21 December 2009

One bold, stout imperative

Dear Reader, I don’t think I ever got as daring as to dictate to you what to do, but today, be warned, I’ll toss one bold, stout imperative around here. In fact, I’ll start with it.

My apologies for being so demanding, but you must make this hot chocolate. Like, now. Why must you, you wonder? For one, it’s impressively delicious. Two, Christmas is almost here, at our table, so start feasting we should. And most of all, because you’ll love it. Oh yes, you will.

Just make it, would you? Please.

I’ve always dreamt of having hot chocolate that would be more than just squares of chocolate drowned in hot milk. For a few years I drifted from one recipe to another in hope to find the one, which I finally found last week, seated snugly in a book The Secrets of Baking by Sherry Yard.

What gives this hot chocolate its distinguishing mark is ganache, unquestionably the heart of the beverage in question. So while you make the ganache – you take one part dark chocolate, which you finely chop and put in a heatproof bowl, and one part cream, which you boil, then pour over the chocolate, and stir gently, for two minutes, until the chocolate is married into the cream – let me also tell you, real quick, about my trip to Brussels last week. (Holy chocolate bar, it seems only fitting to talk about chocolate and Brussels, the world’s chocolate capital, all at once.)

Not so long ago, we, Anthony and I, two 'frenemies', figured it would be a good idea to take a two-day break from our respective duties to go to Brussels for no reason other than to eat, Brussels-style. Among the chocolate and macarons by Pierre Marcolini...

...and the Liege waffles, hot, right from the griddle (to be gobbled up on the city’s hilly cobbled streets),

our expedition also included a dinner at a local, one-hundred-and-four years old eating establishment, the restaurant Vincent specializing in fish and meat/poultry fare with hearty and heartful Belgian flair.

There I had my ‘revelation’ in the form of black pepper sauce. It was a diamond crowning a piece of fillet mignon, moist and rosy in the middle and flawlessly browned from the outside. It wouldn’t be a crazy thing to say that that sauce resembled me of peppery chocolate, not a single whisper of sweetness, God forbid – rather, a deep, savoury voice of cocoa beans. Goodness me, that sauce, I would kill for it.

Besides stirring a black papper sauce-maniac in me, Brussels made me feel nostalgic and heart-tickled.

Nostalgic, because grey clouds in Brussels are comforting and soothing, they didn’t rush from one corner of the sky to another like grey mice in a church. Instead, they resembled, in my mind, that smoky grey thick woolen blanket I got from my grandmother as a Christmas present when I was a kid, eternity ago.

Heart-tickled, even heart-stung, because I was already missing this city, its Christmas lights, its streets that bear food names, its air saturated with sweet wafts escaping the street waffle stands way before we even caught a train to take us to Brussels.

But I’m glad I’m not alone in this boat. Anthony confides he is missing Brussels too, in particular, its beers which God knows how many he managed to smuggle back to Amsterdam.

It was a nourishing trip. A Christmas gift to ourselves.

Now take whole milk and heavy cream, and bring to a boil. Add cocoa powder; whisk. Fold in the ganache you’ve just made; stir. That’s it. The way to elation has never been so short. Isn’t it amazing how something so decadent and luxurious is so elementary to make? I’m unfailingly astonished, too.

Merry Christmas, Dear Reader!

And thank you for being there, on the other side of the screen, so to speak, reading my stories and tasting with me all along -- I’m raising this steaming cup of chocolate to you!

Sherry Yard’s Hot Chocolate

Adapted from The Secrets of Baking, by Sherry Yard
Yield: five 8-ounces (250 ml) cups

2 cups (500 ml) whole milk
½ cup (125 ml) cream
2 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
8 ounces (250 gr) bittersweet dark chocolate (the best you can get) 1 cup (250 ml) cream
½ tsp vanilla extract (optional)

1. Make the ganache. Grind or finely chop the chocolate; big pieces will fail to melt. Put the chocolate in a medium bowl. Over medium heat, bring the cream to a boil in a small saucepan. Immediately pour the cream over the chocolate. Tap the bowl – this will help the chocolate to settle into the cream. Let sit for 1 min. With a rubber spatula, start stirring slowly, working carefully to avoid adding too much air to the ganache. Keep stirring until all the chocolate is melted, 2 minutes. Sherry says the ganache may look like it’s ready after 1 minute of continuous stirring, but don’t get tricked, she warns, and keep going to ensure a proper emulsification (the emulsification combines the fat in chocolate with the water in cream, a process the result of which, like I said before, is sanity-killing, silky, glossy ganache). Once done, set the bowl aside.

2. Bring the milk and cream to a boil in the same saucepan you used for boiling the cream for the ganache. Add the cocoa powder and whisk thoroughly to blend. Remove from the heat and fold in the ganache. Let sit for 1 min. Then stir until well combined, about 4 mins. Add the vanilla extract (if using), and stir once again.

3. Serve while hot. This drink, writes Ms Yard, keeps well, covered, in the fridge for up to 2 (!!) weeks. Just reheat it briefly before serving, although I don’t know who is in their right mind would ever stay away from it for as much as two weeks, gosh!

Restaurant Vincent
Rue des Dominicains, 8-10

Pierre Marcolini
Rue des Minimes, 1