It has rained for the last four days. Weighed down by the incessant drops, fanned by the wind, all the leaves have fallen from the trees. An optimist would view the light sifting through the curtains as pale lavender and instead dull gray. There should be at least some pretense that the day will be different than the 304 that have gone before.
But it is also bone chilling and the pessimist in the bed sinks into the anemic reality that this day will be exactly the same as the previous 304. At times like these, when his wife fidgets and stares too long into space, the husband counsels kindness and forgiveness over guilt and anxiety. And so it is decided that today is pajama Monday with its accustomed cups of hot chocolate until nightfall.
Also, it is a most auspicious and bargain-basement luxurious way to celebrate her birthday.
Hot chocolate has long been considered a curative drink, highly nutritious for the invalid and beneficial to those suffering from mental strain and, as a 19th century chocolate manufacturer claimed, for “those who give to work a portion of the time needed for sleep. It soothes both stomach and brain, and for this reason, as well as for others, it is the best friend of those engaged in literary pursuits.”
Given this, hot chocolate should be immediately proclaimed our national drink and the best friend of not only hapless literary workers but all of us.
The four recipes below are vaguely similar but span more than a century–from one of the earliest American cookbooks, published in 1828, to the gastronomic account of living with Gertrude Stein in 1954. In the middle is Fanny Farmer (1896) and Madame E. Saint-Anges (1927). Some use water, others milk or cream, or a mixture of both liquids. The French sometimes add an egg yolk whisked in right before serving to provide a healthy foam. Still, each and every one are, in their way, potent enough to guide one through a dismal day, especially if one remains in her pajamas.
To Make Chocolate
From Directions for Cookery In Its Various Branches, by Eliza Leslie, 1828
(Modern measurements are noted in italic)
To each square of chocolate cake allow three jills and a half (1 1/2 cups), or a chocolate cup, of boiling water. Scrape down the chocolate with a knife, and mix it first to a paste with a small quantity of the hot water; just enough to melt it. Then put it into a block of tin (probably a metal mixing bowl) with the remainder of water (place the mixing bowl into a pot of hot water); set it on hot coals (stove); cover it, and let it boil, stirring it twice, till the liquid is one third reduced. Supply that third with cream or rich milk (whole milk); stir it again, and take it off the fire (remove from the pot from the hot water). Serve it up as hot as possible, with dry toast, or dry rusk (well toasted biscuits, bread, or cake). It chills immediately. If you wish it frothed, pour it into the cup, and twirl round in it the little wooden instrument called a chocolate mill, till you have covered the top with foam.
From the Boston Cooking-School Cook Book by Fannie Merritt Farmer, 1896
Farmer gives six recipes for hot chocolate that mark the day’s passing by growing rich and boozy. Below is the recipe for late afternoon.
3 tablespoons cocoa
1/3 cup sugar
a few grains salt
4 cups milk
3/4 cup boiling water
Scald milk. Mix cocoa, sugar, and salt, adding enough boiling water to make a smooth paste; add remaining water and boil one minute; pour into scalded milk. Beat two minutes, using a Dover egg-beater, when froth will form, preventing scum , which is so unsightly; this is known as milling.
From La Bonne Cuisine (The Original Companion for French Home Cooking) by Madame E. Saint-Ange, 1929
The recipe is a fine example of reading a French cookbook–very exacting and long. You will be forgiven if you find yourself imaging Madame giving several swats with a wooden spoon for every perceived mistake you make. The recipe could have been shortened here but you would have missed out on knowing Madame Saint-Ange and her most useful tips. Of all the hot chocolates, this is the thickest and richest–almost like pots de crème. The italics within the recipe are Madame’s.
The first rule to establish when making this, either with water or milk, is that the chocolate must never boil. And since this rule is based on the principle for manufacturing chocolate, which is always followed by the industrial manufacturers who are particularly authorized to formulate it, this drink must also apply to the preparation of chocolate drinks. Thus it is a mistaken belief that the hot chocolate is enhanced by prolonged simmering: what has given credibility to this idea is that in homes one tends, for reasons of economy, to reduce the quantity of chocolate in relations to that of the milk, and then to boil the milk for some time, thus reducing the liquid and so the chocolate is restored to its normal proportions, which is less diluted and obviously better.
Allow 20 grams (2/3 ounce) of chocolate for each deciliter (3 1/3 fluid ounces, scant 1/2 cup) of liquid. A coffee cup generally measures 2 deciliters (6 3/4 fluid ounces, generous 3/4 cup) when not too full; this corresponds to the use of 1 square of chocolate extracted from a packet of 12 squares weighing 450 grams (1 pound). If the cup is more generously filled–that is to 2 1/2 deciliters (1 cup)–you must use 1 1/4 tablets.
PROCEDURE. Break the squares in half. Put them in the saucepan where you will work the mixture of hot liquid–water or milk; use one of such size that the liquid will just cover the chocolate. Cover the saucepan. Put it on very, very low heat; 2 minutes will be enough to soften the chocolate.
Using a small whisk–or if you do not have that, a wooden spoon–work the chocolate off the heat until it is reduced to a homogeneous and smooth paste. Then pour in the necessary quantity of boiling liquid, beginning with several tablespoons in order to better dilute the paste. Add the rest of the still-boiling liquid. Then pour it into a chocolate pitcher [from ICBIDT: use any small pitcher] that has previously been rinsed in boiling water. Make it foam with the special accessory called a “foamer,” turning its handle by rubbing it flat between your hands, or with a small whisked worked the same way. During this time, keep the chocolate pitcher in a warm place.
If the hot chocolate must stand, keep it in a bain-marie [from ICBIDT: water bath].
Do not let any skin form in the milk used. If the milk is boiled just before using, the cream will not have had the time to clump; if not, the milk must be carefully strained before mixing it with the chocolate.
To make the hot chocolate foamier, add some egg yolks, processing as directed in the very old kitchen recipes. This is to be recommended not only for the effect obtained, but also and most of all for the particular smoothness it gives the chocolate.
From The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, by Alice B. Toklas, 1954
Toklas wrote her cookbook in France among all of Europe’s devastation after World War II. Besides very fine recipes, her book is filled with evocative memories of her and Gertrude Stein’s life before and during the war.
The luxury hotel at Nîmes was in a sad way. The proprietor had been killed at the war, the chef was mobilized, the food was poor and monotonous. Gertrude Stein evacuated the wounded who came into Nîmes on the ambulance trains. Material from our unit organized and supplied a small first-aid operating room. The red cross nuns in the best French manner served in large bowls to the wounded piping.
3 ounces melted chocolate to 1 quart hot milk. Bring to a boil and simmer for a half hour. Then beat for 5 minutes. The nuns made huge quantities in copper cauldrons, so that the whisk they used was huge and heavy. We all took turns in beating.