Calling out all the hot chocolate monsters. Now is the time to get festive. Christmas is fast-approaching and cosying up at home is a must. Yes, hot chocolate is on the list. But with new year signifying a new you, it’s time to say goodbye to the humdrum hot cocoa mix, and say yes to the real cocoa-packed hot chocolate that actually gives that real-deal mellow-y umami attack to your cup.

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As an Executive Pastry Chef of The Sukhothai Hotel Bangkok, the Swiss-native chef Laurent Ganguillet’s sweet daily tasks entail whipping up big batches of cake batter, kneading and rolling heavenly butter-laden pastries, and baking what seems like an avalanche of sourdough bread, enough to provide bread and pastries for all the restaurants within the venue, including the Lobby Salon, the hotel’s glorious bakery where he has been taking the helm for the last 20 years. Aside from baking and making sure guests are warmly fed with his signature date-enriched sticky pudding and scrumptious sandwiches, chef Laurent is a champ when it comes to hot chocolate. The man is a true Willy Wonka in disguise and we’ve got proof. Tucked in the corner is the chocolate trolley where he offers hot chocolate as part of the Chocolate Buffet and Afternoon Tea services. Packed with over 20 kinds of assorted chocolate from all over the world, this proof is as solid as it gets.

Chef Laurent over at his chocolate trolley

We got to sit down with chef Laurent earlier last week for a hot chocolate talk. And even if you’re no Willy Wonka, this Christmas is high time to act like you are. Scroll down for chef Laurent’s tricks and tips in recreating the perfect hot chocolate at home.

Hero image credit: Unsplash/Erol Ahmed

Ingredient-wise

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Chocolate or Cocoa Powder

Yes, your choice of chocolate matters. According to Chef Laurent, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with using cocoa powder or the instant hot cocoa mix. But if what you need is a drink that actually gives that chocolate-y punch, the high-quality chocolate block is the one to go for. He also clarified that “Chocolate with high percentage doesn’t always mean that it is bitter. The percentage you see on the label of each chocolate merely indicates the sugar content. Hence, the lower the percentage, the sweeter the chocolate.” The bitterness and acidity actually differ in each chocolate, depending on many factors like where they grow and how the beans get dried and fermented. The perception of bitterness is also different for everyone. Some are used to bitterness and some have more of a sweet tooth. So picking the right chocolate that suits your palate is a process that’s crucial and very personal.

Chef Laurent’s chocolate trolley

Don’t do: one thing to keep in mind is not to buy “compound chocolate.” Made out of cocoa powder, sugar, and vegetable fat, compound chocolate — perhaps this will be clearer to see – is as fake as McDonalds is to the burger world.

Recommended brands: Like the rest of the world, we’ve got no chocolate trolley like chef Laurent does at his bakery. So here are the brands he recommends when shopping for chocolate in Thailand: Lindt and the Thai-originated chocolate from Kad Kokoa.

Water or Milk?

When it comes to hot chocolate, chef Laurent swears by water since he believes water keeps the taste of the chocolate neat and clean. Like tea, the milk will be added in later on as an ingredient that will help smoothen the flavours of the tea. So in order to make your chocolate shine, water is best but milk or cream can sure be added in later on to round out the chocolate-y taste.

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Sugar?

The ideal cup of hot chocolate for chef Laurent is the one with no added white sugar.

To him, sugar is not essential for hot chocolate. Every chocolate is naturally sweet, acidic, fruity, nutty, and tasteful, and varies depending on the type. So think of it as your seasoning. The pastry chef prefers to mix his dark with milk or white chocolate for a sweeter result to maintain the unique taste of chocolate. So mix your dark chocolate with semisweet or white chocolate to achieve that sweet but still chocolatey cocoa drink. But if unsweetened chocolate is the only thing found in your pantry, by all means, add honey or brown sugar instead of processed white sugar for the full-bodied molasses taste.

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Spice

Putting new yummy spins to your hot chocolate is a way to keep this classic drink fun and interesting. Play around with your favourite spices. Curry powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, chipotle powder and black pepper works great in hot chocolate. But in terms of chilli, Piment d’Espelette (a type of red chilli pepper) is perfect since the taste is quite piquant; it will add a nice, pleasantly spicy kick to your hot chocolate. Thai chilies, 0n the other hand, will be too strong and will only overwhelm the sweet mellow taste of your chocolate.

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Fruit

To add fruity flavours to your hot chocolate, chef Laurent also prefers to use fruit-flavoured chocolate as a seasoning in his cocoa drink — think pomegranate and orange chocolate. What he also likes to do is use real fruit juice or puree with a pleasantly strong flavour (juice from lemon, lime, yuzu and raspberry or mango puree) which will introduce the real vibrant and aromatic taste to your hot chocolate. Fruit syrup, in this case, is an unacceptable shortcut since it contains too much water instead of the real concentrated juice.

