HOW TO MAKE BETTER HOT CHOCOLATE
I like hot chocolate a hell of a lot but it needs to be good.
Back home, in France, hot chocolates were mainly functional. Your mam would scorch some milk on the hob while getting herself and yourself ready for the day, school for you, work for her. My job would be to watch the milk but I’d have my nose stuck in a book so it would more often than not boil over. We’d add a teaspoon of Banania chocolate powder during the week, and a tablespoon of Poulain Grand Arome at the weekend, when the pace of our mornings was more gentle. My other job was to walk the dog first thing in the morning, and collect a fresh baguette, “pas trop cuite s’il vous plait”. We would portion out the bread and butter it and then dunking into a steaming great bowl of hot chocolate. This has put me firmly, for life, in the camp that hot melting butter is a thing of beauty.
So here we are, there are some very average hot chocolates and then there are show stoppers. This blog post simply intends to give you a list of varied ways to bring your game up a notch. These are mainly based on my own taste (the best) and are just things for you to consider when you build your hot chocolate. None of the below is prescriptive, it’s just to make you think of the different elements that make a great hot chocolate.
Chocolate Powder Or Solids?
I grew up with chocolate powder but as an adult, I favour chocolate solids. The powders are often too sweet and full of additives. If you are considering chocolate powders, try and buy one where the first ingredients is cacao and not sugar. You can always add a bit of icing sugar (it melts much better) to make it sweeter if you need that. My favourite chocolate powder is the unsweetened one from Van Houten. I’ve never seen it in France and when I think of it, I bring it back to Ireland with me, for emergencies you understand.
For educational purposes, here is a fun read from Melanie May about the difference between natural cocoa and Dutch process cocoa powders. Although, today’s fashion errs towards the fruitier flavours, I’m absolutely team Dutch process.
All that said, these days, I love a deeply fragrant hot chocolate. Something where you can feel the bitterness even when it’s mixed in with milk. So I use a spiced chocolate tab made by Proper Chocolate in collaboration with Picado, The Mexican Pantry.
Chocolate solids mix really well when heat is applied, be it, if you heat it up with the milk or the water, or if you like me, you just pour the hot liquid over it in your mug.
What Milk Is Best For A Great Hot Chocolate?
I’m a traditionalist and take mine, one of two ways, I’ll either have it milk (full fat and Irish please) based or water-based with added milk at the end. The second version is a very grown-up hot chocolate, lots and lots of dark chocolate, hot water, a good pinch of cayenne and cinnamon, a pinch of finishing salt and a bit of milky foam on top. This is closer to how hot cocoa was first served when it first arrived in Europe, dark and intensely bitter, much like great coffee, think dark roast, not today’s citrusy standards.
Alternatively (see what I did there), you can use plant-based milk. I’ve enjoyed coconut and hazelnut milk for hot chocolates as they bring you back towards the bounty bar or a cheeky jar of Nutella. I won’t start listing all the possibly milks but of course, they are a few and those, in turn, are off differing quality. All I’ll say is that if you used plant-based milk, you should really consider using the solid chocolate as a base as its viscosity when it melts will help with thickening the hot drink.
Talking of thickening the liquids… a heaped teaspoon of cornflour or semolina mixed in with the liquid and stirred into the liquid as heats up is a great tip. You could also use egg yolks but that’s a bit more of a fuss and I have a recipe I want to share another day. So hold on for now!
Do Toppings Make For A Better Hot Chocolate?
I think not, but if you’re that way inclined, there is always squirty cream from a tube or proper whipped cream. If you’re dairy free, aquafaba can make a great alternative (as seen on top of L. Mulligan’s Grocer’s hot chocolate in the last week or so).
You could also go all wild and dip the edges of your mug in hot chocolate or caramel sauce and then dip them in broken Ferrero Rochers. This is nearly a meal at this stage, but it’s fun to make with kids and what a treat in these strange, pandemic, times.
Should I Add Any Flavours?
Sure, why not?! There are some great syrups out there, or you can even make your own. Think pumpkin spice, hazelnut, mint or even vanilla. One of my tricks is to add a drop of chocolate extract, just intensify the strength of flavours. I also love a kick of chili (Cayenne always) or some freshly ground black pepper. Cardamom, vanilla and cinnamon are great too and I keep them all in a large jar of sugar which then flavours the sugar itself.
Don’t forget a cheeky pinch of finishing sauce in your hot chocolate, it really works wonders for it!
You could add some slices of bananas or strawberries to the whipped cream if using it. Or simply marshmallows (go all out and roll them in caramel sauce and dip them in chopped nuts before you add them to the hot chocolate). You could use an organgey flavour too but it would be my idea of a waste of chocolate. I hate fruits in my chocolate.
Finally, we’re adults so let’s have fun. A bit of booze can be a marvellous addition. Do consider Rum, Tequila, Whiskey (Connemara for a smokey touch), Cointreau (not for me but why not), Brandy, Cognac, Armagnac, Baileys or Cool Swan to keep it Irish and finally, that 70’s gloriousness that is Galliano!
Where Can I Get Drink Really Great Hot Chocolate In Ireland?
The answers to that question, came fast and furious over on Twitter with a clear love for O’Conaill Chocolate in Cork. Special mentions were given for L’Art Du Chocolate in Maynooth, Le Chocolat De Fred in Dun Laoghaire, and my own favourite Truffle Fairy in Kilkenny. Lest we forget Hazel Mountain Chocolate or Wilde Chocolates, both located in Co. Clare, Le Patissier in North County Dublin who tells me he is working on hot chocolates at the moment. Between the great milk we have, and the many talented chocolatiers and baristas, we live in a country where you can get wonderful hot chocolates. Just where you can, try and support our small independents. They need you more this year than ever before.
Do You Have A Unusual Recipe For Hot Chocolate?
Why, am I glad you asked…. My pal, Sean Cannon-Early, tells me that he and his wife Mary adore this recipe. I’ve not tried it yet, but I do have a slow cooker and condensed milk so I surely will, let me know what you think if you make it too!