I have a love-hate relationship with hot chocolate. It can be the most delicious thing in the world, warming up with a mug of smooth, creamy and hot chocolate topped with whipped cream after an autumny beach walk or an evening walk when fresh snow has fallen. But it can also be the most ghastly thing, with a thick skin on top, nasty taste of sterilized milk and the chocolate flaking in bits because the hot chocolate is cooked too long, or lumps of cocoa powder. Ick.
That is exactly why I prefer to make my own hot chocolate: I think the best hot chocolate is made with whole milk and good chocolate. Making it with cocoa powder always gives it a kind of dusty mouth feeling, while making it with chocolate gives it a very smooth, creamy and chocolaty taste. Topping it with whipped cream enhances this creamy, luxurious feeling even more. Oh, and don’t bother with warming up store-bought chocolate milk, those are way too sweet. Although since chocomel (the main brand of store-bough chocolate milk) started to sell those hot chocolate machines to cafés and coffee houses the quality of hot chocolate you get there greatly improved, it is not the best option when you are at home. And really don’t dare to call that instant powder stuff you can mix into milk hot chocolate: it really is not (its mainly sugar and something to make your milk brown).
The amount of chocolate you use for a really delicious cup of hot chocolate is a bit tricky. Too much and the hot chocolate gets too thick, making it almost a dessert. But not enough the hot chocolate is watery and not chocolaty enough. This recipe of Jeroen Meus is perfect (although he uses milk chocolate with nuts, instead of the pure chocolate I use, and he also adds a cinnamon stick). Jeroen Meus is one of my favourite chefs, he has a program on Belgian television (Dagelijkse Kost) in which he makes something else every day. I really like his vision that food should be about good food and good taste, and not about using posh expensive products and making it look mind-blowing perfect while the taste could be better. It is important that food looks appealing, but looks should not go at the expense of taste; it is exactly how I think about food.
Hot chocolate (2 large mugs)
adapted from Jeroen Meus – Dagelijkse kost
500 ml milk (preferably whole milk)
90 g chocolate (I use 55% cocoa semi-sweet chocolate, I think 70% cocoa chocolate is overkill and makes it too bitter)
125 ml whipping cream (preferably fresh cream with 35% fat as it whips and taste better, but a sterilized carton of cream with 30% fat is okay too)
2 tsp sugar
few drops of vanilla extract
Heat the milk in a saucepan until hot, but not boiling (this prevents the milk from getting that boiled taste). Meanwhile, add the sugar and vanilla extract to the cream in a bowl and whip until soft peaks form. Because it is a small amount, I prefer to do this by hand. Add the chocolate to the hot milk, stir until molten on very low heat (it should still not boil). Scoop or pour the hot chocolate in 2 large mugs, top with the cream and enjoy.