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Alcohol

If you’re feeling really decadent and fancy, adding the liquid sunshine to your hot chocolate is a real treat all grownups deserve. Chef Laurent prefers any amber liquid that is not too boozy. Royal Combier, Grand Marnier, Amaretto, Baileys, and Green Chartreuse are some of his absolute favourites. But if you can’t get your hands on any of them, Thai whisky like Mekhong will be quite lovely in hot chocolate.

Cooking-wise

Hot chocolate is far different from maths. There’s no fixed rule when it comes to the recipe, which means you can have lots of fun playing with different types of chocolates, sweeteners, spices, fruit, and liquor. However, perfecting the quality chocolate-thickened drink does require a bit of a know-how. With these simple techniques, you too can nail the best hot chocolate just like chef Laurent.

1. There’s no need to melt your chocolate first in the microwave. Direct heat can ruin the taste and burn your chocolate. So start by chopping up your chocolate and set it in a bowl or in a mug. Meanwhile, heat up your water — or milk if you prefer – in a kettle or in a pot until it is bubbling hot.

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2. Emulsion, emulsion, emulsion. Here’s where science gets involved. Chocolate contains natural fat and in order to make oil and water mix without getting a splitting result, pour in one part of hot water into the prepared bowl just enough to cover the chocolate. Then stir slowly until you get a smooth paste. The silky chocolate paste is key. It is the root for the perfect glossy hot chocolate.

3. Next, decide how much liquid you would like to put in. Thick or thin, gradually add hot water and keep stirring until you get the consistency your taste buds prefer. There’s no need to put your chocolate mixture on the stove as long as your water is steaming hot. If not, you can do this using the bain-marie (water bath) method to create gentle heat since chocolate can burn easily.

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4. To flavour your hot chocolate with brown sugar or honey, make sure you add it into the hot water before mixing with the chocolate itself so the sugar has time to dissolve and won’t make your hot chocolate grainy. The same thing goes with spices. Stir your curry or chilli powder in the hot water before mixing with chocolate to ensure the well-blended flavours of your cocoa drink.

5. For milk, fruit juice or puree, add a dash or two into the chocolate mixture and stir well before serving. Remember you can always add in but you can’t take out. So be mindful of that when you put any flavoured liquid in.

Hot chocolate by chef Laurent

6. For an even more frothy and velvety finish, use a blender or milk frother to help smoothen your hot chocolate. It will break the fat and helps to blend the chocolate and the liquid together beautifully.

7. For the finishing touch, add a dollop of whipped cream or just simply sprinkle some flakey sea salt on top. The crystal-like mineral can help to enhance and embrace the taste of your chocolate. But if you’re craving for something a little more extra, add a splash of liquor on top and sip it before stirring. Or put your liquor on the ladle and set it on the fire before dropping it on to the surface of your hot cocoa to create that fab and flaming effect everyone will go ooh and ahh for.

Let’s talk benefits

So what are the true benefits of hot chocolate? Aside from the fact that cocoa is rich in antioxidants and helps to prevent heart attack and cancer, the main benefit of hot chocolate — according to chef Laurent — is that the hazel luscious liquid will sure keep you happy.

The Sukhothai Afternoon Tea

No time to make one?

Don’t fret. Chef Laurent is here to the rescue. From 2pm—5 pm on Monday to Thursday, visit the Lobby Salon of Sukhothai Bangkok for the chef’s All New Sukhothai Afternoon Tea (THB 880++), where you’ll get to savour a set of sumptuous sandwiches, mini pastries, and the signature mango green tea scones along with their selection of premium tea. The tea set also features an ancient wooden box packed with eight different types of chocolates so diners can get creative with the flavour of their hot chocolate.

The Sukhothai Chocolate Buffet

More of an all-you-can-eat person? The Chocolate Buffet (THB 999++) is also available at the Lobby Salon from Friday to Sunday, 2 pm—5 pm. Enjoy an array of delightful cakes, suppertime savouries like sushi, sandwiches and such. Featuring the chocolate trolley brimming with over 20 types of dark and milk chocolates, diners can recreate their own version of hot chocolate to their hearts desire. Also, look out for their Christmas specials. Chef Laurent is getting ready to wow you with a few new chocolates as his Christmas additions to the chocolate trolley.

Kankanit Wichiantanon
Writer, Bangkok
Kankanit is a writer by day and a baker by night. If there’s one thing you should know about her, it’s that she can wax poetic about food 24/7. Her daily routine is writing, cooking, eating, repeat. They are the things that inspire her from morning 'til night.