OK, talking about hot chocolate when it's 80 degrees outside doesn't sound appealing but I'm hopeful it will cool off before Christmas. To me, a favorite Christmas memory is a cup of hot chocolate. As in the grits world no respectful fan would use instant, so here is a recipe for the best hot chocolate ever...at least for me! :)
Use Solid Chocolate, NOT Cocoa Powder.
This is the most important thing to do. It's how you end up with something creamy and beautiful instead of disappointing and gritty and chalky. It's why the hot chocolate in Europe tastes like love and happiness.
The Chocolate Should Be Dark Chocolate.
Semisweet, bittersweet, or something in between (in terms of % cacao content) will all work. Dark chocolate makes a drink that's less sugary and more intensely chocolaty than if you use milk chocolate. And if you start dark, you can always adjust the balance by adding milk or sugar until it's just right.
Use About 2 oz. Chocolate For Every Cup Of Milk.
For a full batch of hot chocolate, that means you'll use two 4-oz. baking bars (the standard size you find at the grocery store) for every 1 quart (4 cups) of milk.
Use Whole Milk.
Or low-fat if you're feeling virtuous, or half-and-half if it's a special occasion. Skim is sad; cream is overkill. You want something right in the sweet spot.
Use Any Sweetener You Like, But Not Too Much Of It.
White sugar is not interesting. Try brown sugar, honey, or maple syrup instead. Maybe Sweet 'n Low, if that's how you roll. You don't need a lot, since this situation is pretty rich already — just a spoonful or two.
Heat Up The Milk And Sugar First, THEN Add The Chocolate.
You'll melt the chocolate into the milk once it's hot. This way there's no chance of overheating or burning the chocolate by melting it over direct heat; it's the same idea as making a basic chocolate ganache (hot cream + chocolate).
You'll Add The Chocolate And Any Other Ingredients When The Milk Starts To Bubble.
Throw your favorite ground spice into the mix to add a little drama. Here are some ideas:
cloves (not a lot, this stuff is hardcore)
pimentón (smoked paprika) — have not tried this but WHAT IF it was amazing
You Can Use Cornstarch To Make The Hot Chocolate Extra Silky-Smooth (optional).
This moves things in a slightly more pudding-esque direction. Set aside a little of the cold milk while the rest is heating (about ½ cup) and whisk in the cornstarch (2 to 3 tsp. for 1 quart of milk) until it's smooth.
Add this mixture to the pot full of hot milk after you add the chocolate and whisk, whisk, whisk to make it smooth.
Always Add A Pinch Of Salt.
Yes, really, do it. It truly wakes up the chocolate and makes the whole thing more delicious.
If You're Sleepy, Add Caffeine.
Dissolve 1 Tbsp. instant espresso powder along with the sugar and milk, or just replace some of the milk with regular brewed coffee. This is actually delicious whether or not you need a pick-me-up; coffee has magical chocolate-flavor-enhancing properties.
If You Want To Be Sleepy, Add Booze.
If you haven't thought about adding whiskey or rum or Kahlua or amaretto or peppermint schnapps to your hot chocolate, maybe you should. Pour a respectable glug into the mix to heat up just before you serve it. If you add it at the beginning, the alcohol might evaporate, which would be a tragedy!
Last But NOT Least: Never Forget Marshmallows.
They could be DIY 'mallows...Or giant 'mallows...Or adorable rainbow mini 'mallows. Whatever floats your cocoa.
Recipe adapted from Southern Living via Baked Bree.
8 oz. (two 4-oz. bars) dark chocolate
4 cups whole milk
1 Tbsp. brown sugar (or other sweetener) + more if you want
2 tsp. cornstarch
booze of your choice
1 Tbsp. instant espresso powder
ground spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, chile powder, etc.)
1. Chop chocolate into small pieces. The smaller they are, the faster and more smoothly they will melt.
2. Optional: If using cornstarch, whisk with ½ cup milk and set aside.
3. Heat milk, sugar, and salt in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Stir occasionally.
4. When milk begins to bubble around the edges, stir in chocolate and whisk until smooth.
5. Add cornstarch mixture and any other add-ins. Whisk until smooth and steaming hot.
5. Pour into cups and top with all the marshmallows you can cram in there.