There are certain things we have eaten in their very finest forms that stay with us, that won’t leave us alone until we eat them again. My list of such finery does not include chicken wings, devotees of which seem to be abounding this week in preparation for the Super Bowl. I admit that I did eat some memorable wings once in Phoenix with cousin Jim that I’m sure he remembers too; we asked the waiter to list all ingredients. My finest forms list does include a particular brownie that I myself made once and have never been able to replicate, even using the same recipe (think deep, dark, chewy). Also: toffee worth its weight in gold from Mason, Michigan (Uncle Dick gave us a precious box at Christmas, and mark my words that I will figure out how to make it before next December).
Topping the list—and I get that it seems like they’re all sweets, because they are—is the hot chocolate I had when I was traveling in Spain in 1998. Time and distance has made the heart grow fonder of that chocolate; it was far too good to be out of sight, out of mind.
It was there, in Catalonia, where I had an epiphany with a white peach, and where, that same night, I was wise or desperate enough to order hot chocolate at a café in the town square around the corner from our retreat-house digs. My white peach epiphany, while inspiring, did not qualify as dessert. I can’t help wonder, what if I had ordered something else instead that night, a glass of cava or, God forbid my usual, a mug of hot water with honey? I’d remain ignorant of that hot chocolate today, and would have been robbed of my multi-year quest. My sister has heard me lament the hot chocolate as though stars had aligned and I found the love of my life in Spain, kissed him and pledged my heart to him, only to never see him again.
I’ve clipped many a newspaper recipe, and now pinned many a potential hot chocolate online, but none has met the bar. Peg gave me a tremendous box (it’s heavy board, and deep regal purple, and you feel special holding it) of Vosges hot chocolate for my birthday one year. Just add hot cream, and you have drinking chocolate of a high order. Same holds true for the tin of chocolate she bought me at Harrod’s in London—ok, yes, it was at Heathrow on the layover home from Beirut, but still London. While both of these taste special, they don’t have the texture of the chocolate I had in Spain, and the heavy cream that their flavor seems dependent upon is so rich it meant I can only drink a sip once a year.
No, the chocolate I’d fallen for was almost like pudding, with the luscious mouth-feel of almost-pudding and the serious chocolate flavor of pots de crème, but still very much a drink; I’ve said it again and again. When the children in the family told me about the churros and chocolate they had in Argentina, I was certain it was the same hot chocolate I had in Spain, but they hadn’t exactly run around trying to find out how their hot chocolate had been made. My queries have been met with all sorts of suggestions for making the chocolate, from stir it nonstop to use heavy cream to the naysayers’ give it up.
Clearly I have scoured my every resource in search of the memorable hot chocolate. Which is why it is so embarrassing to say that a not-so-deep delving online produced the answer to my thick hot chocolate dreams. It’s a silly answer, one I should have come up with on my own, and one you may slam shut your lap-top over while laughing with (never at?) me. Before you do, I ask you to try it, taste and see, and then you can slam away. But you won’t want to. What you’ll want is to curl up with a cup and a book, or call up a friend, make this hot chocolate, pour it into some small cups, and sip away. What I did upon discovery of my hot chocolate was neither of those; I just stood at the kitchen sink, sipping and watching the snow fall on the big old oak on the side of the house in quiet triumph.
Thick Hot Chocolate with Cinnamon
Hot cocoa has its place in the world, but hot chocolate, thick drinking chocolate, that belongs on your unforgettable lists. In Mexico, masa harina (corn flour) is used to thicken the hot chocolate. In Spain, corn starch. The result is not meant to be eat-with-a-spoon thick, just slightly thickened. Go deep and dark and high quality with your chocolate. If your chocolate is unsweetened or simply very dark and you want to sweeten it up, add a tablespoon or two of sugar when you steam the milk. Small cups of the chocolate make it special, and the amount seems to be plenty because of the rich flavor and texture, and you can of course go for a refill. I add a cinnamon stick to the milk for a delicious spice note.
1 cup milk (whole or 2%; if using skim, increase the cornstarch by 1 teaspoon)
1 ½ teaspoons cornstarch
1 cinnamon stick
2 oz. very high quality chocolate, 60-70% cacao, finely chopped
In a small sauce pan, dissolve the cornstarch in the milk. Add the cinnamon stick and bring the milk just to a boil over medium heat, stirring. Reduce heat to low and add the chocolate, continuing to stir until the chocolate is melted and the liquid is slightly thickened (it will lightly coat the back of a wooden spoon). If the hot chocolate doesn’t thicken, add a slurry of cornstarch and milk (dissolve ¼ teaspoon of cornstarch in a tablespoon of cold milk) to the hot chocolate and continue stirring over medium high heat until slightly thickened. Discard the cinnamon stick and pour into little cups. Serve immediately.
Print this recipe here.