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It all started in Washington, D.C. We had the good fortune to live in Northern Virginia for several years and found ourselves having breakfast one snowy morning in Le Pain Quotidien, a delicious restaurant with several locations in the area. We ordered Belgian waffles and hot chocolate.
They brought us bowls of warm milk and little pots of melted Belgian chocolate. You add the melted chocolate to your bowl of milk and then prepare to be transported to hot chocolate heaven. We ordered another round. 🙂
It was such a satisfying experience, my daughter requested that we spend every one of her birthdays at Le Pain Quotidien, drinking hot chocolate. Since we needed that hot chocolate more than once a year, we set about on a quest to recreate it ourselves.
We bought bars of Belgian chocolate from the restaurant and tried making the hot chocolate at home. Pretty good but not quite. What were they not telling us? 🙂 We thought maybe it’s about the drinking VESSEL. That warm bowl of milk. So we ordered a set of Hug Mugs, which are unusually shaped bowl/mugs with no handles. You wrap your hands around them.
This helped some. The act of holding that little bowl in your hands somehow enhances the whole experience. Still not quite there, though.
We then began trying different hot chocolates. I was wandering around Sur La Table one morning when a sales associate there tempted me with a sample of Sara Beth’s Hot Chocolate Parisienne.
It was tasty but again, still not quite there.
We also tried Sur La Table’s own hot chocolate with Valrhona chocolate, which is some of the best chocolate around. It was good, but we still didn’t find what we were looking for. We were disappointed.
Any hot chocolate we came across, we tried.
We tried Williams Sonoma Classic Hot Chocolate. Really good flavor. This is not a powder. It is shavings of chocolate that melts in the milk. Sometimes they don’t all melt and leave a bit of sludge in the bottom of the cup. Not that that’s a bad thing. 🙂
I also tried something I hadn’t seen before called Butlers Hot Chocolate Drink.
These are thick chocolate discs that you drop into warmed milk. The directions recommend heating the milk on the stove in a saucepan, but we just did it in the microwave, making sure the milk is really hot but not boiling. Then you drop one of the discs into your cup of milk and stir until it melts. It was really delicious. The product is from Ireland. Not our Belgian chocolate quest, but really good nonetheless.
After many many tries, there are two products that we really like that taste the closest to that first taste of perfection at Le Pain Quotidien. Surprisingly, they are Starbucks Double Chocolate Hot Cocoa and a fairly new product from Swiss Miss, called the Swiss Miss Chocolatier Series. We like the double chocolate flavor. I’m not sure if the fact that both of these are “double chocolate” has anything to do with our liking the flavor or if it’s just a coincidence.
I really thought we’d end up liking something more exotic than Starbucks, and certainly more than Swiss Miss. But that’s not how it turned out. So until we can make another trip out east for the real deal at Le Pain Quotidien, we will go with these two at home.
If you make hot chocolate at home, I really hope you’re using milk and not hot water. Milk makes the drink so much richer. Just heat up the milk (preferably whole milk) either on the stovetop or in the microwave, then add the hot chocolate mix of your choice and stir. We usually add a splash of half and half after the chocolate has been fully mixed in. This helps cool the drink off a bit and adds even more richness.
Sometimes we also froth some milk and add that on top. Gilding the lily? No such thing. 🙂 We have the Aeroccino Frother that came with our Nespresso coffee machine, so we use that. It does a wonderful job of frothing the milk to a silky consistency. And don’t forget the Hug Mug. 🙂
If you are ever in the Washington, D.C. area, please do yourself a favor and make a stop at Le Pain Quotidien. Have some hot chocolate and Belgian waffles. You won’t regret it. A colleague of my husband’s was taking his family to Washington, D.C. earlier this year and asked me for a list of things to do because we lived in Northern Virginia for several years. I gave him all the usual suggestions for things to see, and told him to take his kids to Le Pain Quotidien for breakfast for waffles and hot chocolate.
After they got back from their trip I got a note from him thanking me for all the suggestions and he said the waffles and hot chocolate were his kids’ favorite part of the whole trip. 🙂 Good to know it’s not just us who thinks that hot chocolate is perfection.
Oh, and those waffles? We went on a quest to recreate those too and we scored BIG TIME. We make the best Belgian waffles at home now. I’ll share that quest with you in the future. 🙂
How is your hot chocolate at home? If you have some secrets to making the perfect cup, please share!
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