This week’s recipe is an absurdly simple one. As we nose our way into Christmas, and realise that four or so days at home with one’s family is not the idyll we’ve dreamed of for the last three weeks, any excuse to disappear away into the kitchen is a welcome one. This is a recipe for those stolen moments sought out to preserve sanity.
Hot chocolate is one of those things I forget how much I like until it’s right in front of me, like corn on the cob, gammon and pineapple rings, or bread and butter pudding. It’s only when I’m reminded, usually by someone else taking the initiative, I become fixated. Two weeks ago it was hot buttered rum with every meal. If you stood still for too long in my house, I thrust one into your hand.
Now, it’s hot chocolate.
This week I’ve been falling back in love with hot chocolate. Not the powder stuff – which is not a criticism: I adore cadbury’s hot chocolate powder, never quite progressing to the more grown up, bitter cocoa – but proper, indulgent, standing over a pan of milk, peeling foil off a slab of chocolate with your thumb nail hot chocolate. There’s a time and a place for whipped cream and marshmallows, and it’s generally in a Thornton’s cafe in 2003. This is something different.
It’s dark and glossy and rich, without feeling like you’re just drinking melted chocolate. And because it’s Christmas, it’s infused with mellow, aromatic bay, alongside the fiercer, burn of cinnamon and gentler gratings of nutmeg. There’s orange zest if you fancy it – sometimes I add it, sometimes I don’t – or you can throw in a shot of rum or brandy or Baileys. It is Christmas, after all.
It goes like this:
Spiced Hot Chocolate
Makes: Just the right amount for two
Takes: 5 minutes
Bakes: No time at all
100g good quality dark chocolate
350g whole milk
1 bay leaf
1 cinnamon stick
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 tablespoon of light brown sugar
Tiniest pinch of salt
1. Heat the milk in a small pan with the bay leaf, cinnamon stick, grated nutmeg, salt, sugar and zest of an orange if using. You want it to be just beyond steaming but not so hot that’s it boiling.
2. Chop the chocolate as finely as you can, and place in a jug. Place a sieve on top of the jug and slowly pour the milk onto the chocolate catching the cinnamon stick, bay leaf, orange zest and any larger grindings of nutmeg.
3. Whisk the milk and chocolate together gently: at first they’ll look like they’ll never combine. Be patient, and they’ll come together into a a glossy, dark, smooth liquid. Divide into two mugs and enjoy.
4. Ta dah!
Icing on the Cake
This should be drunk sitting on the stairs, wishing you still smoked, doing your very best to think good thoughts and be thankful for your family. Maybe with a mince pie.