Build a better hot cocoa
Whether you're looking for a post-snowball pick-me-up or a warming sip on a chilly day, there are few things more sweetly nostalgic than a cup of hot cocoa. A real one, that is, not that reconstituted powder that comes in a box adorned with Alpine scenes. No actual Swiss miss drinks that stuff. And neither will you after Alice Medrich gets through with you.
The queen of chocolate and author of the new "Seriously Bitter Sweet" (Artisan, $25.95, 336 pages) introduced this country to the glories of Parisian-style truffles 40 years ago at Cocolat, her Northern California shop in Berkeley's Gourmet Ghetto. Now she's sharing her tips on how to make a French-style demitasse of deeply chocolate richness.
"My hot chocolate is an outlier," she says. "It's more of an adult thing. There are so many interesting craft chocolates. This is a really special little cup for people, who want to sample the new chocolates."
Use water and milk, not cream • "Less creaminess and less fat allow us to taste more of the complex and subtle flavors," she says. "Put whipped cream on top, as opposed to in. It gives you contrast, which makes chocolate taste chocolatier."
Make it ahead • "I learned this from the woman, who owns the quirky little chocolate shop in the 10th arrondissement. If you make your hot cocoa with real chocolate and let it stand overnight (in the refrigerator), all the cocoa particles swell. When you reheat it, you get a thicker mixture." Just keep the temperature below 180 when you reheat the mixture to preserve the body and flavor.
The higher the cacao percentage, the more intense and less sweet • But there's room for other variation, too. "I love the idea of sprinkling spices and playing around with flavors," Medrich says. "People tend to think, let's go cinnamon. But open your spice drawer and try stuff. It's, like, too much fun."
Rich hot chocolate
6 ounces chocolate, 54 percent or higher, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups boiling water
1 1/2 cups milk
Place the chocolate in a small saucepan. Pour half the boiling water over the chocolate; stir until melted and smooth. Stir in the rest of the water and the milk. Heat, whisking continuously, until hot but nowhere near boiling. Serve in small cups or demitasse.
Serves • 6 to 8
Source: "Seriously Bitter Sweet"