“I rose about 8 o’clock, having first rogered my wife. I read a little in my commonplace book. I said my prayers and drank chocolate for breakfast.”
William Byrd, Virginia planter, 9 September 1711
It’s Valentine’s Day today – so we’re looking at hot chocolate.
There has been an exceptional exhibition at the Royal Academy – not the famous and contentious Ai Wei Wei – but a quiet gem which shows the pastels of the Swiss painter Jean-Etienne Liotard – an artist of whom Horace Walpole wrote, “Truth prevailed in all his works”. At a first, superficial, glance I though he was painting in oils, but it was immediately apparent that the works were mostly a very finely worked pastel; the most delicately rendered lace, faces observed with a generous humour.
Hot chocolate in France
A particularly impressive example of the artist’s skill is a pastel entitled La Belle Chocolatière (see featured image above) which depicts a maid carrying in a tray of chocolate and a glass of water.
This was the way that hot chocolate was served at La Charlotte de L’isle, in Paris, when I went there with my daughter about a decade ago. A quirky, pink chocolate house with puppets, pianos and vintage pots, it was worth a visit for the venue itself (it’s since changed hands and isn’t quite the same). The chocolate they served there was so rich and so concentrated that it came with a glass of water, if anything, a bit too much of a good thing.
Hot chocolate in Spain or Italy
In fact, to my way of thinking, the best hot chocolate of all is the thick, molten variety served commonly in Spain, often in the early hours of the morning and accompanied by churros.
And there is that served in certain parts of Italy – the best so far I’ve found there being that enjoyed at the café, La Tazza D’oro, Ravenna.
If you are in London
However, many Saucy Dressings’ readers are based in London – if you are, you can get a damn-good continental-style hot chocolate at Venchi in the King’s Road.
Making hot chocolate from a packet
The simplest way of making a really luscious, molten hot chocolate at home is to buy packets of instant hot chocolate when you visit Spain – or alternatively you can go online to Brindisa (the Spanish food specialists) and buy the excellent Canario brand.
Bring in an expert
Of course, you could always pay an expert to come and make it for you. That might seem a bit extreme for only one or two or you…. but for a wedding it would be a perfect solution for your guests’ early morning munchies. If you’re in the UK you can call on Churros Garcia, whose stall at the latest Food Bloggers Connect event was always full of appreciative tasters. They can also supply ready-made, frozen churros which just need reviving under the grill or in the oven.
Making hot chocolate yourself at home
But if you want to make a thick, gooey, unctuous hot chocolate yourself, the way to thicken the chocolate is with cornflour – don’t be tempted to be led in the egg yolk direction – unless consummate you will end up with a stringy mix of scrambled eggs and chocolate – awful. Instead you are aiming for the smooth, waterfall effect, described so wonderfully by Roald Dahl:
“Charlie put the mug to his lips, and as the rich warm creamy chocolate ran down his throat into his empty tummy, his whole body from head to toe began to tingle with pleasure, and a feeling of intense happiness spread over him.
‘You like it?’ asked Mr Wonka. ‘Oh, it’s wonderful!’ Charlie said. ‘The creamiest loveliest chocolate I’ve ever tasted!’ said Grandpa Joe, smacking his lips.
‘That’s because it’s been mixed by waterfall,’ Mr Wonka told him.”
-Roald Dahl, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
To the method below you could add a little Dutch cocoa powder, or a pinch of allspice; you could sprinkle over a little vanilla bean dusting sugar; and you could serve with cinnamon sticks to stir.
How to make proper, thick, molten hot chocolate
- 240 ml/1 cup milk
- 1 tsp cornflour
- 50g/2 oz/about half a normal bar good quality dark chocolate
- Pinch of salt
- Mix the cornflour with a couple of tsp of the cold milk to make a paste.
- Heat the milk until nearly boiling and take off the heat immediately.
- Whisk in the paste using a cappuccino whisk, or an ordinary whisk if you have one.
- Grate the chocolate into the milk.
- Reheat, again, taking care not to boil – it should thicken up.
“Tea my learned friend…inspires scandal and sentiment; coffee excites the imagination, but chocolate sir is an aphrodisiac.”
-Dr Bushwhacker, The Sayings of Dr Bushwhacker and Other Learned Men
This post is dedicated to The Killer Shark, who kept me supplied with Palladín chocolate over the years.
Eating chocolate is better than kissing…. hmmm.