Monday, December 7, 2009
written and photographed by Rebekah Peppler
Rich, creamy and impossibly decadent, hot chocolate has lived up to its name as a drink fit for gods, warriors and kings for millennium. That is until America (okay, and Britain) got its sticky fingers all over it.While I grew up sipping my fair share instant hot cocoa made popular by brands like Nestlé and Swiss Miss, the distinction between hot cocoa and hot chocolate is much more than one word. It's a varied history, rife with centuries of sweet, cocoa bean-laden roots.
Making its entrée into civilization around 1000 B.C., cocoa was first harvested by the Olmecs and made into a liquid by their better-known successors the Mayans, who then shared it with the Aztecs. The Aztecs, prodigious people as they were, bestowed it with the title Theobroma or "food of the gods", spiced it with chili powder, honey and vanilla and served it lukewarm to give strength to their warriors.
When the conquistadors returned to Spain with their plunder of cocoa they replaced the Aztec's spices with sugar, the warriors with the upper class, served it hot and kept it a secret for nearly a century. After word got out about the potation, hot chocolate spread rapidly amidst the high societies of Europe, picking up a proclivity for milk in Britain and maintaining its elitist status. However, in 1828 a Dutch chemist named Coenraad Van Houten invented the cocoa press, making cocoa powder easier to dissolve in liquid, more affordable and thus accessible to the masses. Nonetheless, the process, aptly known as Dutching, starkly diminished the quality of the beverage. Europe's elite chose to stick with the pricier original, and unequivocally tastier, hot chocolate, while Britain, and soon enough America, opted for the less expensive, more convenient cocoa powder.
In America the terms "hot chocolate" and "hot cocoa" were quickly deemed so interchanged that the high-class appeal of the hot chocolate was lost and, as evidenced today, hot cocoa became an overly sweet drink marketed for kids.
Fortunately, authentic hot chocolate is coming back in favor and the distinction between it and its cocoa cousin is being more readily acknowledged. Those in the (chocolate) know visit Jacques Torres and MarieBelle in New York, Vosges Haut-Chocolat in Chicago and Flour Bakery + Café in Boston to indulge in the true essence of European hot chocolate. Or, you can easily make it in the comfort of your own home, reverting back to a time before that pesky Dutchmen's invention and America's inane marketing scheme. A time when hot chocolate was a drink fit for the gods, the warriors, the upper echelon of society.
So, sit back, take a sip. Welcome to your kingdom.
Authentic Hot Chocolate (not to be mistaken for hot cocoa)
¾ cup whole milk
¼ cup heavy cream
2 ounces high quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 ounces high quality semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
Place chocolate in heat proof bowl and set aside. Heat milk, cream and salt in a saucepan just to the boiling point. Turn off the heat and pour 1/2 of the mixture over the chocolate and allow to sit for one minute. Whisk, starting from the center, until the chocolate is completely dissolved. Add back to the sauce pan and whisk to combine with the remaining milk mixture. Stir in the vanilla extract and allow to sit for 15 minutes. Reheat gently over low heat and serve with a dollop of freshly whipped cream and a few chocolate shavings.