My sister’s recent trip to Northern Europe helped inspire this recipe. While she was gallivanting around Sweden and Denmark, she was kind enough to periodically email along some photos of her adventures, both culinary and other. One morning I awoke to a picture from a cozy little café where she had ordered a rich, velvety cup of hot cocoa. The clever café had served her what looked like a hard “lollipop” of chocolate sitting in a mug of steamed milk. The photo cruelly captured the ribbony swirl of fudge as the ball of chocolate slowly bled into the hot milk. Approximately one nanosecond later, I vaulted off my couch in search of hot chocolate. So fast did I scramble, that I fear I may have run over a small child, had one been so bold as to get in my way . . .
When I came across the chocolate spice contest here, I thought this would be a fun application. I’ve wanted to cook with “lip-tingling” Sichuan peppercorns for a while now. I’ve seen them in several savory recipes, so naturally I thought, why not give them a go in a sweet recipe . . . There aren’t enough in this recipe to numb your lips, but they do add a dimension of warmth.
You’ll notice that I essentially end up making a truffle here that is melted into hot milk, which is softer than the chocolate from my sister’s photo, so I imagine it tastes a bit different. Such is reality when one has neither the skill, nor the patience, to temper and mold chocolate that will firm up much harder.
—Oops! Were you gonna eat that?
Test Kitchen Notes
This is a clever idea turned into a delightful recipe. The truffle gradually melts into the hot milk adding a layer of anticipation to hot chocolate making. The chile and cinnamon add subtle dimension to the hot chocolate, while the Sichuan pepper leaves a pleasant mild buzzing sensation on your tongue. The hot chocolate itself is not overly sweet, and the milk to chocolate ratio is good. Make sure to use a high quality chocolate since it is the star of the show, and do make a couple of smaller truffles for eating on their own. —Food52
Sichuan peppercorns (note, this will yield more ground pepper than you need)
Dried Pasilla chiles (Ancho or Mulato are fine substitutes)
Good quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (60-65% cacao content, otherwise you will need to adjust the cream to chocolate ratio. I use a Ghirardelli 60% bar)
Unsweetened cocoa powder for coating the truffles
In This Recipe
Toast the peppercorns in a dry skillet over medium/medium-high heat until fragrant. Grind the toasted peppercorns in a spice/coffee grinder until you have a very fine, uniform powder. Set aside.
Remove the stems and seeds from the chiles and discard. Tear the chiles into pieces and toast in the same skillet until fragrant. Grind into a very fine powder as well and set aside.
Measure out 1/2 to 3/4 tsp (to your taste) of the ground peppercorns and 1 TBS of the ground chile powder. In a small saucepan, combine the chile powder and ground peppercorns with the cinnamon, salt and heavy cream. Bring to a boil. Remove from heat, cover and steep for 2 hours.
Meanwhile, chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in a mixing bowl.
Once the cream has finished steeping, heat over medium heat until it begins to boil. Remove from heat. Pour over the chopped chocolate (if you want a milder flavor, or your chile powder isn’t as fine as you’d like, you can strain the cream through a fine mesh sieve before combining with the chocolate). Let the mixture sit a minute or two until most of the chocolate has melted.
Whisk the mixture until smooth, making sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl. Once the mixture is thick, smooth and shiny, cover and refrigerate until firm enough to work with, approximately 3-4 hours.
Whisk 1/2 cup cocoa powder in a small bowl, breaking up any lumps. Scoop out a generous tablespoon of the ganache (this recipe yields roughly 24 TBS-size balls, note that if you don’t plan on making hot chocolate, you may want to halve the size of each truffle). Quickly and gently roll them into balls in your hands (it helps to periodically dip your hands in ice water for this step, and to have a damp towel nearby). Toss to coat in the cocoa powder, shake off excess cocoa (I use two forks to prevent my hands from getting too messy).
At this point, you have delicious truffles that will last a couple of weeks in the fridge, or a few months in the freezer. However, I think it’s special and fun to serve these as a mug of spicy hot chocolate! So . . .
As you are forming the truffles, insert a wooden skewer/popsicle stick/lollipop stick into the center and let them firm back up in the fridge.
For each mug of hot chocolate, scald 3/4 cup (6 oz) of milk (I use 2% milk, as the truffle is quite rich) in a small saucepan over medium heat. Place a room temperature skewered truffle into the bottom of a mug and pour the hot milk over it. Let the truffle sit and melt for a minute or two then stir the skewer until it dissolves completely into the milk.
Pray for cold, rainy weather so you have an excuse to have another mug tomorrow . . .