Lessons in Living a French Life

Bringing a touch of French culture to everyday life

Today's Weekly Voilà: The French addiction to hot chocolate 😊💗☕


But you do not have a chocolatière; I have thought of it a thousand times; what will you do?

- a distraught Marquise de Sévigné writing to her daughter, 1671 

A benefit of cooler weather is the possibility of a cup of hot chocolate finding you one autumn evening. A favorite memory of mine as a small child is my father making hot chocolate on the stove using real dark chocolate, cream, a touch of salt, constant stirring, then a dash of cinnamon on top. (I did add plenty of marshmallows to my cup, first generation American et. al ;) It wasn't often that we received this treat but it remains a powerful memory whenever I have cup of hot chocolate in front of me. Truly, I need few excuses for enjoying anything chocolate. Today, I love to make a thick, decadent, small cup of French hot chocolate to celebrate the coming of winter. 
Let's indulge in a bit of hot chocolate history. . .
When the Spanish first introduced chocolate to Western Europe in the early 17th century, there was really only one way it was consumed: as hot chocolate. It quickly became a new European luxury following the Thirty Years' War. The French have always had a bit of social curiosity for new trends. Plus, they were no longer paying for a costly war and had money to invest. Anne of Austria loved hot chocolate so much that when she married Louis XIII, the king of France, in 1615, her enthusiasm for the drink spread through the French aristocracy. By the start of the rein of Louis XIV in 1643, chocolate was served daily at Versailles. In true French fashion, they prepared this new drink in its own vessel, the chocolatière or chocolate pot. Bien sûr!
Le Dejeuner, by François Boucher, 1739. You can see the chocolatière just in the center background of the painting. Note the handle on the side of the pot.
The earliest chocolate pots were pear-shaped vessels made of silver. They featured a hinged or removable lid that had a hole at the top to allow a moulinet or a wooden stirrer to be inserted into the chocolate pot and froth the beverage just before serving. You can tell the difference between coffee and hot chocolate pots due to the handle being on the side of the latter. 

Now, cocoa and hot chocolate are two very different things. Cocoa is made with milk or water and cocoa powder. With the Industrial Revolution, by products of chocolate manufacturing could be pressed into a relatively inexpensive powder. It caught on with the masses and the demand for the beautiful and expensive silver chocolatières declined. Eventually, a more simple clay pottery pitcher became the vessel of choice for a thinner cocoa beverage.

While on a recent house hunting trip in France, I was delighted to discover a few of these early clay chocolate pots. I was drawn to their deep, dark brown glaze and the side handle gave away their purpose. So many stories captured in their patina. I found a variety of sizes and learned from the vendor that the larger the pitcher, the more individuals could be served at the table. These chocolate pots were meant to serve cocoa to be added to your morning coffee. 
This 19th-century chocolate pot is the perfect size to share between 2 people. I love the detail on the spout and the rich brown glaze. So simple. I found it at a small brocante that I stumbled upon just south of Beaune in Burgundy. You can purchase it in Le Shop.
To return to Madame Sévigné and the tragedies that had befallen French aristocracy in the 17th century (written with sarcasm), "Alas, my child, you are not wrong when you believe that I worry about you more than you worry about me." Woe to the daughter who did not have a chocolate pot. (Little did the French nobility know of the much bigger concerns that would find them in the next century.) However, no worries for you. You can enjoy a delicious cup of French hot chocolate without a proper pot.
Most important is to find quality dark chocolate. If you do not enjoy the taste of the chocolate on its own, it will not make a good cup of hot chocolate. Heat thick cream (you can use a mixture of milk and cream if you prefer) and a couple of teaspoons of powdered or very fine sugar to almost boiling. Add the liquid to finely chopped chocolate and gently stir. For 4 small cups of hot chocolate (think double sized espresso cups) use 8 oz. of 70% dark chocolate to 1 1/2 cups of cream and 1/2 cup of milk and 2 teaspoons of sugar. Yes. You use a lot of chocolate. If this is too thick for your tastes, consider making a chocolate ganache or a mixture of just heated cream (1 cup) stirred into finely chopped dark chocolate (8 oz.) and keep it stored in a jam jar in the refrigerator for up to a month. Take a scoop out and add it to heated milk and sugar when you want a quick cup. Top with fresh whipped cream. Voilà! Pure decadence in a cup. No matter if you like your spoon to stand upright or prefer your hot chocolate thinned and added to your coffee, either way, it is a delicious drink to welcome the coming cold weather.

Did I mention a bit of Cognac added to your cup? Perhaps not if you are enjoying hot chocolate with your morning coffee ;)
Enjoy a cup of something warm this weekend,
For more on the subject, consider: Coe, Sophie D., and Michael D. Coe. The True History of Chocolate. London: Thames and Hudson, 2013.