Fall has arrived in Kansas City. The leaves have burst into flame and the nights are significantly cooler. The weather has been a bit of a roller-coaster these day, much like my mind. This month has been a tough one, not by any personal life means; instead, I refer to the social and political climate of the country. I won’t get into it here, this ‘safe and happy space’, but if you’ve been feeling anything like I have this month you’re in need of some emotional comfort. What better way to do that than with a calming and cozy Frothy Chai Hot Chocolate made with a luxurious chai-spiced milk chocolate ganache? Chai is the ultimate soother and light milk chocolate is it’s perfect companion.
Milk chocolate gets a bad rap these days. It’s not as fashionable as dark chocolate and I understand why. Oftentimes, when people think of milk chocolate they envision the candy bar section at the grocery store check-out line. It’s loaded with sugar and other not-great shelf life extending ingredients. However, if you search beyond the check-out line you’ll find a vast world of amazing milk chocolate. High quality milk chocolate has the exact same process structure that revered dark chocolate does: the harvesting of high quality cocoa beans and thoughtful processing. It’s during the processing that the artistry of the chocolate-maker really shines. The balance between the cocoa, sugar, and milk are carefully considered. All resulting in a milk chocolate that is light, not too sugary, and allows the sweetness of the milk to come through in the flavor. As with dark chocolate, milk chocolate is all about the flavor profile. I highly encourage you to go on a milk chocolate bar hunt and enjoy taste-testing new bars. A few of my favorites are:
Valrhona Bahibe 46% Dominican Republic Bar (all of their chocolates are fantastic)
Fruition Chocolate Brown Butter Milk Chocolate Bar (crazy good)
French Broad Chocolates Malted Milk Chocolate Bar (plus dreamy bar packaging)
There are many more excellent chocolate companies out there, so enjoy exploring. Also, allow the chocolate-maker’s philosophy and commitment to creating an exceptional product to peak your interest. It’s not just about percentages on a wrapper, but their reputation of quality and consistent honesty about how their chocolate is produced.
Per usual, try and use the best quality milk chocolate you can find for this recipe. A cheaper quality milk chocolate will make it much sweeter than intended and no one likes an overly sweet hot chocolate. Source milk chocolate coins/discs/bars from a local specialty grocer (Whole Foods usually has a good selection), a local chocolate vendor, or order online (save the extra for all that holiday baking). The best part of this hot chocolate is its chai milk chocolate ganache base. It’s very simple to make: steep the cream with chai spices and then mix it with the melted milk chocolate. That’s it! You now have a ganache that can be stored in the refrigerator for weeks. Anytime you feel like a cozy cup, just pull out the ganache and blend it with hot milk until frothy. Don’t skip the pinch of sea salt either, whether fleur de sel or another type of sea salt, as it helps to balance out the sweetness of the drink. All together it makes for the most luxurious and decadent hot chocolate. Not overly rich, but still full of body. The top layer is a blanket of frothy chai bubbles and underneath that froth lies a creamy milk chocolate experience. Keep this recipe on hand for the holiday season and you’ll never go without hot chocolate through the cold winter.
Frothy Chai Hot Chocolate with Milk Chocolate Ganache
Makes 3 (9-ounce) hot chocolates
Chai Milk Chocolate Ganache
4 oz (120ml) heavy cream, plus more for reweighing
6 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1/8 tsp black peppercorns, lightly crushed
6 whole cloves
1 star anise
1/4 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
Pinch fleur de sel
2 Tbsp assam or darjeeling loose-leaf black tea
6 oz (170g) 38%-46% milk chocolate, high quality such as Valrhona
In a small pot, bring heavy cream, cardamom pods, black peppercorns, whole cloves, star anise, vanilla bean seeds and scraped pod, fleur de sel, and black tea to a boil. Remove from heat, cover, and let steep for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt the milk chocolate over a double boiler, stirring occasionally to help the melting process. A double boiler is a pot of one-inch simmering water with a smaller heat-safe bowl, filled with the chocolate, snuggly resting on top. This allows the steam to gently melt the chocolate. Or, melt the chocolate in a heat-safe bowl in the microwave, using 30-second intervals, stirring between each interval (monitor this very carefully as to not burn the chocolate). Set aside once melted.
Strain steeped cream into a clean bowl and discard spices. Transfer steeped cream back into the small pot and add more fresh cream until the weight is, again, 4-ounces. Bring to a simmer and then pour over the melted milk chocolate.
Using a small spatula, or spoon, gently stir the hot cream into the chocolate using small circular motions in the center of the chocolate bowl. As it combines (emulsifies) gently stir in larger circular motions until the ganache is fully combined and smooth. Set ganache on counter top, at room temperature, until firm for about 8 hours or overnight. If preferred, allow ganache to cool at room temperature and then place in the refrigerator to firm up more quickly.
Frothy Chai Hot Chocolate
Makes 1 (9-ounce) hot chocolate
For the ultimate frothy experience, I recommend making a single serving of hot chocolate at a time.
3 oz (86g) chai milk chocolate ganache
6 oz (177ml) 2% milk or whole milk
Pinch fleur de sel
1 star anise, for garnish
Ground cinnamon, for dusting
Place the chai milk chocolate ganache into a high speed blender and set aside.
In a small pot, combine the milk and fleur de sel. Bring to a boil and pour over the ganache in the high-speed blender. Allow the hot milk and ganache sit for 1 minute before placing on the blender lid.
Securely place on the lid and blend on ‘high’, for 15-30 seconds, until very frothy. Pour chai hot chocolate into a clean mug, add star anise, and a light dusting of cinnamon to garnish. Repeat the process for the next two hot chocolates. Any remaining chai milk chocolate ganache may be stored, in an airtight container, in the refrigerator for up to 1-month.