We are, without doubt, in Proper Autumn. Gone are the odd days in September and October where a coat can seem more of a curse than a blessing; now, you can layer up without fear- hell! You can add gloves and earmuffs too, if the fancy takes you. The first frosts are creeping in, and the air catches pleasantly in your throat when you step outside in the morning. November is here, in all its glory.
My enthusiasm for Hallowe’en waned somewhat with the death of my teenage years; the tat offends me more than it excites me, and bar watching a couple of vintage horror films and going pumpkin-picking, I don’t really make much of a nod towards it. Bonfire night, on the other hand, is a different kettle of fish entirely. It’s so wrapped up in a vague fog of happy childhood memories that, for me, it’s arguably the second greatest day in the year (with Christmas Eve pipping it to the post, unsurprisingly). The smell of sparklers in chilly back gardens, gloved hands, illicit mulled wine nicked while your best mate’s mum wasn’t looking, burnt sausages and the bulging, lava-like innards of marshmallows are comforting recollections, but it’s not just the nostalgia that gets me every year. Like it or not, the 5th November is a gateway to all things Christmas- the official starting pistol, if you will, to the festive chaos that seems to sweep in without apology on the 6th, and for that, I love it all the more.
Naturally, when I found myself with a child of my own, I won’t pretend that I didn’t hold high hopes for bonfire night. Perhaps not the first two, I conceded; loud bangs, bitter cold and naked flames are hardly conducive to a peaceful evening with very small humans. But surely once they hit three or four they’d be as charmed by all the trappings as I was? No such luck. My daughter turns her tiny nose up at toffee apples (‘too crunchy’), abhors fireworks (‘too scary’) and it turns out that encouraging the illicit glugging of mulled wine is frowned upon until they’re at least 6 (or French).
Fortunately, we find common ground in hot chocolate. Don’t we all? And this one is special: it’s short, rich, & a little bit fancy. Most importantly, it goes ever so well with a teeny nip of rum for particularly cold November evenings.
Proper Hot Chocolate
(for two small, rich servings)
150ml double cream
150ml full-fat milk
125g dark (70% min.) chocolate, chipped. I use Callebaut.
A pinch of sea salt flakes
A cinnamon stick
A grating of nutmeg
A glug of rum (consider omitting for four-year olds)
Warm the milk, double cream and cinnamon stick in a heavy-bottomed pan until just below boiling point.
Place your chocolate chips into a jug, and slowly add a couple of tablespoons of the hot cream, stirring with vigour until you have a smooth paste.
Gradually add the remaining cream to thin the paste, but not too much- you’re looking for a thick, velvety & completely indulgent little cup of hot chocolate. Season with a tiny pinch of sea salt, and a good grating of nutmeg. Pour into dinky cups or, even better, a thermos. Top up with rum, if you’re feeling the chill.