A Walk in the Woods + Peppermint Ganache Hot Chocolate Recipe
As soon as I detect the faintest nip in the air, my heart and mind turn to all things cozy—sweaters and scarves, a fire in the hearth, long walks in the woods, picking apples, dreaming of Christmas lights, and something warm in my cup… Now admittedly, my “woods” are little city parks in my neighborhood, I pick my apples from the local grocery store, and I don’t have to dream of Christmas lights, because by the time the weather cools Christmas is fairly around the corner! But no mind, I dive right into the spirit of the season, and I try not to emerge at least until March.
There’s nothing that clears the cobwebs in my brain more than a chill wind, but at the end of an outdoor ramble I’m ready for a hot drink, aren’t you? Coffee is nice; I love me some tea; hot apple cider is so delightfully yellow-leaves-on-the-ground Autumnal. But surely in the pantheon of warm and comforting drinks, hot chocolate occupies an exalted position. Has anything else the power to turn the most mundane moment into a celebration?
So let’s talk about this…what makes hot chocolate fantastic? For moi, I take my cue from those crazy, lovable French. Their chocolat chaud is basically slightly thinned ganache, which makes it more like a melty bonbon filling than a drink! It’s thick and delightfully decadent. Something you’ll want in tiny amounts, but who cares? It’s perfection in a cup.
So ganache is where I began. I chipped the chocolate from a giant monolith of couverture from Callebaut (ok, it’s Belgian and not French, but Valrhona would be stellar, too!)—about 70% dark, if memory serves. The darker the chocolate, the less sweet it will be. The main thing, though, is to use a chocolate whose taste you love, because it will shine! Any good baking or eating bar will do, as will chocolate feves or wafers, but I recommend steering clear of chocolate chips since they almost always include ingredients that hinder melting.
Now, instead of a smooth and thinned ganache for drinking straight up, I decided to take inspiration from Ashley Rodriguez of Not Without Salt who makes a rather thick ganache from which individual cups of chocolatey goodness can be made at any time at all. The genius! Once this little pot of ganache is in your fridge, all that is needed is some hot milk and you’re in business. I like to gild the lily with some peppermint extract, but the flavoring could easily be changed to suit your mood (orange is nice :). Marshmallows are optional, of course, but if you’re using your darkest bittersweet chocolate, the extra hit of sweetness makes a welcome contrast.
Peppermint Ganache Hot Chocolate
I chose peppermint extract here since fresh peppermint leaves cannot be found here in December for love or money. Be sure to choose a real extract, as opposed to simply peppermint flavoring, as the extract will give you the true peppermint taste and mouth-tingle that you expect. If you do happen to have access to fresh peppermint leaves, steep a bruised handful in the milk before straining into your cup.
Also, if you find the chocolate is not sweet enough in spite of a melting marshmallow, there’s nothing anywhere that says you can’t add a spoonful of your favorite sweetener (I’d use brown sugar, but that’s just me!).
1 cup chopped chocolate from a bar, 55-75% chocolate
3/4 c. heavy whipping cream
Per cup of hot chocolate
2 1/2 Tbls. ganache
1 c. milk
1/8 to 1/4 tsp. peppermint extract
1. Place chopped chocolate into a heat-proof bowl. Heat the heavy whipping cream till bubbles form around the edges. Pour immediately over the chocolate. Let stand for 3 minutes, then whisk gently till completely smooth. It will look rather curdled at first but keep whisking, and it will smooth out nicely. Keep in a jar in the fridge.
2. For each cup of hot chocolate, place 2 1/2 T. ganache into a cup. Heat 1 cup milk to near scalding, and pour over ganache. Stir till smooth, then add extract to taste. Top with a marshmallow, and luxuriate!