"Hot Chocolate" by Michael Turback

Pros: Exquisite; easy; delicious; unusual; adventurous; nifty informational tidbits; beautiful photos
Cons: FATTENING; too adventuresome for some
Rating: 5 out of 5

First posted 12/7/2005
Review copy courtesy of Ten Speed Press

When I heard about Michael Turback’s “Hot Chocolate” cookbook, I knew I just had to try it and review it. I can drink Swiss Miss Cocoa, but I really prefer to make things more interesting. And other than a few brief forays into the realm of hot chocolate versus cocoa (using real chocolate, which has cocoa butter in it, as opposed to cocoa powder), I’ve mostly stuck to adding a few spices or a spoonful of liqueur to Ghirardelli or Trader Joe’s cocoa. I was definitely ready to find new and different ways to make hot chocolate, and this book delivered on that promise in spades.

Format

This is a fairly small and unassuming cookbook, but it has an elegant flair to it. It includes notes on ingredients, tools, and techniques, including hints for blending the flavors and creating a creamy cup of hot chocolate. One of the problems I’ve had with hot chocolate in the past is that unlike cocoa, chocolate doesn’t always dissolve as thoroughly or easily. However, with the techniques in this book it works beautifully. I’ve never had hot chocolate that was so smooth and delectable.

Many chocolate-related quotes are included in sidebars, often from literary or historical figures, and for a food item that has become so ubiquitous now, it’s fascinating to see the importance that was placed on it in times past. I admit, I’m very happy that my mother, who is from Holland originally, instilled in me a great love of what I consider to be “real” chocolate–bittersweet, dark chocolate, and the like, rather than the cheap “candy bar” milk chocolate you’ll find by the cash registers in most American supermarkets.

The recipes themselves start off with a bit of text discussing a recipe’s origins and history, or some note about an ingredient in the recipe and its purpose in being paired with chocolate. I love these little tidbits; they certainly lend a greater understanding to the preparation of hot chocolate. Some recipes also come with color photos. These may not be necessary since you don’t need photographic guidance in making them look right, but they add atmosphere and elegance to the book, giving it a cozy feeling.

The Recipes

The recipes are organized in chapters by type of recipe. First you’ll find recipes that reflect the historical origins of chocolate, or “Ancestral Hot Chocolates.” These tend to involve spices, including a “Hellfire Hot Chocolate” that includes both allspice and cayenne!

The next chapter is one of European classics, including a white hot chocolate that is my favorite recipe in this cookbook. In fact, both my husband and I agreed that it was better than any other hot chocolate or cocoa recipe either of us had ever had. Anywhere.

A chapter of modern variations on hot chocolate includes some of the truly adventuresome and odd recipes in this cookbook, such as Tarragon and Black Pepper Hot Chocolate(!) and Bay Leaf-Infused Hot Chocolate. It also includes a few flavors reminiscent of modern candy trends, such as caramel, peppermint or peanut butter.

“Adults Only” hot chocolates include alcohol. My husband and I found that the amount of alcohol included tended to be too much for our taste, but then we’re a bit sensitive to alcohol flavor. Simply adjust to taste as necessary. Certainly the basic flavors of the Hot Chocolate a l’Orange were fantastic.

There’s also a chapter of “nostalgic” recipes, including cold recipes, a Hot Chocolate Eggnog recipe, and even a fondue. The final chapter, one of hot chocolate pairings, presents recipes for various sides to include with hot chocolate. For instance, S’Mores Hot Chocolate with Graham Crackers (and yes, there’s a recipe for homemade graham crackers!).

Overall

The best recipe we tried may have been the white hot chocolate, but the most addictive was, surprisingly, the Hellfire Hot Chocolate. I figured we should try at least one recipe that involved hot spices; it seemed disingenous to review the cookbook without trying the truly odd stuff. I wasn’t sure what I’d think but I kept an open mind. As it turns out, I was totally won over. There’s something incredibly addictive about the combination of bittersweet chocolate and spicy cayenne; according to the cookbook, it has to do with the endorphins released by the ingestion of cayenne. At any rate, I’m hooked.

There are only a few mild concerns one might have regarding this cookbook, I believe. After all, the quality of the recipes seems exquisite. First, many people simply aren’t adventurous enough to try many of the recipes in this cookbook. Second, these are most definitely not lightweight recipes–many of them involve plenty of heavy cream, although you can find a decent selection that at least use whole milk instead; thus, if you’re watching your weight, you may want to save these recipes for rare special occasions. And finally, some of these recipes are so insanely rich that we couldn’t drink them as-is. Let me clarify–this is not a reason to avoid making some of the recipes; it didn’t render them inedible. It simply turned them into what we preferred to think of as hot chocolate concentrate. Add a bit of hot milk and a touch of extra sugar and you’re ready to go. Some of these recipes call for one cup of dairy to 4 oz of bittersweet chocolate for one serving of hot chocolate, and even a couple of sips was almost enough to lay me out flat. Wow.

Hellfire Mocha

As much as I adore the Hellfire Hot Chocolate, and although the cayenne did neutralize some of the overwhelming richness of the drink, I still needed to dilute it. So here’s my recipe for my new favorite mocha drink:

In a mug, mix together one part coffee concentrate, two parts Hellfire Hot Chocolate, and one part milk. Microwave until hot and add sugar to taste. Enjoy! In fact, my mug is empty. Time to go make more.

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