When it gets cold, my cravings change. Well, maybe it's not so much that they change - it's more like they come out of their summer hibernation.
Much as I love springtime, with its wild asparagus and sweet peas, and much as I adore summer, with its tomatoes and luscious, juicy corn, I am a sucker for fall. Fall means cauliflower and brussels sprouts and potato gratins and apples and game. It means all things roasted and spiced and melted.
In prep school, it also meant hot chocolate. The dining halls' hot chocolate machines were switched on and filled up on October 1st each year. Even though they spewed your typical, Swiss Miss-esque hot cocoa, I looked forward to the big switch flip each year. To me, it was synonymous with the smell of burning leaves, the scent of approaching snow, and the cozy early dusks of a New England fall.
And so, on Friday night, when it was cold and gray and just generally autumnal, I came home from work, ate a quick salad (to assuage the guilt of what was to come), and melted some bittersweet chocolate. In a larger saucepan, I heated some milk, sugar and water, and then mixed the two together. The result? The most perfect hot chocolate I've ever managed to make at home.
I owe it all to my friend Louisa, who sent me the recipe, to M. Pierre Hermé for writing it, and the unbelievably decadent hot chocolate of Prague for opening my eyes to what hot chocolate should be. When Louisa and I were there last fall, we couldn't believe how thick and rich the hot chocolate was - so strong that it was served with a sugar cube on the side, in case it was too dark for your liking.
We never had that problem.
To recreate the Prague experience at home, give this recipe a twirl. A couple of caveats - whole milk is best, but 2%, 1%, or skim work well, too. Make sure the chocolate is high-quality, since it's pretty much all you'll be tasting. Spring for Valrhona or Scharffen Berger - you won't regret it. Oh, and, if you don't have an immersion blender, just whisk briskly for a bit. It won't be quite the same, but it's close enough to enjoy the whole thing immensely.
Pierre Hermé's Hot Chocolate
2 cups milk
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted
Bring the milk, water, and sugar to the boil in a medium saucepan, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Add the chocolate and, stirring with a whisk, heat the mixture until one bubble pops on the surface.
Pull the saucepan from the heat and whip the hot chocolate for one minute with an immersion blender or in a regular blender.
Serve immediately in large cups, or pour into a container to cool. The hot chocolate can be made up to two days ahead and kept tightly covered in the refrigerator.
Serves two, generously.