Hot Chocolate: Variations on a Theme

Let’s say – for the sake of argument – that today is National Brownie Day (which as it happens, is true but not the point of the post). And let’s say – also for the sake of argument – that I wasn’t actually all that interested in brownies at the moment (also true and also not the point of this post). One might at this point be saying to oneself, “If you aren’t interested, why did you bring it up in the first place. Why not just write about something you are interested in.”

You have a point and I’m gonna get to that soon but I wanted to touch quickly on the new mint brownie at Starbucks. I had great hopes. I had memories of my mother’s mint brownies of days gone by (she called them mint bars as a recall but they were actually small mint brownies). So I saw these mint brownies at Starbucks the other day and I decided, why not? I don’t need a brownie but for the sake of the blog, I shall try one. The sacrifices I make for the reading public’s benefit.

So I tried it and now you don’t have to. Blech!

Moving on. Let’s talk about something I am interested in at the moment – hot chocolate. By which I do not mean that mix you get from envelopes. That is hot cocoa and though Swiss Miss has its place – I don’t say that it doesn’t – I just prefer hot chocolate and avoiding paper cuts at this festive time of year. It’s part of the cozy, hunkering down mode that hits me when the department stores start piping in carols* and twinkling lights illuminating the crazed look in the eyes of tourists and shoppers along 5th Avenue. **

chocolateSo after a long holiday-infused day, I found myself at home with very little interest in going back out, even less interest in expending tremendous effort and in dire need of defrosting. I had chocolate chips and whole milk so hot chocolate it was. And while it takes a bit longer than dumping powdered mix and milk into a cup and microwaving it (and again hot cocoa is not hot chocolate), the results of standing by a saucepan slowly stirring the milk while it heats (taking care not to let it boil) is very very soothing. There’s something of the nursery about it and I find repetitive action in the kitchen calming. This is why I am such a fan of risotto. Well, one of the reasons. The other being – risottos are delicious. But I digress.

So I stood, stirring and at the appropriate moment, slowly added in the chocolate chips. I use the mini-chips since they were on hand and they melt faster. Once the contents of the saucepan had reached just a rich, dark consistent shade (a colour so gorgeous that to merely refer to it as brown would be an insult), I poured it into a large mug and popped in a peppermint stick to stir. I only have peppermint sticks this time of year and only a handful so they are saved for moments such as these. I took my fragrant, steaming mug into the living room and curled up with my chenille throw and a large pile of shopping magazines (I consider things like Lucky and InStyle to be more shopping-centric than fashion-centric. Fashion magazines – Vogue and the like – are filled with clothing no one I know would ever wear on a day to day basis even if they could afford it.) As I flipped through the pages, my mind strayed (shopping magazines to not occupy the whole mind, after all and this is part of their charm) to variations on the cocoa theme.

I could use a cinnamon stick as a stirrer of course – and have. It takes the cocoa in a vastly different direction. I wondered about extracts. Adding brandy extract or something like that. Soon, the magazines were lying all over the couch while I rummaged through the kitchen for additives and scrolled about the Internet for ideas.

Quite a few of the general recipes sites – epicurious, recipibazaar, etc. – listed spicy or spiced cocoa. Sounded good to me but I saw no reason to start from scratch again so I made up a large batch of my milk and chips cocoa and played around with adding pepper and ginger. I thought it was good but I can see it would not be for everyone. It’s also the type of thing where telling you how much to add would be useless. It would be a very personal decision. You’d have to experiment a little.

I added a goodly amount of orange zest to the next cup (I was using very small cups at this point otherwise, I’d have exploded from all that chocolate and I wouldn’t be here now). After tasting and deciding that yes, orange and chocolate are a nearly perfect pairing (duh), I squeezed the tiniest, teeniest squeeze of orange juice in. More about scent than actual taste. Delicious. And don’t even think of using a dollop of orange juice from a carton instead. I didn’t try it but I have a very firm belief that it would be a disaster.

I continued to play with the spice rack for a while until I ran out of liquid. Decided two batches a night was enough for me – and besides, it suddenly occurred to me that all these ideas might be even better if the chocolate I used for the base were even higher quality. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with nestles chocolate chips but what if I got really really, good chocolate? What if I got different types of chocolate. The possibilities were daunting and exciting and I though, damned! I might need an excel spread sheet to keep track of what I’ve tried and what rating to give it.

I will report back on my findings. Right now though I have to go to the gym. Extensive research into variations on the theme can, after all, be delicious and detrimental at the same time

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