Sweet indulgence brimming in a cup

Beverage: More adults are savoring the rich flavor of hot chocolate.

January 31, 2001|By Susan Taylor | Susan Taylor,UNIVERSAL PRESS SYNDICATE

Hot chocolate is not just for kids. The ancient "drink of the gods" is making a comeback as a serious adult beverage.

Luxury drinking chocolate, harking back to 17th-century European salons and chocolate houses, now is available. Aromatic, cinnamon-spiked Mexican hot chocolate has gone mainstream; find it at Latin American grocery stores and in some supermarkets. Premium cocoa, which boasts chocolate as the primary ingredient, and cocoa drinks flavored with hazelnut, mint and raspberry vie for space in groceries and gourmet shops. There's even a hot chocolate brewing machine for the kitchen: Cocomotion is designed to whip up frothy hot chocolate.

In Europe, the glory days of the socially elite chocolate houses are long gone. But you still can find luxury chocolate at a few cafes. The Angelina Cafe in Paris is famous for its rich chocolate made in big copper pots.

Hot chocolate is a simple yet indulgent after-dinner drink. A thick version is served in demitasse cups with a tiny dollop of mascarpone and whipped cream. It is incredibly easy to prepare by mixing chocolate shavings with hot water. You can serve it in small cups or in 17th-century-style chocolate pots and demitasse cups such as those sold in gourmet shops.

In central and southern Mexico, people commonly drink chocolate twice a day year-round, says Nancy Zaslavsky, author of "A Cook's Tour of Mexico." People drink cocoa in the early morning with pan dulce (sweet breads) and sometimes as part of a light meal of sweet breads or tamales at the end of a day, she says.

Having a layer of foam on hot chocolate is as important today in Mexico as it was in ancient times. The chocolate is whipped to a froth with a carved wooden utensil called a molinillo and served in mugs.

"Southern Mexicans believe the spirit of the drink is in the foam," Zaslavsky says. "If it doesn't have foam, it's not alive."

Mexican hot chocolate usually is imbibed with sweet breads such as those sold at Mexican bakeries. Pan de yema (egg-yolk bread) is the traditional bread to dip into hot chocolate, according to Zaslavsky, but conchas, pan de huevo and other Mexican sweet breads also are good.

If you can't find them, challah (Jewish egg bread) with sesame seeds, cut into chunks (not slices) is a good substitute.

But, she says, "Let the challah dry out overnight, or it might fall apart in your chocolate." Mexicans like their sweet breads dry or slightly stale so they will soak up more chocolate.

"In southern Mexico, people use more chocolate and make it very rich," Zaslavsky says. Some people use water, some prefer milk.

"My favorite way is with water and a little milk poured in, like in coffee," she says.

To produce foam on hot chocolate, Zaslavsky suggests the following: For 1 cup, pour the hot liquid back and forth between two cups. For more, put the hot chocolate in a pitcher or deep-sided pot and use an electric beater or hand mixer. A cappuccino machine also can be used.

Or try using a molinillo, available at many Mexican grocery stores. Holding the handle of the utensil between your palms, twirl it back and forth until the chocolate in the pitcher becomes foamy.

Another easy way to drink hot chocolate is to make instant cocoa from ready-to-use envelopes. Supermarkets carry a variety of hot cocoas designed to mix instantly with hot milk or water. Some are fat-free.

Goodnight Hugs and Goodnight Kisses, caffeine-free drinks with tiny chocolate or white chips that melt in hot water, are made specifically for kids.

For a more intense chocolate drink, look for premium varieties that list chocolate as the first ingredient on the label.

Whether you use luxury chocolate or an envelope of instant cocoa, it's easy to create your own signature hot chocolate. Take a cue from Manhattan's trendy City Bakery, which each year holds a hot chocolate festival. The festival menu has included hot chocolate flavored variously with chili pepper, vanilla beans, pistachio, ginger, chestnuts, Ceylon cinnamon and bourbon.

You can spike your own adult version with your favorite liqueur, from cinnamon schnapps to Kahlua.

So drink up and savor one of the world's longest-lived simple pleasures.

Angelina's Hot Chocolate

Makes 4 servings

6 ounces fine-quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped

1/4 cup water, room temperature

3 tablespoons hot water

3 cups hot milk

sugar to taste

whipped cream, if desired

Combine chocolate and 1/4 cup water in double boiler or heat-proof medium bowl over hot, not simmering, water over low heat. Leave until melted, stirring occasionally. Stir until smooth.

Remove from pan of water. Whisk in 3 tablespoons hot water. Pour into pitcher or divide among 4 mugs. Stir 3/4 cup hot milk into each mug; or serve milk in a separate pitcher.

Pass sugar to taste and whipped cream, if desired.

Per serving: 316 calories (50 percent fat); 19 grams fat (11 grams saturated); 3 grams fiber; 25 milligrams cholesterol; 94 milligrams sodium; 35 grams carbohydrate; 231 milligrams calcium

Spiced Mexican Hot Cocoa

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