What's the best chocolate for making hot chocolate?
Mexican Styles of Hot Chocolate are a staple at my house during the cold months. And no... I don't touch Mayordomo, Ibarra, Abuelita or any type of Mexican table chocolate... so before the "Purists" crucify me... I would remind them that the only truly authentic Mexican Hot Chocolate (or any Hot Chocolate for that matter) involves Whole Cacao Beans, lots of roasting, lots of grinding, lots of boiling & lots of work!
I typically use Trader Joe's Pound Plus Belgian Chocolate, Vahlrona or bulk Mexican dark chocolate bars.
> With the TJ's Pound Plus.... you want 2 to 4 squares per cup of finished product..... your choice.... but I will explain more later.
> Combine the Chocolate with Water (Assume 1 Cup of Water for each Cup of finished product) in a saucepan over high heat.
> Bring the two to a boil... momentarily remove from heat when it foams to prevent overboiling.... then return until it foams again. The more times you bring it to Foam.... you will achieve greater integration & silkiness (you need a minimum of 3 Foams for a decent result).
Now for the styles.... there is no one single Mexican style Hot Chocolate...
> Ancient Mayan Hot Chocolate was drunk as black & bitter as possible with just a little bit of Honey to make it tolerable (truly an acquired taste for the bold)
> Contemporary Mayan Hot Chocolate (as made in Chiapas) is black & somewhat sweet and is enhanced with Nutmeg, Cloves & Cinammon
> Ancient Aztec Hot Chocolate was black, sufficiently sweet (Honey) and heavy on real Vanilla
> Contemporary Mexican Spicy Hot Chocolate is black or creamy, sufficiently sweet & has a substantial Ancho & Arbol Chile Powder kick
> Classic Mexican Hot Chocolate is very creamy, has lots of cinnamon & vanilla and is rather sweet... often made with that classic Mexican dessert trinity of Whole Milk, Evaporated Milk & Sweetened Condensed Milk
> Classic Celaya (Guanajuato) Hot Chocolate is sweetened & creamed with Cajeta (Goat Milk Caramel) & has Pecan extract
There are dozens... if not hundreds of Hot Chocolate variations in Mexico.... these are all that I can think of at the moment. In any case the basic recipe & technique is the same... start by melting the chocolate in water... bringing to a Foam multiple times... than you can add other layers & ingredients later on.
You can vary my basic recipe to come up with the consistency, darkness & sweetness that you prefer... Good Luck!
If you prefer European-style ultra thick hot chocolate, I recommend this mega old-school recipe from Brillat-Savarin's Physiology of Taste: For one serving, in a small heavy saucepan, melt 1 oz semisweet chocolate (I use Valhrona 64%) into 8 oz. water. Bring to a gentle boil, then simmer for 15 minutes on very low heat until thick and creamy. Serve in a demitasse cup.
Be sure to keep it on for the full 15 minutes, because the point of the technique is for the water to evaporate, making a creamy texture without the milk. COMPLETELY decadent. This is too rich and too heavy for the average bear, but for the chocolate faithful, it's heaven.
If you're going to use cocoa powder, then you better know the difference between "regular/natural" cocoa powder and "Dutch process" cocoa powder. They are very different and the cocoa's package/container might not make it clear which type it contains. I'm pretty sure you want "Dutch process" cocoa powder for hot cocoa recipes. "Regular/natural" cocoa is better for baked goods like brownies.
I learned the difference from an episode of Good Eats. Here's a link to the transcript of that episode: http://www.goodeatsfanpage.com/Season5/ChocolateII/Chocolate2Transcript.htm
There's also a hot cocoa recipe from that episode, but I usually don't like Alton Brown's recipes (too much fat and seasonings for my taste). Here's a link for his recipe anyhoo (scroll to bottom): http://www.goodeatsfanpage.com/Season5/ChocolateII/Chocolate2Recipes.htm
Also, Cook's Thesaurus has an entry for cocoa powder that includes a brief explanation between regular and Dutched: http://www.foodsubs.com/Chocvan.html#... powder
The cocoa butter in melted chocolate can be a little problematic. It has a tendency to separate/float to the top. Cocoa based applications tend to circumvent this issue.
Generally speaking, though, unless it's Baker's brand baking chocolate, most chocolate liquor based bar chocolates have a superior taste to cocoa, which is more heavily processed and lacking the rich smooth buttery quality of the cocoa butter. There are some high ends cocoas that seem to garnish strong allegiances (Droste comes to mind), but they run on the expensive side, and, imo, are no where near the quality of bar chocolate in the same price range.
There are ways/ingredients that help avoid cocoa butter separation, such as using whole milk, not heating the hot chocolate too much, and emulsifiers like lecithin and dried milk. It really depends on how obsessive you are about your hot chocolate and how much labor you want to put into it.
Fat separation doesn't bother everyone, but it bugs me a bit. The ultimate non-separating bar based hot chocolate will, imo, require some trial and error.
Although not quite so awe-inspiring, a high end cocoa (such as Droste) should make a great hot chocolate with less fuss.
If you had it at a starbucks type place, they just have a syrup, which basically tastes like sugar. since you enjoyed it so much you probably had something that was no more than a mix of plain old white chocolate and hot milk. That's the best way to go. In my opinion, white chocolates vary quite a bit less from brand to brand because you've removed the most crucial part. Just make sure you get something made with nothing more than cocoa butter, sugar and milk solids and the occasional stabilizer/emulsifier. heat up some milk and add the chocolate. I'm not sure of amounts though. Try starting with an oz. for a six oz. serving. maybe the slightest bit of salt. I'm pretty certain i didn't add additional sugar when I made it. Good luck.
My favorite quick method uses Ghirardelli's ground chocolate. You can usually find it at Whole Foods. The product is sweetened ground chocolate so all you need to do is mix it with milk and a pinch of cinnamon over heat. I've also used it in combination with strong coffee and milk to make a very simple mocha. If you want to make a full fleged mocha coffee drink, there's a recipe on the web site:
Mayordomo from Oaxaca is the absolute best for this; Ibarra does not compare.
They do not ship out of Mexico but you can find places online that will ship for you. Used for hot chocolate with water as well as with milk in Oaxaca. Both are fantastic.
As for American chocolate, my pick is Scharffen Berger.
Use a good semi or bittersweet chocolate...the brand depends on your preference. Here is my recipe to make 4 cups.
2 cups whole milk
1 cup water
2 1/2 TB unsweetened cocoa (use a good brand, not Hershey)
7 oz semi or bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
1/4 tsp vanilla extract or to your taste
Bring the milk, water and cocoa slowly to a boil, whisking to dissolve the cocao. Immediately add the chopped chocolate and turn heat down to a simmer. Heat and stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Add the vanilla extract. Strain if you like.
Hot chocolate is best when it is allow to sit for a few hours for the flavor to develope. The texture will also be smoother. I've made a large batch and refrigerate to use within a couple of days. Reheat over low heat.