Here in Southern California, fall pretty much passed us by this year, and it was starting to look like winter might also be a no-show. I’ve been wearing a short-sleeved t-shirt on my nightly walk for the past couple of months, and the closest I’ve come to snow was getting caught in the fabricated flurries at Disneyland. While those being bomb-ed with frigid temps and icy conditions in the east might be envious of this mild weather, I look forward to our brief cold season each year with excited anticipation and have been impatiently waiting for months to sit wrapped in a fleecy blanket while sipping (and reading) something steamy.
Well, steel yourself, because winter has finally arrived! This week brought cooler temperatures to SoCal and the first big rainstorm of the season. To celebrate, I made a beeline for a book, a blanket, and a batch of my favorite cold weather treat: Castillian* hot chocolate.
Several years ago, Kirsti and I went to Barcelona, where we enjoyed a traditional Spanish breakfast of chocolate caliente con churros as we sat at an outdoor cafe on La Rambla. ¡Delicioso! This ain’t your mama’s hot cocoa, unless your mamá can trace her ancestors back to the historic Castile region of central Spain. The secret is the addition of cornstarch, which thickens the mixture to an almost pudding-like consistency, giving it a decadent richness and a smooth, glossy sheen.
I have been making Castillian hot chocolate for years and it is foolproof. I don’t remember where I found the simple recipe, but it seems to have come from The Vegetarian Epicure (Book Two), so I must give credit where credit is due. Pop a handful of frozen churros in the oven when you get started and they’ll be ready for dunking by the time your hot chocolate has simmered to perfection.
It appears that this cold snap will be gone in a flash, so before Mother Nature takes the starch out of winter, put some starch in the water and you’ll be on your way to a cup of hot chocolate that is sure to steal—and warm—your heart.
Stuff Worthy Of Our Notice™ in this post:
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. cornstarch
½ cup water
1 quart (4 cups) milk†
1 tsp. cinnamon, vanilla, or espresso powder (optional)
Sift the cocoa and sugar together into a medium-sized saucepan. Dissolve the cornstarch in the water, and stir into the cocoa and sugar until it is a smooth paste. Begin heating the mixture, stirring it with a whisk, and gradually pour in the milk. Add cinnamon, vanilla, or espresso powder, if using. Continue stirring with the whisk as you bring the liquid to a simmer. Allow the chocolate to simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring often, until it is thick, glossy, and completely smooth. Pour steaming hot into coffee mugs. Serves six.
*The alternate spelling of Castilian is also common.
†You can veganize this recipe by using non-dairy milk, such as soy, almond, or coconut (if using canned coconut milk, dilute first with double the amount of water—i.e. 1⅓ cups of canned coconut milk + 2⅔ cups water = 4 cups of milk).