It’s Valentine’s Day. Time for the obligatory dark chocolate fix. I have just the thing.
I first encountered European-style hot chocolate on a cold July day in St. Petersburg, towards the end of my summer abroad there. Classes were done for the day, and I was wending my way back through downtown towards the dorms. It was the height of the White Nights, and Nevsky Prospekt was choked with tourists. I ducked down a side street, looking for a quiet spot to kill some time before dinner.
After a little wandering, I came across a rather sterile-looking cafe–obviously part of a chain. The decor was spare and oppressively beige, but it seemed inoffensive enough, and there was a long but briskly moving line of customers. I went in and scanned the menu for something warm and familiar-sounding. Bingo: горячий шоколад. Hot chocolate. I ordered and claimed a seat at the window.
I was expecting a big steaming mug of what we Americans call “hot chocolate,” but is really hot cocoa: light and milky and just the tiniest bit grainy, meant to be consumed in great desperate gulps. Instead, a surly girl in an apron came to my table and plunked down a tiny cup on a tiny saucer with a tiny spoon. In the cup was a thick espresso-colored elixir, quivering like pudding. When I took a sip, the chocolate clung to the rim and to my lips. The flavor was deeper and bolder than any hot cocoa I’d ever had. I sat at the window, lapping chocolate from the side of the cup as slowly as I could, until it was gone. And then I made it my mission to consume as much hot chocolate as possible before the summer ended.
In the years since, I’ve had really good European drinking chocolate only a handful of times, and never cheaply. Recently my friends and I stumbled across a hip new chocolate shop in the Mission district, where I had a barely-espresso-sized cup of drinking chocolate that was perfectly rich, bittersweet and elegant–and cost nearly $6. That spurred me to look for a homemade alternative, and I’m happy to report that European hot chocolate is dead simple to make. All it takes is whole milk, top-quality chocolate (I’m a Scharffen Berger girl, but use whatever you like), and a few focused minutes of whisking. Et voila, a decadent chocolate treat for four–which is especially convenient if, like me, you’re grappling with a Valentine’s Day that snuck up behind you and pounced.