“When they see the chocolate pot their eyes light up. You just can’t help it when chocolate is involved!”
It’s that time of year where winter is in full swing and staying in your pjs all day doesn’t sound like too bad an idea! The days are dark and blustery and all you’re really craving is a little tender loving care. The ultimate comfort for me during this difficult time? A deliciously creamy, steaming mug of hot chocolate, or as a I like to call it, comfort in a cup!
I’d happily sip on hot chocolate throughout the year but when the temperature drops, sourcing a big mug of hot molten chocolate is without doubt, absolutely essential. Cold outside? By god yes, and so I say let’s embrace it! Let’s light the fire, snuggle up on the couch and start the Netflix binge. You will soon come to find that hot chocolate is the perfect drinkable companion.
The life of a chocoholic
What is it about this glorious mug of chocolate that soothes the soul? Valerie of Chocolat Chocolat paints that perfect picture. Valerie Carbon was born and raised in Marseille in Southern France where chocolate was a wonderfully permanent fixture. Every Friday she would arrive home from school where a chocolate mousse or chocolate sponge cake would await her. A true chocoholic, Valerie would ask her Mum to make le chocolate chaud (hot chocolate) as a tea time accompaniment and in typical French fashion it would be made from scratch. Mother and daughter would stand hip to hip, hand on hand in the kitchen, and would stir the mixture of chocolate shavings and whole milk in a big copper saucepan with a wooden spoon. Forget the powders and the mixes, French hot chocolate is the real deal! Creamy, rich and utterly magnificent!
Years later Valerie moved to Dublin where she met her husband. Here she was keen to discover the city’s chocolate scene. “I love chocolate but I just couldn’t find hot chocolate like the one back home”. Café mixtures were too sweet with a lack of chocolate intensity, and store-bought alternatives were no better. Valerie worked in the restaurant industry for eleven years but wanted a change. When she told people that she wanted to sell hot chocolate people asked her if she was crazy, but that did not stop her! Valerie sourced her copper lined pots in Normandy and drove from Dublin and back to collect them along with her other paraphernalia. She began recipe testing for the perfect hot tonic.
“For good hot chocolate you need good chocolate” and that is why her three key ingredients are organic, unrefined and the highest quality. Valerie set up her first stall with only her pots and her chocolate in Macreddin village in Wicklow and was told that her customers would only be women and children. “As life would have it, my very first customer was a man, and he was completely taken by the experience and taste!” Two years later and Valerie continues to sell her luxuriously decadent old-fashioned French hot chocolate to the public.
Instant hot chocolate is adequate, perhaps pleasing to some people. That is until they take a sip of the good stuff. We’re talking old-fashioned homemade hot chocolate. Now this hot chocolate is not for the casual chocolatier or the chocolate shy. It is high quality stuff consisting of whole milk (for the love of god don’t use skimmed!), 60% + single origin dark chocolate and organic, unrefined brown sugar that delivers serious chocolate intensity and creamy indulgence with every mouthful. An additional ingredient is welcome but any more than that and it’s blasphemy! “Don’t use additives or preservatives. It’s all about what you can find at home!”
French old-fashioned hot chocolate
- Regular – creamy, silky texture and rich intensity that glides down your throat like a velvet river. Don’t hesitate with the dark chocolate, those bittersweet tones are deliciously rounded out by the sugar.
- marshmallow – melt in the mouth sweetness but not overly so. It’s that oozing gooey consistency we all know and love!
- dash of rum – adds a hint of warm without hogging the limelight. Warms the belly and the soul and is my go-to cup!
- Chocolate covered almonds – think semi-sweet dark chocolate with a crunch
- Chocolate pieces with candied fruit – dark chocolate with a touch of sweetness
- Peanut butter brittle – who doesn’t love a good nut butter these days!
I think we can all agree that when it comes to chocolate we Irish don’t mess around. We have a serious, borderline weird attachment to chocolate. (Don’t believe me? Give a toddler a chocolate bar and see what happens!) Valeries’ favourite part is seeing our reaction. “ People wander around the market as normal but when they approach the chocolate pot their eyes light up. You just can’t help it when chocolate is involved!”
Valerie trades at Kilruddery Farmers Market on Saturdays and Sundays during the Christmas season (you’ve just missed her!) as well as in the Spring coming up to Easter. Visit @FrenchHotChoc on Twitter for more information.
**Food for thought
- The Mayans in Mexico were the first to drink chocolate approximately 2,000 years ago. They drank it cold and spicy, mixing ground cocoa seeds with water, chilli peppers and cornmeal. There was no sweetness, as sugar had not come to America yet!
- In the 1500s, the Spanish aristocracy added sugar to the drink (removed the chillis!) and served it hot
- Hot chocolate is a natural antidepressant contains more antioxidants than wine and tea! (Hooray!)
- During the American Revolution it was used to treat fever, liver and stomach disease
- People enjoy hot chocolate differently around the world:
- Mainland Europe (primarily Spain and Italy) – it is so thick and rich you can eat it with a spoon, almost like hot pudding!
- France – it is served alongside white sliced bread with jam or Nutella
- Peru – served with panettone sweet bread at breakfast on Christmas day
- Mexico – a warm, rich and thick drink containing cinnamon, spicy chilli powder and nut meg. A perfect excuse to sample hot chocolate everywhere we go!