I’ve never really gotten over it. I traveled to Spain for the first time when I was sixteen years old and it spoiled me for life—the beaches, the melon con jamón, the dancing until daybreak. And the hot chocolate. Thick, rich chocolate…that you drink for breakfast. (If you’re lucky, with a plate of churros—Spain’s superlative answer to the donut—on the side.)
I’m not a big complainer (ok, my husband may beg to differ), but there is something lamentable about the state of hot chocolate in America. Even if you’ve never sipped chocolate near Madrid’s Plaza del Sol, you probably know what I’m talking about. It’s too sweet, too watery, and it doesn’t actually taste like chocolate. (Let's be honest: A huge cup of something that tastes like a stale cheap chocolate bar is just not a good thing.)
I did have truly good hot chocolate in a U.S. café last year, however. I was living in Durham, North Carolina and popped into Cocoa Cinnamon, a shoebox of a joint specializing in “drinking chocolate”—their version of Spanish chocolate. I drank a deliriously good (and remarkably tiny) cup of dense single-origin Kallari chocolate from Ecuador. I think I was floating two feet off the ground from the sheer pleasure of it all—not to mention the caffeine—when I left.
If you can’t make it to Cocoa Cinnamon (or fly to Madrid), your best option may be to make your own. My recipe for Spicy Hot Chocolate with Whipped Cream is not quite as thick as the traditional Spanish chocolate (which is typically made with corn starch). I’ve added chili and spices for a Mesoamerican twist, which give this drinking chocolate a nice kick. If you want to make yours extra decadent, try using half-and-half, as they do at Cocoa Cinnamon, in place of the whole milk.
This recipe makes two small servings—just enough to indulge, but not enough to make you regret it. Sip it slowly for breakfast or enjoy as an after dinner treat. If you make this for Valentine’s Day for your sweetie, they might never get over you.
In a medium saucepan, melt the chocolate over medium-low heat, stirring frequently. Whisk in the milk. Bring just to a low simmer, continuing to whisk as the chocolate heats. Do not boil. Add chili, salt, cinnamon, vanilla and orange zest or extract. Taste and add more chili or other seasonings as desired. Top with freshly whipped cream. Sprinkle cream with more chipotle chili.
If you're going to make a good cup of chocolate, you need to start with chocolate good enough to eat on its own. A top-quality grocery brand like Lindt will work fine or use your favorite artisan chocolate for something really special. (I recommend trying one of the excellent craft chocolate bars from Violet Sky, Askinosie, Kallari or Dandelion Chocolate.)