I remember driving up to Pennsylvania to my grandma's house for quite a few Christmases when I was little. Growing up in South Carolina, spending Christmas in Pennsylvania definitely felt more "Christmasy" with the snappy cold air filled with the scent of snow, the woods my dad and his brothers had explored throughout their childhood, my grandma's calico cat and Sheltie dogs that she bred, and the smell of pine trees.
It's been 28 years since I've been in that house, but I still remember the double-sided fireplace my brother and sister and I slept beside under a pile of blankets, the musty basement filled with rows of matchbox cars, action figures and Tarzan books, a pink flowered cardboard set of drawers in the bathroom.
I was nine years old when my grandma passed away on my sister's 11th birthday. Our parents took us out of school early that day, a chilly day in October, and we gathered together in the living room for them to tell us the news. After crying for a while, I got up and made hot chocolate for my family. Even at the age of nine, I felt the need to nurture the ones I loved with something sweet and comforting. It was just spoonfuls of powdered mix stirred into hot water, but it was something I could do to make everyone feel better.
My husband generally doesn't like hot chocolate as it tends to be too sweet, and I've made my own homemade powdered mix, which is nice to have on hand, but is also on the sweet side. So I finally came up with a recipe for homemade hot chocolate that is rich and dark, with no added sugar. It's sweetened only by the sugar contained in the chocolate itself, which you can control with the level of cacao in the chocolate.
Start with good-quality dark chocolate - around 70-75% cacao would probably appeal to most, but you could certainly experiment with 80-85% for a more intense hot chocolate. I didn't have a super dark chocolate on hand, so I added a spoonful of special dark unsweetened cocoa powder to mine to deepen the flavor. The chocolate is simply melted into hot milk until smooth, with a little vanilla and some bourbon. I grated fresh nutmeg over the top to finish it off.
It's been 28 years since that day, but I still remember the matching flowered dresses for Sunday that my mom dressed my sister and me in for the funeral. I remember asking if we could keep the flowers from the ceremony. And I still believe that hot chocolate comforts the soul.
Bourbon Hot Chocolate
- 12 ounces whole milk
- 4 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate chips or finely chopped good-quality chocolate
- 1 tablespoon special dark unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1-2 tablespoons bourbon (optional; adjust according to preference)
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- freshly grated nutmeg
Yields two 8-ounce servings
Recipe from Curly Girl Kitchen