Santa's Favorite Hot Chocolate
PREPARE: 10 minutes BREW: 10 minutes SERVES: 4
Who doesn't love chocolate in all its edible forms? A better question might be, who knows the real history of this wonderful confection?
Chocolate is extracted from the beans of the tropical cacao tree, and archaeologists searching old ruins have determined that the Mayans enjoyed drinks over twenty-five hundred years ago. They loved the beverage so much that many grew cacao trees in the gardens of their homes.
The Aztecs called this substance chocolatl and enjoyed it in both solid and liquid forms. Chocolatl was so much in demand that Aztec merchants often used it for currency.
Christopher Columbus brought cacao beans back to Spain during his first new World explorations, but it may have been explorer Hernán Cortés who discovered how to produce a drink sweet enough to enrapture members of the Spanish aristocracy by mixing sugarcane juice with liquefied cacao beans. For most of the 1500s, "hot chocolate" was a drink enjoyed almost exclusively in Spain. Explorers for other European nations had no idea what cacao/chocolate was. One legend has it that a British pirate who captured a Spanish barge laden with cacao beans burned the ship and its cargo because he mistook the beans for dried animal droppings.
But Spain couldn't keep its tasty secret forever, and in the 1600s virtually every country in Europe went chocolate-intensive, drinking it with glee. Eating chocolate as a snack came much later. The first modern chocolate bar wasn't produced until the 1840s, when an English manufacturer invented the treat that would satisfy everyone's sweet tooth for generations to come.
Still, at the North Pole we like to honor Spain's pioneering efforts in what would become modern chocolate consumption. So if you and your family traditionally enjoy cups of hot chocolate as part of your holiday merriment, I gladly recommend this recipe based on the traditional Spanish beverage.
Lars Says: “Once again, you'll notice I've substituted a modern ingredient: They didn't have vanilla instant pudding back in medieval Spain. Even so, this is one of the richest chocolate drinks you'll ever enjoy. One delicious cup should be plenty for anyone, even the most devout lover of chocolate!”
- 1 1/2 cups whole milk
- 4 ozs. Dark cooking chocolate, chopped into small pieces
- 1 tbsp. vanilla instant pudding
- whipped cream
- pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (tinned ground nutmeg will do)
1. Warm 3/4 cup of the milk in a nonstick saucepan over low heat. Add the chocolate and stir until all the chocolate has melted.
2. Mix the vanilla pudding and the remaining 3/4 cup milk until blended. Add the pudding mixture to the warm chocolate mixture, stirring constantly, until the chocolate drink is thick. Do not allow to come to a boil. Remove from the heat and whisk until frothy. Serve in mugs topped with a dollop of whipped cream and a grating of nutmeg (or, if you prefer, grated dark chocolate).
Attila's Stuffed Mushrooms
Prepare: 15 minutes Cook: 20 to 30 minutes Serves: 6 to 8
This is one of the absolute all-time North pole favorites, an appetizer created by Lars in honor of my longtime friend Attila the Hun. You may be amazed that such a ferocious warrior joined my gift-giving mission, but this only proves that anyone can be changed for the better by belief in the generosity of spirit that defines the Christmas season. Much like Attila, mushroom species in North America are edible; several varieties are incredibly poisonous. We know that mushrooms were being used for medicinal purposes as far back as 11,000 B.C., and that five thousand years ago Egyptian pharaohs loved mushrooms so much that they made it illegal for their nonroyal subjects to eat them.
Originally from Asia Minor, Attila and his tribe gradually swept into what would eventually be called Europe, fighting and pillaging all along the way. Mushrooms were handy food for warriors; they could be dried, carried in packs, and used as a tasty ingredient in campfire stews. Even after he stopped fighting and joined me, Attila still loved mushrooms. Sausage and cheese are his other favorite foods, so one afternoon at the North Pole, Lars combined these ingredients into a spicy appetizer that will be a highlight of your holiday season.
Lars Says: “If these stuffed mushrooms can satisfy Attila's hearty appetite, then your family and guests are sure to love them, too. Figure two to three mushrooms per person. I use Muenster cheese, but if you prefer another type of cheese, that's fine.”
