Thursday, March 6, 2014

Chocolat Chaud

It is official: I am now sleeping on the couch. Every night, around 2 am, I lug myself from the tortuous confines of our non-padded, "back-friendly" futon, and curl up on the dog-eared 4 foot long IKEA sofa in our living room. It is neither spacious nor glamourous - worsened by the fact I must leave the duvet in bed with my husband, so I am couch-bound with my son's old "CARS" velour blanket as bedding. Anyone wandering into our apartment in the middle of the night would be excused for wondering how a drunken frat boy came to lose consciousness in a Parisian flat - my body contorted into one of those poses only yogis or the heavily intoxicated can attain, the pattern on my husband's accidentally-purchased y-fronts (the only comfortable sleepwear these days) rising and falling in unison with every breath.

I am, however, much more rested since I made the move, which leaves time for me to accomplish things during the day other than grumpy nap-attempts. Hot chocolate excursions, for example, have become a favorite way to pass the time.

The first time I took my son for a proper cup of hot chocolate, he was four and we were having a drink at the Ritz's Hemingway Bar in Paris. We lived in Dublin then, and were visiting friends for Easter weekend. After his first sip, he wrinkled up his nose and informed me he preferred the powdered version his grandmother offered. At 14 euro a cup, I
told him he better learn to love it sighed and hoped his little Irish palette would improve with age.

We now live in Paris and although we no longer frequent the Ritz (it is currently closed for renovations, dammit), I am happy to report that he is a bit of a connoisseur when it comes to the dark stuff. Due to last week's combination of a school holiday and rainy February weather, we set out to sample some of the cocoa the City of Light has on offer.

I read about the hot chocolate bar at Jean-Paul Hevin on The Hip Paris Blog and was keen to test it out. Located on rue Saint-Honor√©, you pass through a modern ground-floor chocolate boutique (and very friendly shop assistants) and head up the flight of stairs to reach "heaven" (sorry.) I have been twice, which I blame entirely on pregnancy hormones and certainly not on conventional greediness. The first time, I tried a pear and vanilla flavored hot chocolate, which was stunningly presented with a fruity spiral coiled through the top of the liquid. I was instructed by the woman who served it to me that stirring is strictement interdit and not wanting to offend, I obliged. The hot chocolate was rich and delicious, but it was frustratingly difficult to detect the flavors of pear and vanilla. Husband had a ginger and orange blend and encountered the same problem.

The second time we went, we all opted for a traditional "chocolat chaud viennois" - the classic drink of melted chocolate and heated cream, topped with whipped chantilly. This, it was unanimously agreed, is the way to go. The artisanal hot chocolate menu is enchanting, but when push comes to shove, it is hard to beat the classics.

Feeling inspired, a few days later we trekked to the heart of hot chocolate houses - Angelina on rue de Rivoli. This is a true grande dame of Parisian decadence - the hustle and bustle of waiters in black bow ties and waitresses in white pinafores, the gilded ceiling, the coiffed bouffants of the ladies-of-a-certain-age, and of course, the famous brew. The pastries here are pretty (and pretty good) but without question, one comes for their timeless chocolat √† l'Africain. We (foolishly) wandered down on a Saturday afternoon and spent 30 minutes queuing outside, like tourists, but once our pots of whipped cream and pitchers of chocolat chaud landed on the marble tabletop, all was forgiven, forgotten.

With the kids back in school, it is more difficult to justify tankards of afternoon hot chocolate (but certainly not impossible.) In the meantime, below is the recipe for an at-home version if you fancy a simple know, if you find yourself en route to the sofa at 2 am and in need of little comfort.

(serves 2)

1/2 liter whole milk
250 g good quality dark chocolate, chopped

optional: orange zest, cinnamon, ginger, whipped cream

1. Gently heat the milk and chocolate, stirring often, until the chocolate is melted
2. Add cinnamon, orange zest, etc as wanted/needed/to taste
3. Serve warm with whipped cream on top