I miss my mommy. Not for any particular reason that I can think of; I feel saturated with good life right now, my heart isn't heavy or sick. I just miss her. I was trying to think of an excuse to call her, searching for some reason I could give her that would produce that sympathetic, comforting tone she gets when she knows I need it, and I couldn't think of a single thing.
It's times like this we need chocolate. Hot chocolate.
Growing up, my parents didn't allow much processed food in our cupboards. Which is not to say our cupboards weren't well-stocked - they were. My parents were passionate about good food. But if you wanted a snack - some cookies, or tortilla chips, or hot chocolate - you had to make it yourself. From scratch.
There was nothing didactic about my parents and their views on food, they simply preferred we eat non-processed, whole foods. And I never thought anything of it. If I wanted hot chocolate, instead of adding hot water to a packet of Nestle, I would pull out the unsweetened cocoa powder and some sugar and milk. And voila! Within minutes I had a steaming cup of chalky, bitter, gritty hot chocolate, complete with that unnerving layer of skin that formed on the top of the milk and seemed to catch the undissolved clumps of unsweetened cocoa.
In France, the hot chocolate (or chocolat chaud) bears no resemblance to the watery instant packets we find so much comfort in. Their chocolate is thick, frothy, rich, tastes bitter on the sides of your tongue and packs a punch that can be a little bit scary the first time you try it. But then, the second sip... and the third... it's pure melted magic, not unlike mom's comforting voice.
There are many varying thoughts on the perfect chocolat chaud -- bittersweet chocolate vs. cocoa powder, cream vs. milk, and if water should be added. The recipe I've used today covers all the bases, combining a full bar of bittersweet dark chocolate containing 70% cocoa, with a small amount of cocoa powder, and milk that has been diluted just a tad so that the warm chocolate glides down your throat and into your mom-missing belly.
Part of what makes this hot chocolate so much better than the hot chocolate of my childhood (other than technique) is the quality of ingredients. I'm sure I was using stale cocoa powder and granulated sugar in non fat milk. Sacrebleu! Good cocoa powder makes all the difference, the way it smells deep and earthy, almost like roasted almonds. The chocolate bar adds the silkiness, as well as a lot of the fun in making the recipe...
Using a serrated knife (I used a tomato knife, because the teeth on it are wider apart and it worked like a dream), run the blade down the edge of the chocolate bar, shaving off thin slices. The chocolate falls off in the most delightful curls, and produces a thrill similar to the one you get when you curl ribbon or shuffle cards. And it makes the happiest little mound of chocolate curls, it's almost too pretty to eat.
But what makes this hot chocolate a worthy understudy for mom is the froth.
It's a chocolate cloud on your tongue, and it softens the stun of the chocolate that follows. Amazing. Yields six servings, or four if the drinkers are missing their moms.
From Pierre Herme
2 1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup filtered water
1/4 cup (generous) superfine granulated sugar
1 31/2 oz bar dark chocolate bittersweet chocolate (70% cocoa),
finely sliced with a serrated knife
1/4 cup good quality cocoa powder (Valrhona is good), loosely packed
In a 2-quart saucepan, stir together milk, water and sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Add chopped chocolate and cocoa powder and bring to a boil again, whisking until the chocolate and cocoa are dissolved. Reduce heat to very low, and whisk until mixture has thickened a bit.
Using an immersion mixer, blend for 5 minutes, until thick and foamy. (Alternately, you can whirl the mixture in a standard blender for 2 minutes.)