Ingredients, Tools, and Techniques
Just as American consumers have begun to enjoy more extravagant wines, beers, and coffees, so, too, are we beginning to appreciate the pleasures of real hot chocolate. This book is intended not only to demystify the process of preparing sophisticated drinking chocolates but also to advance the state of the chocolate arts with contributions from our most accomplished culinary virtuosos.
Before we begin talking about specific recipes and procedures, it's worth discussing what you'll need to have on hand. Although many ingredients on the following pages will be available at your local supermarket or gourmet food shop, consider stocking your cupboard with supplies that may be more difficult to find. As for equipment, hot chocolate requires few items other than what you probably already have in your kitchen.
Master chocolatiers and pastry chefs take the same care in selecting chocolates as vintners do when choosing varieties to produce fine wines. Like the expression of terroir in wine grapes, it is interesting to see how cacao beans develop different characteristics when grown in different regions. Each high-quality chocolate contributes a distinctive aroma, personality, and complexity to the end result's final character. The most important principle when choosing chocolate for your drink, however, is to trust your own taste.
A package of fine chocolate will list the percent of cocoa butter and/or cacao solids it contains. High-quality chocolate contains more fat, which results in more flavor and a luxurious feeling on the tongue, or mouthfeel. The higher the number, the better the chocolate. Superior chocolates, the "couvertures" used by professional chefs, consist of 56 to 70 percent cacao solids and include 31 percent cocoa butter.
Unsweetened chocolate is pure chocolate liquor and about 50 percent cocoa butter. Bittersweet chocolate blends at least 35 percent liquor with as much as 50 percent
cocoa butter, sugar, and vanilla. Semisweet chocolate has the same ingredients as bittersweet with the addition of more sugar. Milk chocolate, which contains about
10 percent chocolate liquor, takes the process a step further by adding about 12 percent milk solids. (Milk chocolate bars manufactured by Hershey's or Nestle's are eating chocolates, not cooking chocolates, and are not appropriate for these recipes.) Most of the recommended chocolates come in blocks and must be chopped or shaved so that they can be melted into hot chocolate.
Most of the recipes in this book call for dark, semisweet, or bittersweet chocolate, while a few use high-quality milk chocolate or white chocolate (since it does not contain cacao solids, white chocolate is technically not a chocolate). Where it makes a difference, the exact percentage of cacao or specific chocolate manufacturer is indicated.
See page 138 for top sources for chocolate.
Auténtico Mexican hot chocolate is made from a hockey puck–shaped tablet of bitter chocolate laced with cinnamon and covered in coarse sugar. Each tablet is divided into eight wedge-shaped segments that you can break off as needed. These rustic chocolates are available in Mexican markets, at some supermarkets, and from online merchants.
Shaved Chocolate/Hot Chocolate Mixes
Look upon the wide range of preshaved chocolates and prepared mixes as an invitation to experiment. Each version has its own individual aroma, personality, complexity, and composition. Not all drinking chocolate products are created equal, and they range from pure, 100 percent chocolate to mixes that include ingredients such as cocoa powder, cocoa butter, sugar, powdered milk, cornstarch, vanilla, and cayenne or other spices in addition to finely chopped bits of chocolate.
Cocoa powder is made by extracting most of the rich cocoa butter from chocolate liquor (ground roasted cocoa beans) and pulverizing the dry residue. There are two types of cocoa powder: natural (nonalkalinized) and Dutch process (alkalinized). Natural cocoa powder (also called unsweetened) is simply untreated cocoa powder. Dutch process cocoa has been treated with an alkali to make the powder more soluble. Along the way, the "dutching" process gives the cocoa a deep mahogany color and a flavor reminiscent of Oreo cookies. The most popular American brands of cocoa powder contain about 7 percent cocoa butter, while specialty and European cocoa powders contain 12 to 24 percent cocoa butter. Some products contain cocoa powder alone, while others include artificial flavors, nonfat dry milk, preservatives, soy lecithin, vanilla, and sugar.