- 1 tbsp. vegetable oil
- ½ onion, diced
- 1 tomato, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 16 to 18 large white mushrooms, stems removed and minced
- salt and pepper
- ½ lb. bulk sausage (ground without casing)
- 1 tsp. ground caraway seeds
- 16 to 18 thin slices of Muenster cheese to cover the mushroom caps
1.Preheat your oven to 375°F.
2. In a medium skillet, melt 1 tbsp. of the butter with the vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the onion, tomato, and garlic with some of the minced mushroom stem. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is soft. Add the sausage and ground caraway seed. Cook over medium heat, breaking up the sausage with the side of a spoon, until the sausage is well done. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.
3. Place the mushroom caps stem side up on an ungreased cookie sheet. Fill the hollow created by removing the stems with enough of the sausage mixture to create a small mound.
4. Melt the remaining 2 tbsp. of butter and drizzle evenly over the mushrooms and filling. Place a thin slice of Muenster cheese big enough to fully cover the filling on top of each mushroom.
5. Place the cookie sheet in the oven, and cook the mushroom for 5 to 7 minutes, or until the cheese has fully melted. Remove from the oven and let cool for 2 minutes before serving. If Attila happens to be at your party, don't let him eat all the stuffed mushrooms himself.
Buche de Noel
(Christmas Log Cake)
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 4 eggs, separated
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- Pinch of cream of tartar
- ¾ cup cake flour, sifted
(To make chocolate cake, add ¼ cup alkalized cocoa powder and sift it with the cake flour. Add the cocoa powder/cake flour mixture by dividing it in half and gently folding both batches into the egg mixture.)
The Buttercream Frosting:
- 4 large egg whites
- 1 cup sugar
- 1½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 ozs. Semisweet chocolate, cut into small, thin slices
- 2 ozs. Unsweetened chocolate, cut into small, thin slices
(To make coffee buttercream frosting, use 2 tbsp. instant espresso powder and 2 tbsp. rum instead of the semisweet and unsweetened chocolate pieces. Whisk the espresso powder and rum into the buttercream.)
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Grease the bottom of a 15 by 10-inch baking pan and line with parchment paper; set aside.
2. Remove 2 tbsp. of the sugar from the ¾ cup called for in this recipe and set aside. In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks and the remaining sugar until blended. Add the vanilla and beat until thoroughly mixed.
3. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and the cream of tartar until the mixture holds soft peaks when the beaters are lifted. Add the reserved 2 tbsp. sugar and beat until the egg whites are glossy and hold stiff peaks.
4. In two additions, gently fold the flour into the egg yolk mixture. Add one-quarter of the beaten egg whites. Then fold in the remaining egg whites. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly into the corners. Bake for 15 minutes.
5. While the cake is baking, spread a dish towel flat on your kitchen counter. Lay a piece of parchment paper slightly larger than the cake on top of the towel. Sprinkle the paper with sugar.
6. When the cake is done, invert it onto the paper on top of the towel, lining up the cake with the sides of the paper as closely as you can. Then gently peel off the parchment. Beginning at one shorter end of the cake, slowly roll up the cake with the new parchment paper still inside. Wrap the dish towel around the cake, place it on a wire rack, and let cool.
7. While the cake is cooling, make the frosting: Using an electric mixer, blend the egg whites and sugar in a large bowl. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisk gently until the sugar has dissolved and the egg whites are hot. Attach the bowl to the mixer and whip with the whisk on medium speed until cooled.
8. Switch to the paddle attachment and beat in the softened butter. Continue beating until the buttercream is smooth. Then add the semisweet and unsweetened chocolate pieces and whisk until melted and smooth.
9.When the cake has completely cooked, unroll it. Spread the frosting evenly over the top. Roll the cake up again, removing the parchment paper from the bottom as you roll. Cover the cake loosely and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
10. Just before serving, you can do some things to lend an even more yule log-like appearance to the cake. For instance, spread leftover frosting over the sides, then run the tines of a fork over the frosting to create the illusion of bark. Dust the top of the cake with powdered sugar to symbolize snow and the winter solstice. Cut off a small piece at an angle from one end of the “log” and attach it to the side with some frosting to resemble a bough.