My friends, Paris has spoiled me. I have travelled to one of the chocolate capitals of the world (not counting the other things Paris is good at…) and it has left a deep, dark-brown impression on my soul.
I tasted the real thing almost a year ago, at Angelina’s, a famous tea room near the Louvre. They serve their hot chocolate in a little pitcher, thick almost like molasses, which you can pour into a little cup and mix with whipped cream. Chocolat chaud à l’ancienne, it was called.
Later, I learned that dark chocolate cooked in a bit of cream, served with milk or whipped cream separately, so that you can control the taste and texture of your chocolat, was a thing. That is what chocolat chaud à l’ancienne refers to. And many cafés in Paris do this thing, including Carette, the best tea room in the Trocadero.
I think you can see why hot chocolate has been effectively ruined for me. The only place that came close to the real deal in Canada was from a little neighbourhood boulangerie in Limoilou, an old suburb of Québec City. They make theirs with milk and fairly traded dark chocolate, and probably a bit of sea salt. Barely sweetened, rich and creamy without feeling grainy or overly fattening.
Without having to fly to Paris (or drive to Limoilou), I was lost. Lost, until I read through David Lebovitz’s Sweet Life in Paris memoir-cookbook. David Lebovitz, the American-living-in-Paris-pastry-chef-chocolate-expert, had a recipe for me! Chocolat chaud, Paris style!
The trick to good hot chocolate, according to the David Lebovitz in The Sweet Life, is to use good quality chocolate. Because it really is only three ingredients (chocolate being one of them), the quality “really makes a difference”. In Ottawa, the first place I think of when someone asks me about chocolate, is Stubbes in the Market. I’m quite certain I’ve seen Valrhona (French import) lurking around in organic food stores and Italian grocers. If I don’t have time to veer out of my usual route home from work, I get Lindt, a Swiss chocolate that is readily available in all grocery stores. If you are conscious about fair trade issues, Camino chocolate is quite good quality too. There will soon be a Chocolatier Bernard Callebaut opening up in the Market that I’m quite excited about, because although it’s not directly related to the Swiss powerhouse Barry Callebaut, this Canadian company boasts a Mâitre Chocolatier that taught in the (Swiss) Callebaut academy.
If you would like to know more about chocolate, I would highly recommend hopping over to the master’s Frequently Asked Questions on chocolate (but not before making yourself a cup of chocolat chaud first. It’s the best information you can get without signing up for a class or getting into chocolate tasting workshops.
Here is David Lebovitz’s recipe for chocolat chaud, Paris style. This recipe makes two adult sized servings.
- 2 cups whole or low-fat milk
- 5 ounces or 140g of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
- pinch of coarse salt
140g of chocolate is more than the typical Lindt Excellence bar (the thin one with white packaging that comes in a variety of “darkness” and flavours), so what I do is reduce the milk to about 1.5 cups, and use one single bar of 100g.
Put all of the ingredients in a small saucer (break up the chocolate first). Heat the saucer until boiling, stirring all the while with a small whisk or spoon. Lower the heat to a rolling simmer, keep stirring, for 3 minutes, or up to 5 minutes for a thicker drink. Pour into cups and serve – I like it just like that but you might be inclined to have it with some whipped cream.
I know it looks like a lot of chocolate for 2 servings, be it for two people or saving for later. But please trust me on this one, give this drink a try. Because all the other hot chocolates are just imitating.