensity by using heavy cream, high-quality bittersweet chocolate, and a little less liquid. Decrease the richness by using half-and-half instead of cream, and semisweet chocolate instead of bittersweet. Either way you’ll have a damn fine hot chocolate.

Very warming with a shot of Grand Marnier or brandy.

I often add a cinnamon stick to the chocolate as it heats, or just sprinkle some cinnamon in the cup. Sometimes, on cold Sunday afternoons when I’m not going anywhere, I’ll add a tablespoon of Grand Marnier or brandy, which is extremely warming. Spoon a large dollop of concentrate into your next cup of coffee to make a Café Mocha you will congratulate yourself for.

Real Hot Chocolate
Makes several small cups

For the chocolate concentrate
1 cup heavy cream or half-and-half
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, cut into small pieces

In a small saucepan bring the cream to a rolling boil, then remove from heat. Whisk in the chocolate pieces until melted and smooth. Can be refrigerated for up to 10 days.

For each cup of hot chocolate
1/4 cup chocolate concentrate
1/4 cup milk, coffee, or water
1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Blend the concentrate with milk, coffee, or water. Heat gently, in a small saucepan over medium-low heat or in the microwave, until warm but not boiling. Add vanilla. Add cinnamon, whipped cream, or marshmallows as you like.

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