Chocolate lovers do not, of course, need designated holidays to celebrate the heady stuff. We eat it for breakfast, put it on toast, give it to our children, hoard it for emergencies – political, natural, emotional – and use it as currency of one kind or another.
Giving your beloved some chocolate, however, can be dangerous, because boxes of the confection can be loaded not just with sugar but with expectation. I was once presented with a heart-shaped box of mediocre supermarket chocolate by a well-meaning, earnest person who was baffled when I retreated in silence with my cocoa-dusted copy of “The True History of Chocolate.” Maybe don’t do that.
Instead, direct your beloved to an excellent chocolatier or head into the kitchen and take matters into your own hands. Sure, you can make something predictable, such as a chocolate souffle or even a batch of brownies, but instead, how about serving your chocolate in liquid form and making a bowl of soup? Yes: soup.
Imagine the chocolate milk of your happy childhood crossed with a bowl of melted ganache and you get the idea. It’s absurdly easy to make (heat milk, pour over chocolate), and you can flavor the concoction or dress up its presentation in impressively baroque fashion.
Daniel Boulud has a version spiked with Sichuan peppercorns and adorned with caramel whipped cream; pastry chef Johnny Iuzzini’s comes flavored with juniper berries and topped with Cocoa Puffs (the cereal of his childhood). And on YouTube you can watch a young Jacques Torres make his baked chocolate soup (with bananas, caramel, meringue) for none other than Julia Child. (“Is this a classical dessert, chef?” asks Child, peering at the tureen. “No, I just try and put whatever I like,” says the French pastry chef, “together in a different way.” “An excellent idea,” croons Child.)
If you’re a purist, you don’t have to flavor the heated milk for your soup at all: Just add a pinch of salt to the hot milk and pour it over the chocolate. But it’s hard to resist throwing in some spices – a bit of cinnamon and cardamom torque up the chocolate beautifully. And if you like to experiment: maybe ginger, turmeric, allspice, nutmeg, black pepper, even curry if you want to go down the spice route a bit. By all means toss your spices in whole and then filter them out with a strainer, or wind them up in cheesecloth.
Chocolate is also a terrific playground for heat. Add cayenne or ancho chiles, which are lovely matched with cinnamon. Or dose your chocolate with the unreasonably addictive Urfa biber, a fantastic Turkish chile that’s both smoky and vaguely sweet.
Think of your pot of hot milk as a conduit, not unlike a dessert custard base. Steep orange or lemon peel, or add tea – Earl Grey and jasmine are both outstanding with chocolate – or even rose petals, of which you might have a few around for the occasion. You can also, of course, douse your soup with espresso, or add booze in the form of your favorite liquor, or a few shots of whiskey. Then pour the hot milk over the chocolate and whisk it into a velvety mixture.
Ah, and that chocolate? Even if you’re the sort of person who secretly eats vending machine candy bars for dinner (guilty) or throws back chocolate chips like medicine, try to source the highest quality chocolate you can for your bowl of soup. Pick your percentage (many of us default to 70 percent Valrhona), but use the good stuff, as lesser quality chocolate can make your soup separate, or at the very least won’t mix into the kind of intoxicating, rich liquid that you want. As for the mixing, a basic whisk is fine, or an immersion blender is fun if you have one. If you have a milk frother, that’s great too. Or you can do what the cacao-loving, pre-Hispanic Mexicans did and mix your chocolate by pouring it from one bowl to another like a kind of graduated waterfall.
A bowl or mug – or thermos-full – of chocolate soup is fine on its own, of course, but there are so many things you can serve with it.
Add fresh fruit – the deep crimson of raspberries or strawberries or pomegranate seeds looks pretty great – or marshmallows, especially if you’re feeling nostalgic for your campfire childhood. Add whole meringues to make a kind of retro floating island dessert, or smash a few and sprinkle them over the surface like edible broken pottery.
Spoon whipped cream into your soup – some of us serve our bowls of soup with equally large bowls of whipped cream. Or add a thick slice of rye or whole wheat bread. Toast or broil a slice, grate chocolate over the top, drizzle on some olive oil and add a confetti of Maldon salt – Ferran Adria famously made this Catalonian children’s favorite for family meals at the late El Bulli – and you pretty much have breakfast. Which is maybe the romantic kind of meal you want from this anyway.
Makes about 1 quart soup
Recipe from Amy Scattergood.
1 quart milk
1 / 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 / 2 teaspoon ground cardamom
10 ounces 70 percent very high-quality chocolate, preferably Valrhona
Sugar, if desired
In a heavy-bottom saucepan, heat the milk over medium heat until it is just about to boil, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat, stir in the salt, cinnamon and cardamom and set aside to steep for a half hour or so.
Meanwhile, chop or break up the chocolate and place in a bowl. Reheat the milk until it just comes to a boil, then remove from heat and strain through a fine mesh sieve over the chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
Taste, and adjust sweetness with sugar if desired. Serve the soup in small bowls; the soup can also be made ahead of time, chilled and then reheated before serving.