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Hot Chocolate, Round 2, tasted on February 5, 2005 — A few weeks ago we had our first blind taste test of various hot cocoas. It was surprising despite how many we tried, how few we liked. We agreed that we needed to do at least one more round of blind tasting and then proceed to a sort of "world championship" where we combined our favorite cocoas with our favorite recipes. Impatience got the best of us. We headed straight for squaring off our favorite recipes. And since not everyone prepared equally, some of the recipes weren't quite fine tuned enough. While we did have many entries, ultimately there were only three that mattered. These three were also the ones that were preferred the most by the tasters.

Before we get into them, there is an issue of style. There are two (maybe three) archetypes that I know of for the perfect hot chocolate. And at a certain point you have to acknowledge these as they play such a key role in how you judge which hot chocolate you like best. The first is the classic hot chocolate. This is a sweet beverage. Sweet like milk chocolate. This is what most cocoas on the market target in terms of their flavor profile. Think hot chocolate milkshake. Very creamy. Lighter in color. Very sweet. This actually is the kind I prefer. It's not that I don't appreciate alternatives, it's just that this type of hot chocolate gives me the most pleasure. The next archetype is what I'll call the bittersweet hot chocolate. This is a darker hot chocolate. Maybe thicker. Not nearly as sweet. Not creamy per se, but likely silky. This is essentially drinkable chocolate. The new Chantico from Starbucks is a good example of it. People who eschew milk chocolate love this type of hot chocolate. The last is what i'll call spiced hot chocolate. This is basically a bittersweet hot cocoa with some added texture and flavor. It could be cinnamon, hot chilis, something complementary. Mexican hot chocolate typically lands in this spot from a flavor perspective. The texture is often a little rougher. I realize, my three archetype taxonomy is a bit of an oversimplification and there are all types of variations, but these are basically the three that I've encountered the most: Classic, Bittersweet, and Spiced.

First, we only had representatives of the first two. Alex took a stab at making a spiced hot chocolate but he overdid the cinnamon and it really didn't meet the bar, so it's not worth discussing here. (Though there was some unfortunate imagery that Peyman decided to illustrate involving the texture of Alex' cocoa.) That said, we did have two excellent representatives of the classic and bittersweet hot chocolate archetypes. Ken delivered the classic and DebDu delivered the bittersweet. I made a bittersweet as well though I was intending to make a classic. The main thing we got from mine is a technique that I'll describe later. It's also important to note that the folks in the room were relatively divided in terms of which flavor profile they prefer. I'd say most prefer a bittersweet or spiced, while a couple of us like the classic. Of course, I really enjoy both as they're really essentially different beverages.

Now DebDu was the perfect hostess (as usual) and prepared all sorts of accompaniments including two kinds of fresh marshmallows courtesy of WholeFoods, fresh doughnuts from Mark Bittman's cookbook, fresh Orange Madelines from Daniel Boulud's cookbook, and fresh whipped cream. We really couldn't have asked for more. But there was more. Peyman took the doughnut dough, wrapped it around some fresh banana and deep fried it. Mmmm... fresh banana doughnut.

OK. There were two basic hot chocolates that rose above the rest. The first was Ken's. It followed the classic archetype. He started by melting a bunch of Scharffen Berger into milk. But it was way bitter for his taste so he added more and more sugar. When that didn't do the trick he started putting pieces of Hershey's milk chocolate wholesale into the mix. In the end, he ended up with a superlative Classic Sweet Hot Chocolate. The recipe is as follows:

  • 2 cups heavy whipping cream
  • 3 cups 2% milk
  • 90 grams Scharffen Berger Semi Sweet Chocolate (this is a chunk-and-a-half of a five chunk bar)
  • 130 grams Hershey’s Milk Chocolate (3 out of 4 chunks of a large Hershey’s bar)
  • 2 teaspoons Natural Demerara sugar (any natural raw sugar will do the job)
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • Put all ingredients in a sauce pan and heat over medium heat until melted and blended.

DebDu provided an excellent rendition of the Bittersweet Hot Chocolate archetype. Here's her recipe:

  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 tablespoons McNess hot cocoa mix
  • 2 small handfuls chopped Scharffenberger semi-sweet (62% cocoa) (about ¼ cup)
  • 1/3 teaspoon cornstarch
  • Cook slowly, whisking regularly
  • Bring to a boil
  • Remove from heat when the mixture begins to thicken
  • The cornstarch may seem a bit unorthodox, but this is the method Jacques Torres uses to make his hot chocolate so thick

Finally was my modest contribution to the tasting. To be honest, I was going for a classic sweet hot chocolate but ran into the same trouble as Ken. I couldn't add enough sugar or milk chocolate to sweeten it to my liking, but the fans of the bittersweet archetype liked it quite a bit. I think DebDu's recipe does a great job showing how to nail that, so there's no reason to include my recipe.

I did do one small thing which I thought helped quite a bit. And to be clear, this is completely unoriginal. When I had my most perfect cup of hot chocolate ever it was at the Inn at Little Washington in Virginia. I got a teapot full of cocoa with a cup to pour it in. At the base of the cup was a small dollop of whipped cream flanked by a curl of white chocolate and a curl of milk chocolate. At first the cocoa covered those ingredients as I poured it in the cup. But after a three-count, the whipped cream rose to the top as if gasping for air. By this point the chocolate curls were almost completely melted but you could see their cream trails in the liquid. Bottom line, this little bit of alchemy and timing made for the best sip of hot chocolate I have ever had. Thick, creamy, unevenly sweet in a good way. Awesome.

So without the finesse of chocolate curls (these were more like shavings) I tried the same thing during the tasting. You may ask why I used store bought aerosol whipped cream when fresh was available. I certainly love fresh whipped cream and it was available. But I remembered that the dollop at the Inn had a firmer consistency that I thought could only come with the help of some sort of gas injection. I thought I would compromise and buy some fancy organic aerosol whipped cream at the Wholefoods. But instead of being embarrassed I should have just held my head high and used my personal favorite - Reddiwip (I confess I had no idea how to spell it until I looked them up on the web). Yep, I love Reddiwip. I find it delicious. I often eat it straight out of my palm or just spray it straight into my mouth. It's fantastic. Peyman who I think just doesn't like aerosol whip in general hated the taste of the one I bought. And I didn't like it as much as I would have since it wasn't my favorite Reddiwip. That said, despite the whipped cream mishap, it was clear that the whipped cream with shaved white and milk chocolate had it's desired effect. The "Pre-Whipping" of the hot cocoa was a hit in my opinion. Even with my not super, but not bad hot chocolate it just elevated the cup to a new level of enjoyment. Especially for that first 1-2 minutes of drinking. Timing is key as you need to basically hand the person the cup right before you pour the hot chocolate into it. But still it was clearly worth it.

To recap: pick which archetype you like, the classic sweet or the bittersweet. Choose the appropriate recipe from above. Fill the target cups with whipped cream (fresh or Reddiwip as you see fit) as well as a variety of chocolate shavings (I prefer milk and white) and pour the hot chocolate into the cups seconds before your friends, family, and/or welcome/unwelcome guests are ready to drink. I promise there will be smiles all around. And of course, for every 10 degrees the weather is below 40 farenheit, the enjoyment of the cocoa increases exponentially. That's a scientific fact!











Tastingmenu is focused on superlative restaurant experiences from two perspectives: behind the plate and behind the stove. Tastingmenu is written by Hillel (professional eater) and Dana (up-and-coming professional chef) in Seattle, Washington.

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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