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Most Excellent Hot Chocolate

This year, a national coffee chain came out with a rich, dark hot chocolate drink that has become a best seller. Pricey as their other offerings, served in tiny cups and called "Chantico", it is steamed at the cappucino machine.

Made with cocoa butter and whole milk, it's no diet drink: A 6-ounce cup has 390 calories, half of them from the 21 grams of fat and most of the rest from the 51 grams of carbohydrate, mostly sugars. It has more fat than most candy bars and more calories than many.

"Chantico" is shipped in powder form to the stores, where it is mixed with whole milk to form a thick syrup. This syrup is refrigerated until ordered and then heated using the steamer wand.

Chantico can't be duplicated using cocoa mixes. A hot cocoa mix is made with cocoa powder, not chocolate. It usually contains sugar, powdered nonfat milk, vanilla, soy lecithin, and a number of other ingredients, including starch. To get a good copy of this drink, you need to make a real hot chocolate or drinking chocolate, that contains actual chocolate. Because chocolate contains more cocoa butter than cocoa powder, drinking chocolate is normally richer and may be thicker than hot cocoa. Drinking chocolate may also contain sugar, soy lecithin, starch, and even cocoa powder, among other ingredients. Of course, the best thing about making this at home, besides the savings and convenience, is that you can stir in the sweetest ingredient; genuine love for whomever drinks this concoction (you are just as valid a recipient of your own love as anyone else). If you liked Chantico, you'll be glad you found:

le chocolat chaud a l'ancienne
(old-fashioned hot chocolate)

3 7-ounce servings

1 1/4 C whole milk OR 1 cup evaporated milk plus 1/4 cup heavy cream
2 teaspoons cornstarch
pinch kosher salt (don't omit- see comment below)
1 to 5 oounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate such as Valrhona or Ghirardelli.
(if using 3-9 tablespoons cocoa powder, see note below and add 1-3 tablespoons unsalted butter)
1 teaspoon vanilla
pinch of cinnamon, chili powder or cayenne for mystery
sweetener: up to 1/4 cup golden syrup (you could use light corn syrup) OR superfine sugar (not confectioners)
OPTIONAL 1 to 2 teaspoons of a sweet liqueur (such as dark rum or Grand Marnier), adding it with the vanilla
OR OPTIONAL 2 tablespoons ginger syrup
OPTIONAL Unsweetened or lightly sweetened whipped cream as a garnish

In bowl of food processor fitted with steel blade, combine both chocolates, sugar, and salt. Cover; process at high speed just until chocolates are finely ground. Set aside near stovetop.
In a one-quart, heavy-bottomed, nonaluminum saucepan, heat milk over low heat, stirring often with small whisk, until it is steaming hot. Carefully add chopped chocolate mixture (donít let the hot milk splash you as you do this!).
Continue cooking mixture over low heat, stirring almost constantly with whisk and scraping bottom and sides of pot with rubber spatula frequently. Mixture will steam for several minutes before coming to a boil, and as temperature increases it will thicken slightly. When mixture achieves a boil, continue cooking and stirring for just 30 to 45 seconds.
Remove from heat; whisk in vanilla and any optional ingredients. Divide among small mugs, top with light whipped cream, and serve immediately. Whipped cream isnít mandatory as a garnish, but it actually cuts the richness and adds to the elegance. If you use a lightly sweetened whipped you will probably want to reduce the sugar or other sweetener in the drink.
If you have leftovers, cool briefly, then chill, covering tightly when cold. This will last for a day or three in the fridge. To reheat, make sure your mug is microwaveable. Heat in microwave at 50% (medium) power for short intervals, stirring well after each, just until mixture is very hot.
Try to use top-quality chocolate. If you can only get grocery store cocoa powder, it won't be quite as yummy; get Schwarzenberger's, Hershey's or Droste and add the butter.
Note: If using cocoa powder, muddle all ingredients together with a little milk, just enough to make a smooth paste, using the back of a spoon to rub the wet ingredients into the dry ones. Add a cup of milk very slowly to the paste, beating constantly to incorporate. Taste. You may want to add more milk, or any of the other ingredients to taste at this point. When you've got it right, put on the stove at low heat until it's as hot as you want it. Whisk briskly while heating and before pouring. Add a liberal dollop of whipped cream, if desired.

Comments about this recipe: Yes, you really do use up to 2 ounces of chocolate in a 7 ounce serving. The cornstarch is important. It does thicken the drink slightly, but there's more. Starch is an emulsifier which keeps the cocoa butter (which is a fat) from separating and rising, preventing that dark skin on top. With this small amount, most of the skin is prevented, but more makes the drink too thick. Also, donít omit the salt here. You use a tiny quantity, but without it the drink will taste flat.