Hot Chocolate Days

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Autumn is in full swing judging by the leaves on the path outside, and in the garden (Dad is fighting a losing battle at the moment, going out every couple of days and filling bags with fallen foliage only to find more have taken their place).

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The days get cooler, the nights definitely colder. I like sleeping with a window open, but this time of year I find myself closing it more often than not. I also put my summer clothes away and break out the jumpers and boots. My beloved Converse can’t quite hack it in the wetter months. Sleep well, my friends, sleep well.

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I spend a lot of time at home, mostly in my room (I do a bit of writing) and am currently living in nice warm socks and jumpers, and drinking a lot more hot drinks. I love tea (I should do a post all about tea sometime…there are some amazing ones you simply must try)…but am drinking a lot of hot chocolate. I mean a lot. Like I have to go running a couple of times a week to keep it off my hips a lot.

I used to love Cadbury’s drinking chocolate when I was younger; It’s the sweetness, and possibly the speediness of making it. You just mix powder with hot milk and it’s ready (please don’t microwave it…milk just tastes better when it’s heated in a pan). As I’ve grown older (to the wise old age of 22) my tastes have changed. That’s partly down to being introduced to more bitter chocolates from places like Starbucks and Nero. I don’t know why, but you order a hot chocolate in one of those places and expect it to be sweet, and it isn’t. Yes you can add sugar, but you get a little surprise when you take that virgin sip…hey, is this chocolate? You sure you didn’t slip an espresso in here?

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It’s funny. You can go to virtually any restaurant, café, fair, food festival etc. and order a tea and you have a good idea what’s coming. You order a coffee and you are fairly certain what it’s going to taste like when it arrives. Order a hot chocolate and you’re playing Russian Roulette. Will it be sweet? Will it be bitter? Will it be smooth, or have little gritty bits in it and a thick residue at the bottom because it was made from a powder? What milk have they used? How has it been heated? What is it served in? (Funny that a hot chocolate can actually taste different in a take out cup and a proper mug).

Then you get the added extras. Do you want cream? Marshmallows? Extra chocolate sprinkles and a flake? How about cinnamon, or chilli? I just want chocolate!

Clearly if you are out and the urge takes you, you need to go with whatever’s available. It’s a good idea to grow accustomed to everyone’s offerings. You may favour Nero over Starbucks or Costa, but what if there’s only a Costa where you are? Do you forgo your drink of choice or brave it out? You could take a flask with some home made in, but only if you remember.

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Talking of home made (which is by far the best of all as you get to control the contents, and can make it exactly how you like it), you need a good base to start from. Some people like to mix in things like Horlicks to try and give the chocolate a malty undertone. I want to drink chocolate, not Horlicks, so I don’t add it (you can if you want to, it’s your chocolate drink).

My own base (for two decent mugs worth) is as follows:

450ml whole milk (that’s full fat…it just tastes so much better).

75ml single cream (I find double just too thick but you should experiment…with a small amount at first. You can always add more but you can’t take away).

70g of really good quality dark chocolate (at least 70% cacao…M&S sell an amazing block of Colombian 100% cacao chocolate that is totally bitter but fantastic. it has no added sugar…it’s just 100% cacao and it smells divine) finely chopped or grated.

30g of good quality milk chocolate finely chopped or grated (use whatever you like…if you have a favourite milk chocolate then use it as the taste will be familiar to you and you’ll enjoy it all the more).

A pinch of sea salt (it seems to give the drink some kind of edge, like it highlights the chocolate even more…try some with and without to see the difference).

A sprinkle of cinnamon (only if you fancy it).

You can also add a bit of vanilla if you like, or even some hazelnut syrup (though if you use a stronger dark chocolate you may find you can’t taste the vanilla).

Assemble your ingredients then warm about 150ml of the milk in a decent pan (you don’t want to boil the milk or scald it). Stir in your chocolate (that strong dark chocolate will take a little longer to melt than the milk, so make sure it is all melted down). Then add the rest of your milk and your cream, giving it a good stir to blend it all in.

Keep the mixture nice and hot and add the salt, and also stir in the cinnamon if you want to add any. Take it off the heat before adding any vanilla or hazelnut syrup as it seems to burn off a little if you add it when the mixture is too hot. Give it a taste and see how you like it. If it’s too sweet you may want to add less milk chocolate next time, or forgo the hazelnut syrup. if it’s not sweet enough, add more syrup or a little raw cane sugar (add a small amount at a time and stir in well to dissolve, tasting as you go until you get it…also, remember how much you added so next time you can go straight in with the right amount).

Pour into a suitable mug (this will give you enough for two, remember) and then adorn with anything you fancy. I like a few marshmallows (they melt a little in the chocolate) but have also experimented with crushed meringue and a crumbled flake (the flake was amazing though it will sweeten the drink some more, the meringue less amazing…it went to mush and was very sweet) but you decide. It’s your drink.

Most of all, enjoy it. Chocolate is an incredible thing. It can make you feel truly human again at the end of a long hard day. So pop on some thick woolly socks and a jumper, grab a good book, put your feet up and relax with a mug of pure chocolate love.

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