Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Spiced Chocolate

I had trouble trying to decide what to write about for this entry. It's not that I don't have a lot to say, or that I don't have enough recipes I want to try. It's quite the opposite in fact, and therein lies my problem. Where do I start?

I was contemplating this dilemma at work yesterday when my manager, Jenn, offered me a chocolate chili cookie. One bite and I had my inspiration. Spicy chocolate. It was rich and chocolatey, with a hint of cinnamon hitting the front of my mouth first, subtle, almost not there. Then came the heat, gently biting the back of my tongue, dancing up the back of my throat. I groaned appreciatively and told her I was in love.

This was not the first time I've had chili in chocolate. In fact it's one of my favourite ways to eat chocolate. I love that you can't taste it initially. That the chocolate hits your palate first, rich and dark, slightly bitter. You don't notice the heat until after you swallow, and then it shows up slowly, prickling your tongue. And I love that the heat lingers after you've finished eating it. It hangs around in your mouth, reminding you of the delicious confection you've just eaten, begging for more. The Mayans certainly knew what they were doing when they spiced, rather than sweetened their chocolate.

Putting chili in chocolate is much more common than it used to be, which is wonderful because it means that it's now easier to find. Often it will be called Mexican chocolate. Due to the previous rarity of spiced chocolate my first experience with it was something that I made myself.

I had some friends over for a French inspired dinner and was flipping through Joanne Harris's cookbook The French Kitchen. For those who don't know, she also wrote Chocolat, which was later turned into a film. I eventually landed on a recipe for Vianne's Spiced Hot Chocolate, and though it's not really French, I decided to serve it instead of coffee at the end of the meal. I fell in love the moment it touched my lips. It was warm, and rich, and spicy. Hot chocolate for grown-ups, I decided. I don't think my friend Brianna was quite as enamored with it as I was. In any case, I will now never turn down spiced chocolate. Ever. It's too delicious. Too divine. Too utterly seductive to pass up.

On that note, here's Joanne Harris's recipe:

Vianne's Spiced Hot Chocolate
(Serves 2)

1 2/3 cups of milk
1/2 vanilla bean, cut in half lengthwise
1/2 cinnamon stick
1 hot red chili, halved and seeded
3 1/2 oz bittersweet (70%) chocolate, grated
Brown sugar to taste (optional)

1. In a saucepan combine milk, vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, and chili. Bring to a simmer for one minute.
2. Whisk in chocolate until it melts.
3. Add brown sugar if desired. (Joanne Harris implores you to please try it without, and so do I)
4. Remove from heat and allow to infuse for 10 minutes, then remove vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, and chili.
5. Return to heat, bring back to a simmer. Then serve topped with whipped cream and chocolate curls, or simply on its own.

I know this is really more of a wintry drink, but do try it. It's so good. My mind seems to be on winter recipes right now. First brandy snaps and now this. I promise my next one will be in season. Something fresh, crisp and light, and full of promise for a relaxing, breezy summer ahead.

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