(photo courtesy of jujubabies.com)
As a kid, I wasn’t into chocolate. I know; blasphemy, right? What kid doesn’t love chocolate? Well, this one for starters.
Chocolate was my father’s purview and he wasn’t picky in its form or nature. Hot chocolate, syrup over chocolate ice cream (an almost nightly occurrence), a large bar (always a LARGE bar) whenever someone gifted it (usually at Christmas). Mars Bars and Milky Ways. M&Ms and Snickers. With or without nuts or raisins or anything else you might add. You name it; as long as it was chocolate (except white chocolate, which he despised), he’d eat it.
My mother was definitely not a chocolate fan. In fact, other than peanut M&Ms and Fanny Farmer’s Turtles, I don’t think she ever ate the stuff. Unlike my dad, she was a connoisseur of English toffee, caramels, and Planters Peanut Bars.
As for me, I possessed an enormous candy drawer for a kid with little interest in it. Though the drawer was considered mine (except for the year that the black ants invaded, then it was definitely theirs — erg), it was really anyone’s drawer. At any given time it contained a tumbled mixture of licorice, all flavors of Pez (and several character dispensers that would probably be worth some money nowadays), lemon drops, and the detritus of whatever holiday had most recently passed.
If it was Easter, my chocolate bunny took up residence in the freezer where Dad could break off pieces whenever the mood struck him (i.e., every time he passed the fridge). He got the jelly beans, too, because I couldn’t stand the sugary grating against my teeth, I was content with the foil-wrapped chocolate eggs and mottled malted milk eggs. The horrid, flourescent yellow marshmallow chicks always ended up in the bottom of my toy box where they hardened into a frighteningly mold-free, rock-like substance which could then be used in games of pretend.
Halloween brought an enormous cache which I upended onto the living room rug and doled out to my parents. To me came a few random candy bars and the apples and cookies (this was back when it was safe to have neighbors give out homemade goodies). Dad laid claim to everything chocolate. Mom took the Necco wafers and Mary Janes. The loose and scattered handfuls of candy corn sat unmolested for weeks until, having turned into hardened, diseased-looking gigantic fingernails, they were dumped into the trash.
At Christmas, I eschewed the chocolate or peanut butter fudge, the five-pound Hershey bar, and the popcorn balls thick with molasses in favor of peppermint canes and spearmint, rooting through the glass dish of hard, jewel-like candies for my favorite flavors.
So what brought about my change of heart toward chocolate?
I have my friends Lorraine and Phil Spaziani to thank for broadening my gustatory horizons. It was in their kitchen that I first heard the names Ghirardelli and Guittard, Lindt and Ritter and Droste, and savored the pleasure of dark chocolate as it’s meant to be. I learned about dutch process cocoa and the exquisite joy of making homemade hot chocolate from scratch rather than relying on canned syrup or a talcum-y powder dissolved in water. To say I’ve become a zealous convert is the understatement of the year. My desire to explore the world of excellent chocolate — as consumer, as baker — has no horizon. So at this point, I’ve only one question: Knowing his experience with chocolat, do you think I could persuade Johnny Depp to help?
(Photo courtesy of lemurpublishing.com)
Hot Cocoa ala Lorraine Spaziani
1/4 Cup dry cocoa (do yourself a favor and purchase a really high quality cocoa)
1/4 Cup sugar
dash of salt
1/3 Cup hot water
4 Cups whole milk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
In a saucepan, whisk together cocoa, sugar, salt, and hot water. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook for two minutes, stirring constantly. Add milk and stir thoroughly. Heat through, but DO NOT BOIL. Add vanilla and whisk to a froth and serve in mugs with or without whipped cream and/or marshmallows.