Note: In English-speaking countries, the word cacao came to be pronounced "cocoa," and cocoa powder is usually simply called "cocoa". As a result, most people assume that cocoa powder is just the ground beans themselves and that chocolate is made from cocoa powder instead of the other way around.
Spices, the dried roots, barks, berries, and other fruits of tropical seeds, were the earliest commodities to have driven global trade. These powerful, sensual aromatics have been used to impart their complex flavor to chocolates for thousands of years.
For the best results, buy small quantities of ground spices and store them in tightly closed containers in a cool, dark, dry place for no longer than a year. Before using spices, sniff them. If their fragrance has diminished, toss them out. Chances are, the flavor has weakened as well and the spices will do nothing to improve your drink. If you're using nonsoluble spices in your hot chocolate, place them in a tea ball or wrap them in cheesecloth before dropping them into the liquid, so you can easily fish them out later.
Store vanilla beans completely submerged in granulated sugar. This method not only preserves the moisture and freshness of the beans but also creates an aromatic vanilla sugar that can be used for making cookies and other baked treats.
Sugar is valuable not only for sweetening drinking chocolates but also for adding volume and tenderness and improving the drink's texture. Granulated white sugar, also known as table sugar, has medium-sized granules and is the sugar most often called for in recipes. When heated, granulated sugar takes on the color of toffee and a caramel flavor.
Confectioners' or powdered sugar, which has been crushed mechanically (and usually mixed with a little starch to keep it from clumping), is preferred in some recipes, especially iced chocolate drinks, because it dissolves more easily than granulated sugar.
Brown sugar is simply granulated white sugar with a bit of molasses to give it additional texture and color. Its color depends on the amount of molasses added during processing: the darker the color, the stronger the taste. Substituting brown sugar for white sugar in a hot chocolate recipe will add notes of butterscotch and molasses.
Sucanat is organically grown, freshly squeezed sugar cane juice that has been clarified, filtered, and evaporated. The syrup is then crystallized and granulated into sugar. Sucanat adds an extraordinary layer of caramel flavor to hot chocolate. It can be found in health food stores and some grocery stores.
In Latin America, deeply flavored muscovado sugar (from the Spanish mascabado, meaning unrefined) is known as rapadura, piloncillo, or chancaca. The darkest of the raw dark brown sugars, muscovado has a fine-grained texture. Its natural molasses content results in a strong, lingering flavor that can't be matched by ordinary brown sugar. It marries well with the rich flavor of chocolate.
CONVERSIONS AND EQUIVALENTS
10 ml = 2 teaspoons (t)
1 t = 5 ml
50 ml = 3 tablespoons (T)
1 T = 15 ml
100 ml = 31/2 ounces
1 ounce = 30 ml
250 ml = 1 cup + 1 T
1 cup = 235 ml
500 ml = 1 pint + 2 T
1 quart = 950 ml
1 liter = 1 quart + 3 T
1 gallon = 33/4 liters
10 grams = 1/3 ounce
1/2 ounce = 14 grams
50 grams = 13/4 ounce
1 ounce = 28 grams
100 grams = 31/2 ounces
1/4 lb = 110 grams
250 grams = 83/4 ounces
1/2 lb = 230 grams
500 grams = 1 lb + 11/2 ounces
1 lb = 450 grams
Solid chocolate is measured by weight (by the ounce) rather than by volume. Professional chocolatiers and pastry chefs use a scale to measure chocolate and other dry ingredients fast and accurately.
Digital and balance scales, which can be recalibrated to maintain their accuracy, are preferable to spring-loaded scales, which are not as precise and do not hold up as well over time. Home cooks can purchase inexpensive digital scales that hold up to six or seven pounds and are accurate to within 1/8 ounce; these scales also usually convert between grams and ounces.
To properly measure chocolate on most scales, first weigh the container that
you are placing it in. Set the "zero" indicator at the container's weight. Then add the ingredients. In effect, you have ignored the weight of the container and only weighed the chocolate.
