by Lauren Chatman
Of all the convenience foods that fill the shelves at the IGA — cake mix, boxed macaroni and cheese, taco kits — the one that mystifies me the most is instant hot chocolate. I can understand why someone who is pressed for time might grab a jar of spaghetti sauce instead of preparing sauce from scratch. But instant hot chocolate? Really?
Making this essential winter beverage takes approximately the same amount of time that it takes to boil a cup of water. And Schiavoni’s stocks plenty of milk, chocolate, and any other ingredients you might need to make hot chocolate just the way you like it.
Sixteen winters in Sag Harbor have given me the chance to develop a menu of hot chocolate recipes for every occasion. All begin with the same basic formula: Place 6 ounces of finely chopped bittersweet chocolate and a pinch of salt in a heatproof bowl. Combine 3 cups of milk and 1 cup of heavy cream in a heavy saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Turn the heat to low. Ladle a ½ cup of the hot liquid into the bowl and whisk to melt the chocolate. Return the chocolate mixture to the pot and whisk constantly until smooth. Off heat, whisk in ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract. Taste, and stir in sugar to taste if necessary.
I like the richness of heavy cream, but for leaner hot chocolate you can use all milk. Purists insist that the best hot chocolate is made with water, which won’t mute the flavor of the chocolate, although in my opinion hot chocolate made with water is a little too pure. Melting the chocolate with a little bit of hot milk and cream before stirring it into the pot will give you a smoother result than just stirring the chopped chocolate into the pot. A little vanilla and a pinch of salt will enhance the chocolate’s flavor. Taste your hot chocolate before you serve it. Depending on the kind of chocolate that you use (bittersweet chocolate can contain anywhere from 60% to 90% cacao), you might want to add a little sugar.
Here are my favorite varations:
Peppermint White Chocolate: Substitute finely chopped white chocolate for the semisweet chocolate, and 1/8 teaspoon peppermint extract for the vanilla. Garnish mugs of hot chocolate with a dusting of unsweetened cocoa powder and candy cane stirrers.
Lavender Hot Chocolate: Boil your milk and cream and add a tablespoon of culinary lavender to the pot. Cover and set aside for 1 minute to steep, strain, place pot over low heat, and proceed with the basic recipe, omitting the vanilla.
Nutella Hot Chocolate: Substitute ½ cup of nutella for the chopped chocolate in the basic recipe.
Hot Mocha: Bring 3 cups of half-and-half to a simmer. Whisk ½ cup of the half-and-half into 4 ounces of finely chopped bittersweet chocolate. Return to the pot and whisk until smooth. Whisk in 1 cup of dark roast coffee or espresso and ½ teaspoon vanilla.
Mexican Hot Chocolate: Add ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon and 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper to the bowl with the chopped chocolate.
Spiked Hot Chocolate: Omit the vanilla and whisk in 3 ounces of Grand Marnier or Kahlua instead.
I don’t want to give the impression that I am against all kitchen shortcuts. To prove it, I’m sharing my recipe for “instant” cinnamon-sugar cookies. I make them by cutting flour tortillas into circles (or Stars of David for Chanukah this week), sprinkling them with cinnamon sugar, and baking them until they’re caramelized and crispy. They are delicious, especially when dipped into a steaming mug of rich hot chocolate.
Instant Cinnamon-Sugar Cookies
Makes sixteen 2 ½-inch cookies
I usually cut these into rounds, but this week I used my Star of David cookie cutter in celebration of Chanukah.
Two 10-inch flour tortillas
2 tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Use a biscuit cutter to cut the tortilla into sixteen 2 ½-inch rounds. Combine the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl.
2. Place the butter on a rimmed baking sheet and place in the oven until the butter melts, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove the sheet from the oven, tilt to cover the sheet with melted butter. Arrange the tortilla rounds in a single layer on the sheet. Turn them to coat both sides in butter. Sprinkle the tops with the cinnamon sugar and return to the oven. Bake until the rounds are golden, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined wire rack and let cool slightly. Serve warm with hot cocoa.