Me? Excited? Much?
This time of year tends to send me floating toward seventh heaven. (Does anyone know what the other heavenly levels, say 1-10 are? Just curious.) Where were we? Ah, yes. The thought of home and friends and family immediately sets me to planning meals. What to do? Well, being in Savannah has exposed me to creations in the kitchen that tilt toward sweet.
Sugar. It turns up in by the heaping spoonful in tea and dessert…and salad, pasta sauce, barbecue, pickles, you name it, the local palette demands it. I prefer things lemony and salty, but when I do think of the perfect complement to sugar it has to be chocolate.
So, for the season we’ll go with a match made in heaven…
And we’ll start with HOT COCOA
I like mine spicy, creamy, and not too sweet. I’ll give you the basics for one mug and then you can multiply and improvise.
1 cup whole milk, 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder, 2 tablespoons sugar, and a dash of salt. Here’s the method: in a saucepan whisk together the cocoa powder, sugar, and salt. Add a bit of milk until the mixture resembles a paste and then slowly pour in the rest of the milk, whisking all the while. Whisk and heat until little bubbles ring the saucepan.
Here are the variations, instead of milk only, use 1/2 cup milk and 1/2 cup half and half (or go really crazy and use heavy cream). Some people like the a more syrupy body to their cocoa — you achieve that by adding 1/2 teaspoon of cornstarch to the dry ingredients. I use brown sugar instead of white for a more caramel flavor. Later, when the entire mixture is warming I add pinches of ground ginger, cardamon, and cinnamon and let it steep for minute over very low heat to let the flavors develop, finally adding a little less than 1/4 teaspoon of vanilla as I take it off the burner.
The really rich variation is hot chocolate. That’s when you heat the milk to almost the boiling point (remember, look for the tiny bubbles ringing the saucepan) and stir in — off the flame or it will separate — melted chocolate.
In the microwave melt 2-3 ounces of your favorite chocolate bar (Theo, Vosges, Scharffen Berger, Lindt, Ghiradelli, etc.) in a pyrex cup. The darker the chocolate the better the flavor. Some people use the same chocolate chips that go into cookies, and while they melt easily the resulting drink may spike you into sugar-shock. (Okay. Not really, but it’s not very flavorful.) Whisk the melted chocolate into the heated milk.
Pour and enjoy dessert in a cup.
This is another of those classic desserts that I remember from way back when — the recipe I found written in my mother’s hand calls for a dozen eggs — which I think would serve about 24, so I’ll cut it down to a more manageable size for Christmas guests. This recipe will serve 8.
6 ounces very good semisweet chocolate pieces (like Valrhona or Callebaut), 5 tablespoons boiling water, 4 eggs separated, 1 tablespoon Cointreau, 1 teaspoon vanilla
Beat egg whites until stiff in a large bowl. Put the chocolate in a blender and whiz around until the pieces are powdery, about ten seconds. Turn the blender off and add the 5 tablespoons of boiling water, blend until smooth. Add the egg yolks, Cointreau, and vanilla, blend for five seconds more. Fold the chocolate mixture gently into the beaten egg whites. Chill in ramekins, or pretty little tumblers, or champagne glasses for at least one hour before serving.
My dad would make me sweet things on fly, usually on the weekends. I would be seated at the kitchen table and he would whip up something from his teen repertoire — when he worked at a soda fountain. Chocolate Sundaes, Chocolate Phosphates, and Chocolate Egg Creams. And while he didn’t write the formulas down, the are recipes for all three are etched in my memory.
CHOCOLATE SAUCE FOR AN ICE CREAM SUNDAE
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup water, 2 tablespoons butter, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, dash of salt.
Put the water and chocolate in a heavy skillet and heat and stir until the chocolate is melted. Add the sugar and vanilla and bring to boil (keep stirring or it will scorch) for three minutes (the longer you let the sugar boil the more taffy-like the sauce will be when it hits the frosty ice cream — some people simmer the sauce for 10 minutes — your choice). Take off heat and swirl in the butter, then pour over ice cream.
A Chocolate Phosphate is an Ice Cream Soda without the ice cream… Chill a twelve ounce glass in the freezer until it looks frosty then pour in 4 tablespoons of chocolate syrup (like Hershey’s) and fill with Seltzer Water and stir. That’s a Chocolate Phosphate.
CHOCOLATE EGG CREAM
First of all, there is no egg in a Chocolate Egg Cream. Follow the procedure for the Chocolate Phosphate and add a splash of half and half. Delicious!
And in her words:
1) Never quit. 2) Be yourself. 3) Don’t put too much flour in your brownies.