Most superior chocolate comes in blocks and must be either shaved using the large holes on a box grater or chopped into small pieces (about 1/8 inch) with a knife before using. (Some manufacturers, however, are now making their chocolate available in small wafers or disks called pistoles, whose uniform size eliminates the need for chopping.)
Blocks of chocolate are easiest to work with at room temperature, when they can be chopped into pieces without splintering. To cut from the block the amount of chocolate you need, use a long serrated knife and score the block to a depth of about 1/8 inch at the point you want to break it. Press the knife into the chocolate with firm, steady pressure at several spots along the scored line, advancing the knife a little deeper into the bar at each spot. Then, holding both the handle of the knife and the dull side of the blade, chop the block into small pieces that are as uniformly sized as possible, so that they will melt evenly. If the pieces are very different sizes, the chocolate won't melt evenly, and you run the risk of scorching the smaller pieces while you wait for the larger pieces to melt. To use a food processor instead of knife, chill the chocolate, bowl, and blade before pulsing the chocolate until chopped.
One of the most popular methods for making hot chocolate is simply to stir small pieces of chocolate into hot milk in a nonreactive pan. (Substituting some of the milk with heavy cream results in a richer drink, while using some low-fat milk or adding some water allows more of the chocolate's subtle notes to come through.) Heat the milk over medium-low heat, removing the pan from the heat just before it reaches the boiling point. Overheating milk will destroy its flavor and mar its texture.
Ladle out a portion of the milk over the grated or shaved chocolate and stir with a wooden spoon until the mixture is well combined and forms a smooth paste. This base for the drink is called a ganache. Continue adding milk and gently stir until all the milk has been incorporated.
Let the chocolate "cook" in the milk while continuously stirring for a minute or two, then remove the mixture from the heat and allow the blended liquid to steep for ten minutes so its flavor fully develops. Return the hot chocolate to the heat and gently return it to a simmer before serving.
To retain the chocolate's full aroma, it should always be kept under a boil, and ideally its temperature should never exceed 180ºF. An instant-read thermometer comes in handy for accurately gauging the temperature.
Always treat chocolate with respect in order to ensure the best result.
The more air you can get into the hot chocolate mixture, the frothier it will be. To impart a smooth, creamy texture to the drink, when the mixture begins to simmer, beat it vigorously with a wire whisk or fully submerge an immersion blender and whip until the surface of the drink is covered with foam. The best froth of all is made with the steamer of a cappuccino machine.
Purists, however, will argue that there is only one acceptable method for making frothy hot drinking chocolate. The molinillo, a carved wooden swizzle stick dating to seventeenth-century Spain, is the traditional tool of choice for whipping the liquid to form a frothy surface. As you twirl the stick between your hands, the round, flexible wooden base churns the chocolate. Molinillos can be found in Mexican grocery stores or purchased online.
The ancients drank chocolate from large bowls so they could take in all of its aromas. A deep bowl or mug continues to be the preferred method of serving lighter versions of the drink, while thicker, more concentrated hot chocolates are more sensibly served in demitasse or espresso cups. Warming the mug or cup before serving will slow the cooling of the drink.
Hot chocolate should be served with a spoon, which can be used for taking the first few sips of the piping hot beverage. If you're serving it to children, be sure it's not too hot for their palates, which are more tender than those of adults.
To store chocolate, wrap it well, first in foil and then in plastic, and keep it cool and dry at temperatures between 60 and 65ºF. Be sure to store it away from herbs, spices, and other aromatic foods, as it picks up other flavors relatively easily.
If stored under perfect conditions, dark chocolate actually improves with age, like a fine wine. Milk and white chocolate, on the other hand, should be stored for no longer than six to eight months. It is best not to refrigerate chocolate, and it should never
The whitish color that can rise to the surface on chocolate is called fat bloom. It is caused by the cocoa butter separating due to fluctuations in the temperature. While it's not a pretty sight, bloom doesn't affect the chocolate's taste, and the cocoa butter will be redistributed throughout the chocolate when it is melted.
