Hot Chocolate Revisited

Bittersweet Hot ChocolateAfter my last post, I decided to revisit the hot chocolate recipe I gave here and check it against the Pierre Herme cookbook. Certainly the master of sweet things would have much to offer.

His take on hot chocolate has the following differences to my recipe: he uses water instead of milk, and he adds quite a bit of cocoa as well as the chocolate. In my opinion, the result was less than optimal, with the taste of chocolate blunted by the sensation of the cocoa and the water making it less luxurious.

There’s a funny thing that happens with bitter things such as coffee and chocolate, and that is that you need sweetness to taste the flavour. It’s said that we’re hard-wired to like sweets and avoid bitter tastes, since most poisons in nature taste bitter, and so bitter things are an acquired taste (kids very rarely like coffee or bitter chocolate). Bitter things are delightful as we get older, and I’m a big fan, but there is a balance to be struck, and the Japanese refer to it as “umami.”

Chocolate emulsionHigher cocoa content only brings more chocolate flavour up to a point. 70% chocolate has more chocolate flavour than 30% chocolate. However, if you go much above that, I believe you stop tasting the chocolate and you only have a taste sensation of “bitter.” The flavour complexity is lost without sweetness.

To me it’s the same as coffee. Virtually all Italians stir at least two sugars into their espressos. There is a reason they do so, and that is to bring out the coffee flavour. Espresso without sugar simply tastes bitter. Espresso with sugar tastes of coffee. Try it, if you like, adding sugar in small amounts, and you will see that the full flavour of the bean will emerge.

Anyway, it pains me to say it, but I do believe there is a thing as too much chocolate. I happily stand behind my earlier recipe!

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7 thoughts on “Hot Chocolate Revisited

  1. Yeah? I suppose it depends on the cocoa and the chocolate. Cocoa is lighter and less rich since it doesn’t have the cocoa butter (i.e. fat) of chocolate. We have both in our shops, and I like them both depending on my mood. We use Ghiradelli cocoa and call it “Gentle” and also the chocolate as in the recipe I gave and call it “Bittersweet”…

  2. That Pierre Hermé hot chocolate recipe sounds completely different to the one that I’ve tried out. I’ll have to see if I can dig out the original one that I tried – I think it was a Caramelized Cinnamon Hot Chocolate and it definitely had milk in it. What’s the point in hot chocolate without milk! I’ve also tried your version, Kieran (albeit with the addition of a cinnamon stick at an early stage), with great success. Someday I might even make it to your café to taste the original!

  3. That’s funny! I’ve just spent the morning looking all over the computer and here’s the version that I tried out:

    Caramelized Cinnamon Hot Chocolate
    4 1/2 cups whole milk
    1/2 cup water
    2 cinnamon sticks
    2/3 cup sugar
    8oz dark chocolate.

    Bring milk and water to the boil. Set aside. Put the cinnamon sticks and sugar in a heavy-based saucepan and cook until it turns amber. When the desired colour is achieved, add the warm milk and water. The mixture will seize for a moment but stir it and continue heating until it is smooth. Remove cinnamon sticks. Add the chocolate to the caramel mixture. Whisk until melted.

    Does it match up with the recipe in the book, Kieran?

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