Elixir entices, delights, comforts


Love for chocolate has a long history


October 23, 2002|By Sara Engram | Sara Engram,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Small comforts done well can become large pleasures indeed. What better example than hot chocolate on a cool day?

Of course, you don't have to be a chocoholic to quarrel with the slightest suggestion that there's anything small about chocolate, whatever the time of year. Hot or cold, munched, gobbled or sipped, chocolate looms large. It came to us through the ancient civilizations of the New World, which had refined the transformation of cocoa beans into chocolate and incorporated this heady substance into their food, drink and culture.

The Spanish conquerors found chocolate to be a prized substance, used not just as sustenance but also as money and ceremonial offerings. Soon after the explorers tasted it themselves, hot chocolate beverages were being sipped in Colonial cities and making their way back to Spain.

In her book, The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cocoa With Recipes (Ten Speed Press, 2001, $29.95), Maricel E. Presilla says that in the New World, chocolate was not always sweetened. But in adopting this enticing elixir, the Spanish made sugar a requirement.

They also copied the Latin American practices of adding a wide range of spices and flavors to their hot chocolate, from anise seeds and cinnamon to orange zest and ginger.

In most North American kitchens, hot chocolate is usually hot cocoa -- and as easy as heating milk and stirring in the cocoa powder, no spices necessary. If you're game for a slightly more complex preparation, you can stir up a classic chocolate syrup to keep handy in the refrigerator.

But if you're in a truly adventurous mood, try an old-style, New-World version of this ancient favorite, spices and all. Presilla includes several versions, including one from Chicago chocolatier Jim Graham.

Chocolate Shake Syrup

Makes enough for about 20 servings

7 ounces chocolate

15 ounces sweetened condensed milk

1 cup boiling water

1/2 cup sugar

Melt the chocolate in the top of a double boiler over hot water. Stir the condensed milk and water slowly into the melted chocolate. Stir in the sugar until it dissolves. Cool the syrup and store in the refrigerator.

- "The Joy of Cooking" by Irma S. Rombauer and Marion Rombauer Becker, the Bobbs-Merrill Co. Inc., 1975

Handy Hot Chocolate

Makes one 8-ounce serving

2 tablespoons chocolate shake syrup (see below)

3/4 cup scalding milk

Stir the syrup slowly into the milk and heat thoroughly before serving.

Jim Graham's Spiced Hot Chocolate

Makes 1 serving

1/4 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup milk

1 scant teaspoon aniseeds, coarsely crushed in a mortar

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

one 2-inch length vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped out

1 quarter-sized slice fresh ginger

1 ounce Valrhona Pur Caraibe dark chocolate (66 percent cocoa), finely chopped (see note)

very small pinch of salt

In a heavy saucepan set over medium heat, combine the cream, milk, aniseeds, orange zest, vanilla bean and seeds, and ginger. Bring just to a boil.

Cover, reduce the heat to very low, and keep at a bare simmer for 10 minutes. Place the chocolate in a small bowl. Using a fine-mesh strainer, strain a few spoonfuls of the hot-cream mixture over the chocolate and whisk with a small wire whisk until the chocolate is completely melted. Strain the rest of the cream mixture over the chocolate, add the salt, and whisk to combine thoroughly before pouring into a serving cup.

Note: A list of sales outlets for Valrhona, a French chocolate, can be found online at www.valrhona.com.

- "The New Taste of Chocolate: A Cultural and Natural History of Cocoa With Recipes" by Maricel E. Presilla

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