Note: We like to toast and grind our own dried chile peppers for better flavor, but you can certainly just use your favorite chili powder or your own combination of dried chiles.
We've finally had our first "rain event" in Portland since moving here. We're all thinking about raincoats and galoshes and umbrellas and steeling ourselves for the months ahead. I also completely forgot that my winter clothes were in storage until just now.
Granted, this will be my first rainy season here, so I should probably bite my tongue, but if a long, wet winter is what I have to endure to enjoy Oregon's beauty and bounty, so be it. I'm something of an equal opportunity weather-lover. I have enough summer sunshine stored up for a while and am ready for a bit of "weather."
Besides, I've had my summer fun. I've been to the beach on several occasions. I've been hiking and kayaking and swimming in the river. I've eaten a little ice cream and had my share of tomatoes. In short, I have nothing to complain about. Bring on the butternut squash!
But first, let's talk about hot chocolate. If you've ever been to the Pacific Northwest during the rainy season, you understand why coffee is such a big deal here. When it's cold and wet, nothing will warm you up except a hot drink. And I love nothing so much as a piping hot cup of black coffee, but as one of those unfortunate souls who can't have caffeine after 4 p.m. if I want to sleep, I need an alternate strategy.
Usually, this means tea, but sometimes it means hot chocolate. Let's talk about the difference between hot chocolate and hot cocoa. Hot cocoa is delicious if prepared well, but it's still just cocoa powder and sugar dissolved in milk. Put a marshmallow on top of that if you want, but it can only get so good. Hot chocolate, however, is an entirely different approach.
Hot chocolate relies upon chocolate. I know, it's stating the obvious, but if you use high-quality chocolate you can have something really magnificent on your hands. But let's go a step further. Rather than melting the chocolate into hot milk, what if you made a thick chocolate sauce with chocolate and cream that you then incorporated into hot milk. Game: changed.
Ganache means "fool" in French. Presumably, some hapless cook spilled hot cream into a bowl of chocolate and was yelled at by an angry chef. If you've ever worked in a restaurant kitchen, you know how scary this can be. But the awesome thing about this story is that the "fool" created one of the greatest and simplest confections known to pastrydom.
Ganache is almost miraculous in its ratio of effort to usefulness. In a few minutes, you can make ganache with no more effort than it takes to boil cream and chop some chocolate. Then, you can use that ganache to make a wide variety of delicious things--truffles, frosting, glazes, sauces, mousse, fudge, fondue, ice cream, and yes--hot chocolate.
If you have ganache in your repertoire, you immediately have an easy and impressive tool for making all kinds of rich and tasty pastries and desserts. So this post is technically about hot chocolate. But it's also about ganache, which will open up all kinds of doors for you. You're welcome.
Other articles you might enjoy: Chocolate Ganache Tart With Press-In Shortbread Crust, Dark Chocolate Truffles With Liqueur, Masala Chai
Note: For those of you who are vegan or avoiding dairy, you can easily make this with a minor alteration. Simply use 1/2 cup of your favorite nondairy milk (I prefer full-fat coconut milk) and 8 ounces bittersweet chocolate.
Bring to a rolling boil in a medium heavy saucepan:
1 cup heavy cream
Immediately remove from the heat, and pour over:
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
Stir with a rubber spatula until very smooth and glossy. Let cool to room temperature, cover, and refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. The ganache will harden in the refrigerator, but it will still be scoopable. To liquefy the ganache (in case you decide you want to ice a cake with it or something), simply place it in the top of a double boiler over simmering water until it melts.
Quick Hot Chocolate
Note: For a thick and very rich drinking chocolate similar to something you might find at an upscale French tea room, use only 1/4 cup milk. For a still rich but less sweet hot chocolate, use the full amount of milk.
Stir together in a small saucepan or microwave bowl:
1/4 cup ganache, above
1 cup milk or milk substitute, water, or coffee
Heat over low heat, or in a microwave on high for 30 to 45 seconds, until warm but not boiling. Stir in:
1/8 teaspoon vanilla, or 1/2 teaspoon Kahlúa or 1/2 teaspoon Grand Marnier
Ground nutmeg or cinnamon