The summer before my senior year of college I did this crazy thing where I commuted from Philly to NYC for an internship, Monday through Thursday, for 10 weeks. Also, even though it was the hottest summer of my entire life, I did this other crazy thing where I had hot chocolate every day. Because when you are interning for Penguin Books and there’s a Jacque Torres chocolate shop across the street with a hot chocolate bar, that’s what you do.
But this was not just any hot chocolate. No no no no – it was the “Wicked” Hot Chocolate. When I walked in that first day (into heaven), I decided to get some hot chocolate and asked the girl at the bar for a recommendation. She said the “wicked” was the most popular. I explained that I’m a total wimp and steer clear of spicy things, but she encouraged me to try a sample, “just in case.” DING DING DING. I drank Wicked Hot Chocolate every day that summer.
If you’re ever in NYC and have the opportunity, you MUST try this hot chocolate. For me, it borders on the line of being too spicy, but never quite crosses it. I suppose the chocolate and the fat in the drink must mellow out the spice just enough for me to be able to bear it. It was unlike any other hot chocolate I’d ever had in my sheltered life. They also serve frozen hot chocolates, but I drank those too quickly and would end up with a serious sugar rush, so I stuck with the hot chocolate … even though it was 100 degrees outside.
My internship at Penguin was a major player in fostering my love of cookbooks. Employees received a 75% off discount in the employee bookstore … which resulted in me spending most of my paycheck on books (because I would never have this opportunity again!!!!!), and therefore also resulted in me having to ship boxes of books home to myself because I couldn’t carry them all home on the bus with me. Womp woooomp. Best summer ever! No, really – it was awesome.
I got a lot of reading done that summer, mostly because my Megabus was usually 30-45 minutes late. I spent many an hour standing in line for the bus while reading a book. As soon as I discovered I could read on the highway while sitting on the top level of the Megabus without getting carsick, I got even more reading done. There were also those random days where we sat in traffic for 30 minutes or more, just waiting to get to the Lincoln Tunnel. So, yeah – LOTS of reading time.
I read a lot of novels, but I also started buying cookbooks. I remember the day I bought The Modern Baker; I spent the whole bus ride home just poring over that gorgeous book, taking in the graphic design and lovely photos of cookies, cinnamon buns and cake. I was in love. As one of my early cookbooks, I baked out of it a lot. During senior year I made multiple batches of the gingersnaps from it (The BEST gingersnaps!), sometimes at 10 pm on a Saturday night, “just because.” And then I would eat half of them before bed. It also has my favorite brownie recipe I’ve ever made, which is really more like fudge disguised as a brownie. To this day, it is one of my favorite cookbooks.
This hot chocolate recipe is one of the first recipes I ever developed on my own. It almost acts as a little bookmark at the beginning of my journey with food, and I love it for that. I have tinkered with it quite a few times, taking diligent notes in my little notebook of recipes that my good friend Jackie gave me for Christmas in college.
This recipe was really born out of necessity. At the end of that summer, when I was used to my daily dose of Wicked Hot Chocolate, I started to panic. How would I feed this habit for the rest of my life? No worries – Jacques Torres came to the rescue with his hot chocolate mix. I bought one of his tins of Wicked Hot Chocolate mix to satisfy my cravings for the next few months. (For a hot chocolate mix, I highly recommend it. I was making it with skim milk back in college, and it was still insanely delicious and just as I remembered it.) But then the tin ran out, and I decided to try my hand at a homemade version. So this is it!
This hot chocolate is not for the faint of heart, so consider yourself warned. A little bit goes a long way. I hope you love it as much as I do.
Some notes from me:
• If you don’t have a cinnamon stick, just add a little bit of ground cinnamon with the other spices.
• This gets thicker as you have it on the heat longer. While we were photographing this, we had it on the heat for a little longer than normal – as you can see, it became quite thick. But I like it like that.
• I think this is best with whole milk, but use whatever kind of milk you prefer. I’m sure it would be great with almond milk, and coconut milk might be crazy delicious.
• I find it difficult to make a single serving of this without accidentally making it too spicy for me. If you want to try it, just cut this whole recipe in half. No biggie. Just be careful with that chipotle chili powder!
- 1.5 cups whole milk
- 1 3-inch cinnamon stick
- 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- pinch sea salt
- 1/8 tsp. allspice
- SMALL PINCH chipotle chili powder
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- dash maple syrup (optional)
- whipped cream (optional)
- In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, warm up the milk with the cinnamon stick, stirring occasionally.
- Once the milk has warmed (little bubbles should form by the edges of the pan and you should see steam), add in the cocoa powder and sugar. Whisk until dissolved.
- Stir in the salt, allspice and chipotle powder. Stir in the vanilla extract.
- At this point, taste it and adjust seasonings as necessary. If you want it sweeter, add a dash of maple syrup. If you want more spice, add another pinch of chipotle powder.
- When it is to your liking, take it off the heat and discard the cinnamon stick. Pour through a fine mesh strainer into cups and top with whipped cream. Put on your favorite sweatpants and enjoy.