Drink your feelings

Imbibe the real strong stuff this holiday season: chocolate

photo by Jason Cassidy

What’s nearly four times as expensive as coffee, 18 times as expensive as gasoline, and so good you’d step over your own dead pooch to get one more fix?

The answer to that rhetorical question—posed by this writer in these pages more than a decade ago—is not whatever drug you are thinking of. The object of my obsession/addiction at the time was Chantico, a specialty drink that Starbucks introduced in 2005 to much fanfare, only to quietly discontinue later that year. Described as a “drinking chocolate,” it was basically a very concentrated hot chocolate, an amazing dark and dense shot of intense flavor that made me very happy … until it was gone.

Now, with chilly weather and Mannheim Steamroller overtaking the season, my cold and weary soul has been pining for that sweet, warm elixir, so I hit the lab this past week to try and cook up my own.

The hot chocolate/cocoa that most Americans are used to is not what I was going for. Powdered cocoa with milk (or water), sugar and marshmallows is fine; I’d drink that with or without a splash of whiskey any cold night.

However, it turns out that what I was after was something closer to the European version of hot chocolate. The simple chocolat chaud found in France and Belgium is basically dark chocolate melted in warm milk/cream. While in Spain (where you dip churros in your chocolate at breakfast) and Italy, the drink approaches pudding consistency, thanks to a thickening agent (usually cornstarch).

I wanted to keep it simple and focus on the chocolate flavor, getting as concentrated a dose of it as could. After combining recipes from a variety of sources and a couple of trial runs, I found a sweet spot between a hit of intense chocolate and something that’s still drinkable—in small doses.

A few notes on the ingredients: I wanted to go with a fine bean-to-bar artisanal chocolate, but once the cost reality of buying enough bars (at $5-$7 per 3.5 ounces) hit me, I chose to go with the mass-produced Lindt (two bars for $5 at Safeway). Better chocolate is better. But decent chocolate is still amazing when melted in milk and cream.

The whipped topping and the Lindt bars already have vanilla, so I left it out of my chocolate. Add (or don’t) at your pleasure.

This recipe is very adaptable. Cinnamon, cayenne and sea salt are all natural complements for chocolate.

Cassidy’s drinking chocolate

Makes 7 servings


2 cups whole milk

1 cup heavy cream

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 pound dark chocolate (at least 70 percent cacao)

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)

Whipped topping:

1 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons white sugar

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

Combine milk, cream, brown sugar and (optional) vanilla in a saucepan and place over medium heat. Heat mixture, stirring frequently, until tiny bubbles start to form around the sides of the pan—don’t bring to a boil. Remove from heat, break up and stir in chocolate, return to low heat and stir until chocolate is melted and fully blended with the other ingredients.

For whipped topping: whisk cream, sugar and vanilla at medium-high speed until soft peaks form.

Pour 6 ounces of the silky chocolate concoction into a small cup, dust with cinnamon, cayenne or sea salt as desired (any/all of these can be added to the pot at the beginning according to your crew’s tastes) and top with a dollop of whipped cream. Then sit back and let each decadent sip of the warm liquid treasure melt away any bad vibes, cold weather and oppressive Christmas melodies.

Here’s to happier holidays!