I'm usually pretty lukewarm on the subject of hot drinks (Heh. I'm so clever). My daily coffee regimen is 4 shots of espresso over ice. Year round. It isn't that I NEVER enjoy a hot drink. It's just not something I immediately go to.
Then I ran across this recipe in Bon Appétit years ago. I don't make it often because I can almost hear my hips groan as they immediately start to expand upon drinking this stuff. But it is SOOO good. It's kind of become the unofficial tree decorating drink during the holidays. But don't wait for that. A chilly evening is all the excuse you need. And let's face it. It's January. We've got those to spare.
Heavenly Hot Chocolate
adapted from Bon Appétit
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2/3 cup fine (bakers) sugar (truthfully, I usually use regular sugar with no problems)
½ cup unsweetened, good quality cocoa powder (this does make a difference)
½ cup water
Pinch of sea salt
2 1/2 cups whole milk
1 pint half and half
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup chilled whipping cream
Pour sugar in a small bowl. Using the tip of a knife, scrape seeds from vanilla bean. Add to sugar and distribute throughout.
Transfer all but about 3 Tbs of the vanilla sugar to a medium saucepan. Add unsweetened cocoa powder, ½ c water and salt and whisk until smooth. Whisk over medium heat until beginning to bubble. Whisk in whole milk and half and half. Add reserved vanilla bean; bring mixture to simmer. Remove from heat; whisk in vanilla extract. Keep warm.
Beat cream with reserved sugar until medium-firm peaks form. Discard vanilla bean from cocoa mixture. Divide hot chocolate among 6 mugs; top with whipped cream.
**If you want to amp things up a bit, add a shot of whatever your favorite spirit is. I'm particularly fond of Frangelico myself.