Food & Drink: January 2024

By Abby & Kevin Tankersley

Melted Goodness

Abby and I were sitting in the living room one evening talking about what to write about for this month’s Food and Drink column. Sometimes inspiration comes easily, such as when we’re celebrating the anniversary of something, like this past September, when we marked our 100th Food and Drink offering for the WACOAN. We can come up with recipes and a story for most holidays, but since we’ve been doing this since February 2015, it’s sometimes a challenge to come up with something new for those occasions.

Our son Brazos walked into the room where this conversation was taking place, listened for a second, and said, “Write about hot chocolate.”

Turns out, we have never written about hot chocolate in this space. It might have been mentioned when we’ve written about Christmas memories, as my dad, John T., always made homemade hot chocolate on Christmas Eve, when we would gather to open presents. For most years, it was homemade. In the last few years before he passed, however, I think he may have resorted to using a hot chocolate mix.

We don’t have anything against using a mix. In fact, one of our favorite cold-weather drinks is hot chocolate prepared using Abuelita Authentic Mexican Chocolate Drink Mix, and we then add a shot of Fireball cinnamon whiskey to each cup. That concoction will certainly warm you up.

We researched varieties of hot chocolate from a number of countries, and found many references to hot chocolate from Colombia. Most of the ingredients for Colombian hot chocolate were pretty standard, such as bittersweet chocolate and milk, but what set these recipes apart was the addition of cheese to the bottom of the mug. Some listed mozzarella as an ingredient, while others said to use queso fresco, Oaxacan cheese, Swiss, Havarti or edam. Place a few small cubes into the bottom of the mug and pour the hot chocolate over. That slightly melts the cheese, and it can then be eaten with a spoon.

“The cheese melts into the chocolate, and makes the drink extra thick and creamy,” one source said.

As intriguing as that sounds, we couldn’t bring ourselves to make that particular version of the drink.

Using chocolate as a beverage dates back thousands of years, possibly to Mayan culture around 1,500 B.C. Crushed cocoa, chili pepper and cornmeal were mixed with water, and the liquid would be made frothy by pouring it back and forth between bowls.

Then around 1500, Spanish explorers discovered the drink, replaced the chili pepper with sugar, and began heating the mixture. Spain’s King Charles V served the new drink to his court, and the country was very protective of the recipe. It took another hundred years or so before hot chocolate made its way across Europe.

In the 1700s, chocolate houses in London were popular gathering spots, and in the late 1700s, Hans Sloane, president of the Royal College of Physicians, returned from his travels to Jamacia, where chocolate was often added to milk. He preferred this to the chocolate-and-water mixture that was big in his country, and other English citizens agreed with him. Hot chocolate was often served as an after-dinner beverage.

Samuel Pepy was an Englishman who kept a daily diary of his life for nearly 10 years. On April 23, 1661, he wrote about observing the coronation ceremony of King Charles II. The drinking began in earnest after the official festivities, as Pepy’s diary notes that he drank “a pot of ale,” and then he and his mates kept drinking, toasting “the King’s health”.

The next day, he wrote about how chocolate helped him recover from his hangover: “Waked in the morning with my head in a sad taking through the last night’s drink, which I am very sorry for; so rose and went out with Mr. Creed to drink our morning draft, which he did give me in chocolate to settle my stomach.”

It’s been many, many years since I have suffered the early-morning fate about which Pepy wrote, but if I should overdo it one cold night with too many mugs of chocolate spiked with Fireball, I now have a plan of action for the next day.

In the directions for Viennese Hot Chocolate below, it says to serve immediately, while it’s warm. However, if you place it in the refrigerator overnight, the mixture will thicken up and pretty much turn into a chocolate pudding. Top with some whipped cream for a decadent breakfast.

And what is hot chocolate without marshmallows? Go to wacoan.com for a recipe where you can make your own, along with a recipe for Ted Lasso Biscuits, which pair really, really well with any of these drinks.

The Recipes

Viennese Hot Chocolate

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 3 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 egg yolk, whisked

Place the milk and cream in a saucepan with the chopped chocolate and sugar. Place over low heat and whisk until the chocolate has melted and the mixture is thick and syrupy.

Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes, then beat in the whisked egg yolk to thicken the hot chocolate.
Return to the heat, whisking constantly, until hot. Pass through a strainer, pour into two cups and serve immediately. Makes 2 servings.

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Moroccan Hot Chocolate

  • 3 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 3 cardamom pods, lightly crushed (or 1/8 teaspoon ground cardamom)
  • Zest of 1 orange
  • 2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

In a small saucepan set over medium heat, bring milk to a simmer. Remove from heat and add sugar, cinnamon, cardamom and orange zest. Steep for 15 minutes. Pour through a strainer. Add chocolate to milk and place over a very low heat, stirring occasionally for 3-5 minutes, until chocolate melts. Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla. Garnish with cinnamon sticks and whipped cream, if desired. Makes 2 servings.

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Homemade Marshmallows

  • 3/4 cup water divided
  • 3 envelopes unflavored gelatin, .25 ounces each
  • 2/3 cup light corn syrup
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar

Line a 9-inch square baking dish with plastic wrap and spray with non-stick cooking spray. Spray another piece of plastic wrap and set aside.

Place 1/2 cup of water in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, and sprinkle gelatin on top of water to soak. Let soak until the water is absorbed.

While gelatin is soaking, combine 1/4 cup of water, corn syrup and sugar in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat. Boil the mixture hard for 1 minute.

Carefully pour the hot sugar mixture into the gelatin mixture and beat on high for 12 minutes, until the mixture is fluffy and forms stiff peaks. Add vanilla and beat until just combined.

Pour the marshmallow mixture into the prepared baking dish, using a greased spatula to smooth the top. Cover with the piece of prepared plastic wrap, pressing it down lightly to seal the covering to the top of the marshmallow. Allow the marshmallow to rest on a counter overnight.

Combine cornstarch and powdered sugar in a shallow dish. Using oiled scissors or an oiled kitchen knife, cut the marshmallow into strips, then into 1-inch squares. Dredge the marshmallows lightly in the cornstarch mixture and store in an airtight container. Makes about 30 marshmallows.

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Ted Lasso Biscuits

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, plus more for the pan

  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 
2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt

Place butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. Let sit at room temperature until softened. Coat a 9-inch square baking dish with more butter.

Beat the butter on high speed with the paddle attachment until fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. With the mixer running, gradually add powdered sugar and continue to beat until pale and fluffy.

Stop the mixer. Sift the flour into the bowl, then add the salt. Mix on low speed until just combined. Transfer to the prepared pan and pat to an even thickness no more than 1/2-inch thick. Refrigerate for at least 2 hours, or preferably overnight.

Place a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 300.

Slice the dough into rectangles or squares in the pan. Bake until golden brown and the middle is firm, 45 to 60 minutes. Let cool completely. Re-slice, if needed, before serving. Makes about 18 biscuits.

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