a cocoa that’s not kidding

I don’t really know where to start with this post. My fingers are poised over my keyboard and nothing. Which is a dead serious issue because I always have a lot to say about chocolate. A lot. Always.

Maybe we need some visual aid. So tada:

Yes, we are messy hot cocoa drinkers and yes, that’s my carpet.

You see, as per The Unwritten Rule, the world is also divided over hot chocolate and hot cocoa. And I may try from time to time to dismiss any such argument casually, but I am well-aware of the fact that there is a specific, if not a significant, difference.

I am also aware that I may be committing heresy right now – in the middle of sweat-drenched and colour-vibrant spring I’m giving you something that is more suited for chilly winters, stormy nights, toes under blankets and heartbreaks. What am I thinking.

But excuse me while I lift my head from a puddle of chocolate long enough to explain, which is again ironic, because chocolate doesn’t really need any explanation. I’ve always thought that hot chocolate is an adult drink and hot cocoa is its juvenile version. Hot chocolate is sophistication personified while cocoa runs around the playground throwing Frisbees. Hot cocoa is a make-do when there’s no chocolate around. It’s the drink you sip, take a look at and then ask “Who are you kidding?” Which leads me to say that it’s a drink you make when there are children around. Or more officially it’s what Flopsy and Mopsy and Cottontail had for supper if they were good little bunnies“.

If that’s the case, then today’s recipe is going to be a mind-changer. I have already done a lot of mind-changing since I’ve started writing this blog so I think it would be safe for me to add this to the list. You can try history, health or even quantum physics but I don’t need much convincing on the topic of adding chocolate to warm milk. In all honesty, I was craving hot chocolate but a tin of cocoa rolling around very visibly and noisily on a pantry shelf can inspire an alternative version. Provided that you’ve ruled out the urge to make a chocolate cake or a cocoa cookie of some kind. I remembered spotting a hot chocolate recipe in Max Brenner’s book, one with a blatantly catty title: Wannabe French Hot Chocolate. How can I ignore a recipe with a name like that? I might have smirked to myself as I read it.

I also might have snorted loudly while I went through the recipe because it had seemed deceptively simple to me. It calls for cornstarch and eggs instead of cream. True to its name, it involves dark chocolate. It also involves a lot of pouring, stirring and bowl-changing. Like I said, not simple. Max Brenner, are you listening?

So on Saturday, I set off trying to mold that recipe around cocoa powder instead of chocolate chips. In other words: over the last three days, dear readers, I’ve had approximately six cups of hot cocoa and two cups of cold cocoa that ranged from lovely to not lovely. Cocoa tinted with red-hot chilli powder to ground cardamom to those with floating caps of whipped cream. Some with cornstarch and others without. And all that because I wanted to bring you a formula that I think works best. I obviously take my job here very seriously.

Hot Cocoa
inspired from Chocolate: A Love Story by Max Brenner

2 cups of whole milk
1/3 cup of natural unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup of brown sugar (Muscovado is preferred)
1 tsp of vanilla extract
1/4 tsp of dried red chilli powder
2 eggs

Whisk the two eggs in a large bowl and set aside. In a sauce pan combine the rest of the ingredients except vanilla, and heat till the sugar dissolves and there are no lumps of cocoa left. Let the mixture start to steam. Take it off the heat and start pouring it into the whisked eggs. Whisk continuously while pouring. Return the milk-egg mixture to the sauce pan and set it on medium heat. Stir the mixture continuously with a wooden spoon till it comes to a full boil. The mixture should have thickened a bit by now, like a semi-custard. Take the pan off heat and stir in the vanilla. It’s important to strain the mixture into cups/mugs before serving. Straining removes the graininess if any. Serve just as it is or with dollops of whipped cream. I find that this cocoa tastes even better right out of the refrigerator. To store, the hot cocoa can be strained into a flask and kept warm or pour into a lidded jug and pop it into the fridge where it will keep for 2-3 days.

P.S.:- I keep wondering who prefers what. I can’t get over hot chocolate while I have friends who swear by hot cocoa. Is it a taste thing or a memory-attachment thing? Which side are you on exactly?

truffled hot chocolate

I’m sitting on the futon in my persian print socks sipping on a cup of cocoa mocha, still lazed out by a full on English breakfast. Winter’s finally in Calcutta. Have I mentioned that I’ve been in India for the last month…only part of my Christmas break.

But Christmas, although celebrated with a roast chicken, plum cake and plenty of wine here in India….which is invariably followed by a workout at some discotheque with friends on the Eve…..it still does not have a festive quietness to it, that a London-ish Christmas might. The air doesn’t have a chilly bite. The shops are lightly dressed instead of heaving under tinsel. No shiny Xmas trees around…and most importantly, no hot chocolate.

Of course, that does not mean that Indians don’t enjoy hot chocolate…we just prefer nursing a cup of steaming Darjeeling  tea or some very milky coffee. But here goes. I like my hot chocolate, dark, luscious and sprinkled with chilly powder.

Truffled Hot Chocolate

1/2 cup dark chocolate, chopped or dark chocolate chips

1 cup whole milk

1/4 cup sour cream

1tbsp of sugar

Pinch of cayenne pepper or dried red chili powder

Heat the milk and sour cream and sugar together till its starts to bubble up, but take care that the mixture doesn’t boil over. Pour the hot mixture into the serving mug and add the chocolate chips. Stand the mixture for a minute and then stir to combine well. Sprinkle the top with the pepper/chili powder and serve.