Vin Chaud

Vin Chaud in Montmarte, Paris, Winter 2012.
Vin Chaud in Montmartre, Paris, Winter 2012.

For me, winter and Christmas mean snow. Or, at least, my Hallmark movie brain tells my Hallmark movie heart that they mean snow as, truthfully, I’ve had a rare few white Christmases. Here in France, there’s rarely any snow in winter. Like much of northern Europe, France is prone to grey skies and drizzly rain, but that does not stop the French from trying to get in the festive mood in the best way they know how: food. That’s right, the best two things about France in the winter are edible, or, truth be told, drinkable: chocolat chaud & vin chaud. Seriously, nothing could make winter better than chocolate and wine.

First there’s chocolat chaud, which may be the best tasting beverage in the world, and this is coming from someone who is not a chocolate fan. Thick and sweet as chocolate molasses the drink is almost too good, leaving you struggling by the end of the cup you initially thought was too large. Made of nothing more than cream (or milk) and high quality chocolate, it is the drink of dentists’ nightmares and the nectar of the sugar plum fairies. Despite what TripAdvisor may say, the best in the land is found at Laduree, not Angelina.

For me, a few mugs of the cloying chocolat chaud are enough to see me through the winter season. What I cannot get enough of is the chocolat chaud’s adult cousin: vin chaudVin chaud is a mulled wine that fulfills all of my favorite food requirements: hot and wine-filled. If only I could figure out a way to incorporate cheese into the mix it I might move to Antarctica with my barrels of wine and live happily ever after. It is that good.

Vin chaud is so good even my friend who does not drink alcohol tried it! (And then promptly gave it to me in favor of chocolat chaud.)
Vin chaud is so good even my friend who does not drink alcohol tried it! (And then promptly gave it to me in favor of chocolat chaud.)

Last winter, during our engagement trip to Paris, the Frenchman had a habit of popping away and coming back a few times a day with the pipping hot vin chaud that he would buy from street merchants who cooked the draught in huge copper kettles or  towering espresso machine-esque contraptions. (The one in Montmartre at the top of the hill is the best and largest I have seen.)

In Toulouse, signs for vin chaud have began popping up, but, with our student budget, we decided to take the wine-matters into our own hands and own kitchenette-in-a-cabinet. The have been delicious, and our tummies and wallets happy. Here is our step-by-step recipe if you want to make your own vin chaud at home. I bet it tastes even better with a crackling fire and snowscape!

Gather the ingredients.  We used: 1 bottle of wine Brandy 6-8 cloves 6-8 whole cardamon pods 4 whole cinnamon sticks 4 heeping tablespoons of sugar Zest of 1 orange Zest of 1 lemon
Step 1: Gather the ingredients:
1 bottle of red wine
Two fingers of brandy or cognac
6-8 whole cloves
6-8 whole cardamon pods
4 whole cinnamon sticks
4 heeping tablespoons of sugar
Zest of 1 orange
Zest of 1 lemon
Step 1: Choose your wine and add the entire bottle to a medium-sized sauce pan, heating it on the lowest setting and ensuring that it does not boil or reach a temperature of more than 78*F.  Bordeaux is a great wine option, and this bottle cost us less than 2 euros!
Step 2: Choose your wine and add the entire bottle to a medium-sized sauce pan, heating it on the lowest setting and ensuring that it does not boil or reach a temperature of more than 78*F.
Bordeaux is a great wine option, and this bottle cost us less than 2 euros!
Step 2: Add 4 heaping tablespoons of sugar to the heated wine.
Step 3: Add 4 heaping tablespoons of sugar to the heated wine.
Step 3: Crush up the cardamon pods. I also like to gently crush the cloves. Bonus points if you do it properly with a mortar and pestle instead of the back of a spoon.
Step 4: Crush up the cardamon pods. I also like to gently crush the cloves. Bonus points if you do it properly with a mortar and pestle instead of the back of a spoon.
(Other optional spices include nutmeg, ginger, and star anise.)
Step 4: Add the whole cinnamon sticks to the wine.
Step 5: Add the whole cinnamon sticks to the wine.
Step 5: Zest your lemon and orange and add the zest to the wine. (My secret ingredient is to add just a little squeeze of the orange to the wine as well.)
Step 5: Zest your lemon and orange and add the zest to the wine.
(Though not called for in any recipe, I like to add just a little squeeze of the orange to the wine as well.)
Step 6: Stir the mixture until the spices have added their flavors and the sugar has dissolved, paying attention to never let the wine boil or the temperature rise above 78*F.
Step 6: Stir the mixture until the spices have added their flavors and the sugar has dissolved, paying attention to never let the wine boil or the temperature rise above 78*F.
Step 7: Strain the spices and zest. Probably you should bundle everything in cheese cloth before you add it to the wine to make things easier. In a pinch, a slotted spoon works perfectly fine.
Step 7: Strain the spices and zest. Probably you should bundle everything in cheese cloth before you add it to the wine to make things easier. In a pinch, a slotted spoon works perfectly fine.
Step 8: Measure out a few fingers of brandy into each glass. Not only does it taste delicious, but the liquor helps to add back in some of the alcohol content that may have been inadvertently boiled out of the wine. (Technically, most recipes call for cognac, but, brandy was on sale, and Wikipedia tells me there is not too much of a difference between the two liquors, so we are using brandy here, and it is working just fine.)
Step 9: Add the wine to the glasses and garnish with a cinnamon stick and a slice of lemon or orange. Enjoy!
Step 9: Add the wine to the glass and garnish with a cinnamon stick and a slice of lemon or orange. Enjoy warm!
(Fancy wine glasses not required!)

Not to leave out chocolat chaud, the recipe is as follows if you prefer thick and sweet to sweet and boozy. (Though, some Irish Cream mixed into the recipe in lieu of some of the cream may not be a bad idea . . . )

2 cups whole milk or cream
5 oz of the best quality chocolate you can find (Think more luxury chocolate bars and less super market chocolate baking chips.)
optional 2 TBL light brown sugar
optional good quality fleur de sel, if available

1. Slowly heat the milk/cream, taking heed to not let it foam and boil.
2. While the milk is heating, finely chop the chocolate. (A great way to get the chocolate fine is by using a serrated knife or chef’s knife.)
3. Once the milk is warm, whisk in the chocolate until melted.
4. Once mixed, allow to very slowly boil for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. Make sure to keep the heat low so as to not quickly boil the mixture or burn the chocolate.
5. Add brown sugar if desired.
6. Serve in warmed cups. (Think espresso or at max a fine china tea cup size not a full belly ache-inducing mug full.)
7. Sprinkle a very small pinch of fleur de sel, if available, on the top of each drink.

Adapted from David Lebovitz

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