Wednesday, December 6, 2017

The Scarlet Pimpernel with Proper Hot Chocolate

I really wanted to include this hot chocolate recipe because it's fantastic (and a handy way to use up some excess double cream and dark chocolate) and not all good drinks are alcohol based, but what book does it make me think of specifically?

I could have cheated, it is after all the Chocolatl recipe from Kate Young's brilliant 'The Little Library Cookbook'* and her inspiration is Philip Pullman's 'Northern Lights', for which she wanted something 'so warm and rich and comforting that you'd willingly follow a strange woman and her very sinister monkey' for it. Well she nails it with this. It also makes me think of 'The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe', and the other direction that hot chocolate sends me in is the eighteenth century.

Proper eighteenth century hot chocolate seems to have been rather more elaborate though, doesn't have cream in it, and uses water (I'm curious about the latter because normally water makes chocolate seize, I want to see how it works), so this version isn't really authentic. This would normally be the point where I roll out Georgette Heyer because her eighteenth century isn't entirely authentic either - but it is exceptionally well researched, and I think she'd insist on the real thing.

'The Scarlet Pimpernel' is another matter, this was my favourite book when I was about 11, (I read it so many times I must have almost memorised it) and I'm very excited that Oxford World's Classics are reprinting it (January 11th according to amazon), when I will be rereading it. It's the perfect combination of comfort reading and high adventure to suit a dreich winters day, and hot chocolate isn't going to hurt in that scenario.

This takes about the same amount of time you need to tidy a kitchen before sitting down to an afternoon with a good book... For 1 person you need 150mls of milk, 40mls of double cream and some flavourings. Young uses a cinnamon stick, a couple of cardamom pods, and a bay leaf. I prefer powdered cinnamon, and have used nutmeg and orange zest as well. Star anise, long pepper, chilli, and mace would all be in the 18th century mood. Rosemary or myrtle would be good in the chocolate, you might want to use vanilla, or ginger, or allspice... the list could go on and on, choose some flavours, not to many, that work well together and add them to the milk and cream, and heat gently.

Bring almost to the boil, and then remove from the heat and allow to cool for a minute. Break 40g of dark chocolate (darker the better really) into the pan and set aside to melt undisturbed for 10 minutes. Now whisk vigorously (this is the important bit that's so often not mentioned) until everything comes together. Add a pinch of salt (go easy on the salt) and soft brown sugar to taste. Gently reheat with a bit more stirring, the end result should have thickened slightly into a decadent creamy, velvety, bit of heaven.

The Little Library Cookbook is really worth a look if you haven't already seen it, and would be the perfect present for anyone who likes food and fiction in equal measures. It's imaginative and charming with some great stuff in it.


  1. This is basically ganache, but the drinkable version. Which is not a bad thing. I'm sure it puts American hot chocolate to shame.

    1. Essentially yes, a ganache let down with milk. It puts any other hot chocolate I've ever had to shame and is a splendid treat. Certainly better than anything made with powdered drinking chocolate or thickened with corn flour.