Hot chocolate or cocoa? I've noticed a bit of snobishness creeping into chocolate drinks lately. In Harvey Nichols a small cup of intensely dark and smooth hot chocolate costs about six quid. This is becuase it is made with finest quality Valrhona, single estate chocolate and is sold to people who have more money than kitchen skills. In another cafe in Edinburgh - Vlavone & Crolla - they make hot chocolate in a tall glass cup. It isn't stirred when they bring it to you so you can see the melted chocolate quite clearly in the bottom of the cup. In trying to combine the milk with the melted goo in the bottom you spill most of the milk and end up with half a cup of chocolate tar to drink. Again this is quite shockingly expensive, though it has to be said delicious and it can be fun.
So I am on a new mission to bring back good old fashioned cocoa. I work late, until about four a.m., and at about tenish when I am preparing myself to get started I make myself a cup of cocoa. I've been doing this for some months and feel I have now perfected the technique enough to share it. It is like drinking liquid chocolate cake and actually makes the house smell of baking. So if you ever feel like some chocolate cake but don't have the time or inclination to actually bake one you could do worse than to make yourself a cup of this. Here is my recipe:
For each cup or small mug you need:
one heaped tablespoon of cocoa powder
one teaspoon of vanilla sugar
One small lump of unsalted butter
one cup of milk
a little cream if you feel so inclined which I usually do
Put the cocoa powder, vanilla sugar and butter in a small saucepan. Add enough cold milk to make a paste (this can be a bit hit and miss until you get a feel for it). Turn the heat on low and whisk like crazy until everything is amalgamated and glossy. Slowly add the rest of the cold milk and keep whisking. Keep the heat low, it will take a while for it to get properly hot but this is good as the cocoa needs to cook. It will start to froth as you whisk and the alchemy nears completion. You should end up with a very dark, intensely chocolate smelling and slightly syrupy liquid after about ten minutes. I like to add a teeny blob of thickish cream at this stage and then pour it carefully, slowly and with reverence into my favourite china cup.
I use Green & Black's cocoa powder because it is the best stuff available locally, but just use your favourite brand. To make vanilla sugar all you have to do is split open a couple of vanilla pods and pop them into a jar of caster sugar. Leave for about a month for the pods to excrete their aromatic deliciousness into the sugar. You can, of course, use ordinary sugar and a drop of vanilla extract but to get the best flavour this way you will have to leave the cocoa to get cold and then reheat it later to drink. This is because the vanilla needs time to affect the other ingredients. Actually, reheated cocoa is always better but I can never wait. Sometimes I make it and put it in a flask, flask cocoa is the best: somehow creamier and more chocolatey even if you don't add cream. Who knows why.
So, you don't need to procure single estate chocolate bars to make the best chocolate drink ever. Don't let those T.V. chefs convince you otherwise. All you need is old fashioned powder and a little time.