A couple of days ago Stefane, our favourite foodie blogger (My French Heaven), mentioned making hot chocolate for Sunday breakfast and, just about to go out into the snow to try to get some photos, I noted to make that rather than tea as a warmer when I arrived back.

Hot chocolate and 'afine' jam; the afine are related to blueberries but, in my opinion, far superior (as are British bilberries).

Hot chocolate and ‘afine’ jam; the afine are related to blueberries but, in my opinion, far superior (as are British bilberries).

However, the post also reminded me of the only French lesson I enjoyed at school – somewhere around 1952/54 – when our usual draconian French teacher, Mr Milton, said “Today we are going to learn to make hot chocolate, as the French make it”. I’ve been following his instructions ever since.

A crucial part of the plan is to mix the cocoa with sugar first, then a little milk to make a paste, before adding the hot milk. Stefane advised the same thing, though he said ‘powdered sugar’ – perhaps that was mis-translation as I think powdered sugar is what we Brits would normally call icing sugar, but I think granulated sugar works better. So here’s what Mr Milton told me (and what I have just done to make the cup pictured above – I even got out French ‘porcelaine a feu’ in deference to Stefane):

Put cocoa powder (I like my chocolate very chocolaty so 2 heaped teaspoons for the cup shown) and unrefined sugar (I don’t like things very sweet so about a rounded teaspoon) in the cup and add a little cold milk, from what you have measured for the cup, a bit at a time stirring continuously till you have a thin, smooth paste.

Bring the rest of the milk, with a small pinch of salt, just to the boil and pour into the cup, stirring all the time till the cocoa paste is completely mixed in. Pour the mixture back into the pan, add a small knob of butter (if you use the usually salted English butter you can leave out the salt in the milk), bring back to the boil and simmer for one minute, whisking all the time .

Pour back into the cup, sit down and slowly savour your ‘hot chocolate’.

Stefane mentioned American blueberries but although they have become very fashionable I don’t really like them. But I really like their smaller wild cousins – bilberries from the Yorkshire moors in Britain or ‘afine’ from the lower slopes of Romanian mountains – the two are similar but not the same. Neither are cultivated – they are there free for the taking in August.

The jar of ‘Afine 2012’ jam in the picture was made by my ‘unofficial godmother’, Lucretia Hariuc, in her home in the Romanian Bucovina region. I brought it back (with a lot of other ‘goodies’) last summer. If you would like to know more about this remarkable lady who made it, you’ll find much about her in articles about Romanian decorated eggs under the ‘Romania’ menu above.

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