Hot Chocolate European StyleDecember 10, 2010
I was in Barcelona for a few days and it was chilly so I had ample opportunity to try the hot chocolate. All over Europe hot chocolate is really good but I think the Spaniards make it the best. Perhaps it because I was in Spain but the balance seems just right.
French hot chocolate, of which Angelina’s in Paris is the gold standard from which all others are compared, is like chocolate ganache with just enough milk to make it slide out of a cup without a spoon. It’s served in small demitasse cups. It does taste amazing but after you have licked the cup clean, you get a huge chocolate rush and you wish you left a little bit in the bottom of the cup. If you are having it first thing in the morning it pushes you over the edge and you need a croissant or a croquet monsieur to counteract the chocolate high. Hard to believe but it can be too much of a good thing.
Most Italian hot chocolate is made with cocoa powder, sugar, and a thickener like cornstarch. The bitter edge of the cocoa powder doesn’t make it too rich and the cornstarch makes it thick like French hot chocolate. Although it may sound strange you can’t taste the cornstarch. Think drinkable chocolate pudding. It is delicious but I want a little more depth of flavor.
Le Pain Quotidien in Belgium serves their hot chocolate in a unique way. When you order a hot chocolate, there or at their locations around the world, you get a small metal pitcher of warm chocolate ganache and a bigger pitcher of steamed milk. You get to mix it to the strength you like it.
Spanish hot chocolate takes ingredients from both French and Italian versions. It uses chocolate like the French but also relies on cornstarch as a thickener like the Italians.
I had hot chocolate at several places. In Barcelona, hot chocolate is served in a machine that keeps it warm and constantly moving so it doesn’t separate. My top three favorites are: La Granja, in the old town section of town on Carrer del Banys Nous; Mauri, the well known pastry shop on La Rambla de Catalyuna; and Cacao Sampaka, owned by Pastry chef Albert Adrià.
Cacao Sampaka, located on Carrer del Consell de Sent, offers two hot chocolates- one with 70% cacao and cinnamon and another 80% with spices. These are sophisticated tastes, great for a mid afternoon snack but the spices were hard to detect. They also have an amazing array of different kinds of chocolate. It is Mecca for chocoholics.
Hot chocolate from Europe could easily pass as a liquid dessert. Unlike the watered down overly sweet American version, you don’t even want the marshmallows or the whipped cream.