When I was a little girl, I used to have the strangest phobia of cold milk and breakfast. I never drank it, never ate it, much to my mother's despair. my late father found a way around it though: every morning he made me a cup of hot chocolate, milky and warm. the only thing i'd agree to, clever child that I was.
Every day he did this for me, mixing up my hot chocolate in my mug. every single day, until i was well into my teens.
now that i am a parent myself, i see that there was so much love and patience in that small act of parental kindness. he never once chided me for being picky or difficult. he never made out like he was giving in or fed up. he simply made the one thing he knew his daughter liked. he found a way to make those cold, dark mornings, when i had to travel an hour and a half one way just to get to school, a little easier.
and so it makes me smile, truly, that i have my own version of my most favourite childhood memory in my shop today. it's my hot chocolate. my mug.
with my own children now, hot chocolate is not an every day occurrence but it is our all-time favourite cosy treat, and at this time of year, we turn to it a little more frequently on cold, wet afternoons.
they stand on their stools, still upon their tip toes, to watch as i stir the milk in our enamel pan, specially bought for hot chocolate alone. they help spoon in the chocolate flakes, accidentally-on-purpose letting some spill on the counter. they lick their finger tips to pick the sprinklings up. i pretend not to notice. (these are the little things i like to let slip. these are the tiny things that make up being four years old and two years old).
"is it ready yet, mama? is it ready?" they ask, both of their little lips already flecked with chocolate crumbs before i've even poured their hot drinks out. sometimes, i treat them to marshmallows, vegetarian ones that they know are "just for us" and on those occasions they ask for them "on the side too", as if they were ordering in a cafe, holding out little bowls for an extra teaspoon (or two).
we sit at the table, each in our places. we nibble on cookies or banana bread, our favourite home baked goods, and when they say "it's delicious mama!", with chocolate stains all around their chins and around their lips and sometimes even on the tip of their noses, i smile a thousand times inside and out. i used to be so strict about these sort of treats and now, a more relaxed mother of three, i find so much pleasure in creating these moments of simple, cosy love for them. it is such kindness, to celebrate a good day with them, to lift their spirits when they are feeling low, with something like a simple hot chocolate, made with love. it reminds me of being a girl again.
back then, my hot chocolate was the powdery sweet kind, but now our hot chocolate is made of real dark chocolate grated flakes. i mostly use coco chocolatier's plain dark hot chocolate but i have been known to bring out the salted caramel variety on extra special occasions (it's so good, it's like dessert).
the plain dark hot chocolate is simple, dark, silky and smooth. it is the best hot chocolate i have ever had, and i am particular about hot chocolate. it is why i especially selected this make for my shop. coco chocolatier use 70% dark chocolate combined with Valrhona, which is pure, 100% cacoa, for a deep, refined flavour. if you're worried it's too dark or too bitter for children or for yourself, don't be. the 70% dark chocolate provides just the right sweetness; a lightness that is not at all sickly. i tend not to add extra sugar, but if you wanted to, all you'd need is just a sprinkle of brown sugar stirred in at the end. i use whole milk, for that soft, thick almost buttery and melting taste, and if we ever happen to have some, a little drop of single cream, a finishing flourish.
a few notes on my hot chocolate recipe and technique. firstly - i am not one for measuring out, so i say: simply add as many chocolate flakes from the tin as you wish. secondly - don't be hasty, for a hasty hot chocolate is never special; it always shows. the key is to stir unrushed. thirdly, and more practically - some people like to mix a little paste of cold milk and hot chocolate flakes at the bottom of each cup, and then pour hot milk on top, but when making more than one serving, i find making a paste an unnecessary step. i prefer mixing the chocolate in with the pan on the stove - it avoids messy clumps at the bottom of a cup.
and finally, choose a mug you love, one that will make this quiet little moment extra special. i am always partial to french-style mugs without a handle, a tiny reminder of my early twenties when i spent a good while living all the most beautiful cliches as a postgraduate student in a turreted studio on the elegant right bank in paris.
the perfect hot chocolate recipe:
you will need:
- whole milk, enough to fill as many mugs as you wish to serve
- coco chocolatier's plain dark chocolate or salted caramel hot chocolate (as a very vague guide, two heaped teaspoons per mug makes a generously chocolatey cup)
- a drop of single cream, optional
- brown sugar and vegetarian marshmallows, to taste
gently heat up your milk in a milk pan and as it begins to simmer, sprinkle in the hot chocolate flakes. be generous and simply add more if it doesn't look as chocolatey as you like. next, while stirring continuously, allow the milk to come to that brink of almost boiling and then quickly turn it back down to a very gentle simmer again. keep on stirring to allow the chocolate to melt thoroughly. this takes longer than you might think, so be patient - allow at least three to four minutes. a lukewarm hot chocolate is somewhat sad, so do be sure to have it steaming. if using cream, stir a drop or two through right at the end when the chocolate has melted. at this point, whisk more vigorously for one to two minutes to create a frothy top. pour into cups. sweeten to taste. scatter marshmallows if you so wish, or if little voices demand it. warm the palms of your hands around your mug. cosy on up and delight in how such a small thing, such a simple thing really, can make the rainiest, coldest and dullest of days that little bit more magical.