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how to make real hot chocolate 

by Yee-Fan Sun

Contrary to popular American opinion, true, honest-to-goodness hot chocolate does not come out of a single-serving size paper packet. That beverage you've probably thought of as hot chocolate your whole life thus far? It's a pale, watery imitation of the real thing -- fine when you need a quick and sugary hot beverage fix, but highly unlikely to sate the true chocoholics among us. No, for a close-your-eyes-and-savor-slowly experience, there's no substitute for making hot chocolate the proper way, with good dark chocolate and milk. Decadently rich, soothingly hot, and packing a wallop of to-die-for pure chocolate flavor, real hot chocolate makes a perfect treat, whether you're hosting a girls' night in on a snowy winter night, or getting romantic with the sweets on Valentine's Day.

basic hot chocolate
As with all really simple recipes, the quality of your ingredients makes a big, big difference. Use the best chocolate you can afford. If you like a fairly sweet hot chocolate, you can use semi-sweet instead of bittersweet, or add a tablespoon or two of sugar to the milk while it's heating. Basically the higher the cacao content of your chocolate the less sugary your drink will be -- which, personally, is the way I prefer it.

1.5 oz. bittersweet chocolate
1 cup milk (the fattier the better, but if you really must use skim, you'll still get results that are a gazillion times tastier than the Swiss Miss stuff)
good dash of vanilla (about an 1/8 of a teaspoon, if you're the kind of person who likes to measure)

yields: one steaming mugful of chocolaty goodness

1 Chop up your chocolate.
2 Pour the milk into a saucepan, and heat gently over medium heat until the milk is steaming and beginning to bubble ever so slightly. Remove it from the heat before it comes to a full boil, and stir in the chocolate. Return it to the stove. Over low heat, whisk well until the chocolate's all melted. Stir in the vanilla extract, ladle or pour into a mug, and enjoy. 

frothy hot chocolate | Use whole milk. Zizz the hot chocolate in a blender (a hand blender's dandy if you have one) for a minute or two, until it's good and frothy. Serve.

minty hot chocolate | Leave out the vanilla extract. Instead, add a splash of peppermint extract to the milk as you heat it up (go easy on the extract -- mint extract is pretty potent, so this might be easier to make in a larger batch).

spicy hot chocolate | My six-year stint living in the southwest left me with an interesting culinary quirk: there's very little in the world that I don't think tastes better with at least a hint of chile. Seriously, hot chocolate with a lil' chile pepper for zip is a marvelous, marvelous thing. Stir in a dash of cayenne into the chocolate and milk mixture. Yum.

Mexican hot chocolate | If you're lucky enough to live in an area where Mexican groceries are readily available, you can actually get pre-spiced Mexican chocolate (Ibarra is one common brand). For the rest of us, we just have to approximate the real thing with the addition of some cinnamon. You can add a cinnamon stick to the milk while you heat it up, and discard the cinnamon stick before serving. Alternatively, add tsp. of cinnamon when you stir in the chocolate. This variation is also mighty tasty with a little bit of cayenne pepper added to the mix.

spiked hot chocolate | Add an oz. of any of the following liqueurs to the chocolate and milk mixture for an added layer of flavor and a festive alcoholic kick: Grand Marnier (orange), Cointreau (orange), Amaretto (almond), Bailey's Irish Cream, Kahlua (coffee), Frangelico (hazelnut).

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