In hot weather, chocolate can seem like a rare and precious commodity because it's so difficult to get it in edible form. Even getting it home in one piece can be a challenge. My husband once bought me a bar during the worst heat of summer, making the trip to and from the air-conditioned shop in an air-conditioned car; and still the chocolate was as bendable as children's clay (though infinitely better-tasting) by the time it reached my hands.
If bar chocolate is difficult, baked chocolate is positively painful in the heat. Who wants to have the oven on long enough to make a devil's food cake or batch of chocolate chip cookies when temperatures are creeping dangerously close to three digits?
(I did learn this year why my mother always made our chocolate chip cookies in bar fashion during the summers of my childhood, rather than by rounded spoonfuls on the baking sheet the way she did the rest of the year. You can dump all the cookie dough into a long sheet cake pan and go your merry way, preferably to a place far from the heat of the oven, until the batch is done. Which is a welcome alternative to staying in a swelteringly hot kitchen scooping lumps of rapidly-melting batter onto hot metal sheets and taking even hotter sheets out of the oven as their contents finish baking.)
What is the chocolate lover to do, then, when baking is unbearable and bar chocolate folds in your hands and (more than ever, thanks to the stress of the hot weather) you need your cacao fix?
Often this summer I found myself at once wanting cocoa and repelled by the very idea of it. I think I realized, hazily, that chocolate in liquid form was a workable concept, but cocoa -- also known as hot chocolate -- was a repulsive one.
Then I talked to a friend I hadn't seen for quite a while. When we got to the subject of health, I mentioned that I was back to drinking my tea with caffeine in it these days, and she laughed and said that she'd just had a big glass of iced coffee that probably all by itself had more caffeine in it than my little daily cups of tea supplied me in a week.
And then I knew that I really wanted was cold chocolate. Iced cocoa. Call it what you would.
I had various cocoa and hot chocolate mixes in my cupboard, as well as a very nice recipe for cocoa from scratch; but they all called for milk, which seemed too heavy for hot weather. I poked around and experimented, and this is what I came up with to cool and refresh the chocolate lover when the heat is on.
First, fill a glass or mug with ice cubes, and stick the whole thing in the freezer. It should frost nicely in the time it takes for you to mix up the rest of your ingredients.
Next, get out your favorite brand of unsweetened cocoa powder, some granulated sugar, the salt shaker, and a bottle of real vanilla extract.
How much cocoa with how much sugar you'll use depends, of course, on how sweet you like your iced chocolate. You'll want to end up with some combination adding up to three tablespoons total of cocoa and sugar. For something as sweet as a cup of conventional cocoa, use one tablespoon of cocoa powder and two tablespoons of sugar. One and a half tablespoons of each will give you something reasonably sweet, while one tablespoon of sugar and two of cocoa will give you a strong, subtle brew.
Measure your cocoa into a two-cup glass measuring cup. Before adding the sugar, sprinkle a shake of salt into the cocoa and mix well. (Salt brings out the taste of chocolate beautifully.) Add the sugar and mix again.
Now add just a little water, preferably hot or even boiling. You want enough to make a thick paste -- no more than one or two tablespoons. Stir until the mixture is smooth. Add between a quarter and half a teaspoon of real vanilla extract, and stir again.
Now add enough water to bring the level in the measuring cup to three-fourths of a cup. Mix thoroughly.
Take your cup or glass out of the freezer. Pour your drink over the ice. You can enjoy this as is, but I found that adding a dollop of milk enhanced the flavor and gave it a lovely texture. And adding a small spoonful of very heavy cream on top of that was ambrosial.
Serves one chocolate lover.