February 14, 2014 at 1:00 am

Simply the Best

Give your special valentine chocolate in a cup

Surprise your valentine with a cup of hot chocolate or a hot chocolate float — or a toddy, granita or cup of espresso chocolate. (Kate Lawson / The Detroit News)

The super cold winter continues, and I find it increasingly more difficult to come up with clever ways to stay warm. The idea of a puffy coat, heavy sweater, wool socks and long underwear has become tiresome, and I’ve long since ceased of trying to look fashionable while braving the chill. Spring seems as if it will never arrive, and it will be June before the mountains of snow melt.

So I’m considering other methods and trying to warm from within. I love chocolate no matter what the form, and as a connoisseur of homemade hot chocolate, I’ve dabbled in different methods of preparing and using a variety of good-quality chocolates. No cocoa mixes for me, thanks, good chocolate deserves some respect, and if I’m going to spend the calories, I want something decadent (and no marshmallows, either). For years I prepared the recipe from the Hershey’s cocoa tin just as my mother once did for me. But I think it’s time to take that soothing beverage to the next level, and I’ve discovered the perfect recipe.

This recipe, Duke’s Hot Chocolate, from Lynne Rosetto Kasper’s “The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper,” gets its name courtesy of a cook, Giuseppe Lamma, who prepared meals for an Italian ruling family, the Bentivoglio dukes in 1632. Lamma used jasmine and amber to flavor the heated chocolate, ingredients that aren’t easy to come by these days so Kasper adds ground allspice, black pepper and orange to high-quality bittersweet chocolate such as Valrhona, Scharffen Berger, Lindt and Ghirardelli.

Kasper also offers variations on a theme so that you can create a stunning chocolate float, toddy, granita or cup of espresso chocolate for yourself or that wonderfully deserving valentine of yours.

It’s nice to know that the chocolate will keep on the stovetop for an hour or longer or stored in the fridge for two days.

The Duke's Hot Chocolate

From “The Splendid Table’s How to Eat Supper” by Lynne Rosetto Kasper

1½ teaspoons ground allspice
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (or the seeds scraped from the inside of a whole vanilla bean)
Generous pinch of salt
18 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper (optional)
½ cup sugar, or to taste
Fine-grated zest of 1 large orange
3 cups water; or half water, half milk; or half water, half cream
10.5 to 12 ounces bittersweet chocolate (Lindt Excellence 70%, Valrhona 71%, Scharffen Berger 70%, or Ghirardelli 70% Extra Bittersweet, in our order of preference), broken up

In a 3-quart saucepan, combine all the ingredients except the chocolate. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 2 minutes.

Pull the pan off the heat and let it sit for a few minutes. Then whisk in the chocolate until smooth. Taste the hot chocolate for sweetness and allspice. Serve hot. Makes 4 servings.

Per serving (made with water): 485 calories; 27 g fat (16 g saturated fat; 50 percent calories from fat); 69 g carbohydrates; 0 mg cholesterol; 42 mg sodium; 5 g protein; 6 g fiber.

Hot Chocolate Float

Top cups of hot chocolate with spoonfuls of pistachio or vanilla fudge ice cream. Sprinkle with crushed pistachios.

Espresso-Chocolate Hot Cup

Reduce the liquid to 2½ cups, and increase the sugar to ¾ cup. With the chocolate, add ¼ to ½ cup brewed strong espresso coffee.

Hot Chocolate Toddy

Add 1 ounce or more of dark rum to the chocolate. Garnish the cups with vanilla bean stirrers.

Hot Chili Chocolate

In Step 1, add to the liquid mixture 1 generous teaspoon medium-hot ground ancho chili, or the hot and sweet Aleppo chili. Boil with the other ingredients.

The Duke's Chocolate Granita

Increase the flavorings to 2 teaspoons allspice, 4 teaspoons vanilla extract (or the seeds from 1½ vanilla beans) and ¾ cup sugar. Cool the hot chocolate and pour it into a shallow container. Freeze for 1 hour. Stir the hardened portion at the edges of the container into the center. Repeat two more times, until you have a shaggy chocolate ice. Serve the granita topped with nuts or cream.

KLawson@detroitnews.com