Poirot's Hot Chocolate
As a crime fiction lover, I read for the characters, the settings, the themes, and of course the murder plots. But I also read for the food and drink. Sherlock Holmes's burgundies. Paola Falier's jealousy-inspiring lunches for her policeman husband, Guido Brunetti. Inspector Armand Gamache's Quebecois cuisine.
One of my favorite things about Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie's Belgian detective par excellence, is that he is always drinking hot chocolate. At bedtime, in the morning, warm weather or cold, Poirot likes his cup of chocolate. It marks him as an outsider, but he doesn't really care.
It has been very cold here in Vermont lately and it seemed like the perfect time to try to recreate Poirot's beloved drink. I once had a chocolat chaud in Quebec that I assumed was as close to Poirot's hot cocoa as I was going to get. It was very chocolatey and delicious, but it had the texture of the hot cocoa I make at home from whole milk and very high quality cocoa powder and sugar. My research indicated that Christie had something thicker in mind. The recipes I found either used heavy cream to thicken the final product or borrowed from the pudding playbook and used cornstarch.
I must admit that I started out biased against the cornstarch approach. Wouldn't it be too much like hot chocolate pudding? Reader, I am here to tell you that being like pudding is not a bad thing. After quite a lot of experimentation (it was extremely hard work drinking all that hot chocolate), I settled on a recipe that uses both whole milk and cream and a tiny bit of cornstarch, not as much as most of the recipes I found. The final result is thick, velvety, but still drinkable.
The other trick is that you grate the bittersweet chocolate into the hot milk. Use the best chocolate you can get since it is the star here. I suggest small servings of this delectable but rich beverage, perhaps served in espresso cups. My assistant and I have determined that it is best drunk by a roaring fire, preferably with a good book at the ready.
My Version of Hercule Poirot's Hot Chocolate
Here is my recipe, which makes two mugs or four espresso cups with a bit left over. Enjoy!
Two cups whole milk
One cup heavy cream
Four ounces best quality bittersweet chocolate
One quarter teaspoon cornstarch, mixed with a tiny bit of milk to make a slurry
One or two teaspoons powdered sugar, depending on how sweet your tooth is!
Dash of vanilla
Dash of salt
Heat the milk and cream in a saucepan over low heat. Do not allow it to boil. Grate the chocolate bar into the milk/cream mixture, whisking to combine. Then slowly pour in the cornstarch slurry, whisking all the time. Let the hot chocolate thicken over low heat and then whisk in vanilla and salt. Serve and enjoy, Poirot-style!