If you are patient, your hot chocolate will acquire wisdom and grace. Ideally, you should never drink hot chocolate immediately after making it, but rather you should let it rest and cool uncovered, then reheat it while stirring. When the mixture cools down, the chocolate crystallizes and the ingredients are bound together in a way that improves the drink's creamy, velvety texture.
As far back as the eighteenth century, Madame d'Arestrel, superior of the Convent of the Visitation in Belley, France, instructed the epicure Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin on the importance of letting hot chocolate rest: "When you would like to have some good chocolate, have it made the night before in a coffee pot and leave it. Resting overnight will concentrate it and give it a velvetiness that makes it even better. The good Lord cannot object to this little refinement, since He Himself is all excellence."
Note that most drinking chocolates can be made in advance and refrigerated for up to three days. To reheat, zap the liquid in a microwavable mug in short intervals, stirring well after each, until the mixture is hot.
To maximize the pleasure of drinking chocolate, sip it slowly and allow the warm liquid to remain in your mouth for a few seconds to release its flavors and aromas. Nuances of high-quality dark chocolates are often compared to flower blossoms, smoke, earth scents, or teas. Take in the fragrance, crispness, intensity, concentration, and persistence of flavor. Enjoy the lingering taste in your mouth.
Taste preferences change with the seasons, not only because we mentally associate hot chocolate with cold weather but also because our bodies need to generate more heat in colder conditions. Hot chocolate also provides the increased calories that our bodies need for energy to combat the elements.
The Pleasure Principle
Drinking chocolate's reputation for stirring the senses has been a subject of discussion for centuries, from the Emperor Montezuma, who fortified himself with chocolate before entering his harem, to Madame de Pompadour, who relied on hot chocolate to warm her passion for Louis XV. Chocolate, it seems, releases phenylethylamine--the same chemical released by the body during moments of love and arousal--into the system, causing a rise in blood pressure, increasing the heart rate, and inducing feelings of well-being that borders on euphoria. This once-mysterious phenomenon explains chocolate's mood-elevating and libido-enhancing effect.
In 1662, renowned English physician Dr. Henry Stubbe recorded that one cup of chocolate contained more fat and nourishment than a pound of meat, and he began writing medical prescriptions for chocolate. He insisted that chocolate could restore energy after a day of hard labor, alleviate lung inflammation, and strengthen the heart.
Dr. Stubbe may have been on to something. In 1998, Dr. Chang Yong Lee and colleagues at Cornell's Department of Food Science and Technology in Geneva, New York, carried out tests to compare antioxidant levels in red wine and hot chocolate. The study found that a cup of hot chocolate was twice as rich in antioxidants as a glass of red wine, which these days is touted by many as beneficial to the heart. Antioxidants--which include vitamins C and E and beta carotene--are widely believed to fight cancer, heart disease, and aging. Part of the secret to the antioxidant magic is the "hot" in hot chocolate. Apparently, heat releases more of the antioxidants into the beverage.
Sweet Spice-Scented Hot Chocolate
Drinking chocolate reaches the height of sophistication with the addition of vanilla. This sensuously supple spice is obtained from tropical pods that grow on fragrant climbing orchids; the pods are cut from the vine while green, then cured by sweating under blankets until they turn black. The native Mexican vanilla bean is thicker and darker than other beans, with a more powerful fragrance and deeper flavor. Indigenous vanilla used for thousands of years in this region is the richest and most satisfying. Vanilla beans should be plump and pliable and feel dense and somewhat oily. The longer the bean, the better the flavor. To use a vanilla bean to flavor milk for hot chocolate, cut the bean in half, split it lengthwise with a knife, scrape the seeds into the liquid, and throw in the pod as well. The tiny seeds and pulp of the vanilla bean have the most flavor, but the pod will impart a certain complexity.
1 cup whole milk
1 vanilla bean
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 teaspoon confectioners' sugar
Combine the milk and vanilla bean in a small saucepan over low heat. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the bean. Add the chocolate and stir continuously with a wooden spoon until completely melted. Add the sugar and stir until combined. Remove the mixture from the heat and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Return to the stove over low heat and gently return to a simmer before serving.
Makes 1 serving