Updated: February 17, 2013 6:11AM
Sleety days mixed with sub-zero nights. Frosty car windows that have glazed over with a thick, impenetrable layer of ice.
All 31 days of January seem thawless. A fierce combination of dampness and frigidity, this lion of a month pioneers a menacing attack on our nearly frost-bitten extremities. Why is it that after spending some time outside on a cold January day our frozen feet always feel soaked to the bone?
January yields no letup from the cold. Even in our own homes, it’s a difficult task to take the chill off. That’s why you have to start from the inside out. A steaming mug of hot chocolate liquifies the cold instantaneously, shooting a stream of warmth that burns through even the coldest tips of fingers and toes.
But a plain old mug of hot chocolate won’t do — especially not the stuff made from powder. A mug of real melted chocolate, however, sticks to your ribs and coats your insides with a comforting warmth and outstanding rich flavor.
The Italians have perfected this with cioccolato caldo, their version of hot chocolate. Even though they may not battle the same frigid winters we do, they know not to skip on flavor.
Real melted chocolate, not cocoa powder, frothed together with whole milk and cornstarch is thick, almost like a pudding; and it could probably be eaten with a spoon rather than sipped. It’s a thick dessert — and a decadent one at that — not just a before-bedtime snack.
Although heavy and sweet, we can probably contribute all of its lasting warmth to its richness.
Think of it as a wintertime splurge and do as the Romans do: Enjoy it only on special occasions. For us, a January special occasion would be when the frost nips at the tip of your nose and chill in the air just can’t be beat.
It’s easy to get hooked on the powdered version of hot chocolate because of its quick prep time, but this version involves very little work, too. It takes mere minutes to melt chocolate in a saucepan, but after savoring the flavor of this mug of hot chocolate, you’ll stay warm for the rest of the night.
Italian Hot Chocolate
4 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, broken into chunks
11/2 cups whole milk (or half and half)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons cornstarch
Melt the chocolate and about half of the milk in a saucepan over low heat. Stir with a wooden spoon or whisk until melted and smooth.
Add remaining milk and sugar and stir or whisk until well combined. Whisk in cornstarch.
Continue cooking over low heat until it becomes thick and coats the back of the wooden spoon. Serve into 2-3 mugs and top with whipped cream.