Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Hot Cocoa Drinks Inspired by Agatha Christie's Mysterious Affair at Styles

This post is basically an excuse to make chocolate beverages and talk about poison and British writing. Why do those three topics go together? Because of Agatha Christie, of course!

I first got into Agatha Christie because I started getting really bored with other books. I wanted a story that I could get halfway through without being able to tell how it would end and which characters would die, a problem I think most bookworms run into at some point in time or another. So I thought Agatha Christie and her very first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, might be a good place to start.

I’m not sure exactly how to describe this book without giving away anything. Besides, I’m pretty sure quite a few of you have read this book, but I’ll give it a try:

Hercule Poirot – a man of very small size, sporting an incredibly neat mustache and a dandified hat upon an egg-shaped head. Not exactly the way one would expect one of the greatest detective-minds of the era to appear. But not everyone looks the way one may imagine, a truth that becomes apparent to Arthur Hastings when Mrs. Inglethorp suddenly dies by poison in her locked bedroom during the dead of night. It is up to Poirot and Hastings to discover who the murderer is, though evidence and appearance incriminate everybody at Style court. Is it Hasting’s good friend, John Cavendish, a former lawyer and one of the last persons one would suspect of murder? Perhaps it is Lawrence, a rather delicate looking young man who is pursuing a career as a writer. Maybe Cynthia, a beautiful girl who looks exactly the opposite of how one might suppose a murderess to appear? Or is it some other domestic of Styles court? Hasting must keep up with Poirot’s dizzying intellect to find the murderer. But with evidence pointing in every direction and nothing looking as one might expect, this proves to be more difficult than even the famous Hercule Poirot had first thought.

One of the many pieces of evidence that causes confusion is the hot chocolate beside Mrs. Inglethorp’s bedside, placed carefully on a tray. It was in her room, partially consumed, when she died. Next to the cup, on the tray, was a pinch of salt.

Or was it strychnine?

Apparently strychnine, a fatal poison, looks a lot like salt. I wouldn’t know because I’m not a murderess….

Okay, who am I kidding? I do know that strychnine looks uncannily like salt because, well, I’ve done quite a lot of research on strychnine and other poisons. Not because I'm a murderess (unless you count killing off fictional characters), but because I’m a writer and that’s what writers do. It’s really not that weird to have an extensive knowledge of poisons…right?

Anyway, hot chocolate is one of the pieces of evidence that this entire book revolves around. So, naturally, I thought this would be the perfect beverage to feature in my post, even though there was quite a lot of talk about tea. After all, it's a British book and apparently British people like to sit around and drink tea in their gardens. But it wasn’t tea that might have been the means of poisoning Mrs. Inglethorp, it was hot chocolate.

That drink just got a lot more sinister.

So of course I set out to create some good dairy free, refined sugar free chocolate drinks. I came up with two. One made from chocolate and one made from carob, which tastes a bit like chocolate but doesn’t have any caffeine. Here are the recipes:

Dairy Free Hot Cocoa

Ingredients –
  • 3 cups of almond milk (make sure this is unsweetened)
  • 3 – 4 tablespoons of Grade B Maple Syrup (The 'B' stands for 'Best.' Okay, just kidding. But I do prefer Grade B because it has a richer, more carmel-like flavor that lends itself to chocolate drinks. I’ve also heard that it’s better for you than the other kinds. I’m not sure if that is true, but hey, I’ll take what I can get.)
  • 4 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3 tablespoon of grated dark chocolate (I used Trader Joe’s 72% dark chocolate and grated 2 squares, which conveniently yields exactly 3 tablespoons)
  • 2 teaspoons of vanilla
  • ½ of a teaspoon of cinnamon
  • ¼ of a teaspoon of sea salt
Directions –

1. In a vitamix (or any other blender), blend together the almond milk and all other ingredients except for the grated chocolate. Don’t forget the salt. Double check to be sure it isn’t strychnine…unless you don’t like the person you’ll be serving this drink to, then, by all means.  Just don’t tell Scotland Yard that you got the idea from me.
2. Pour the mixture into a saucepan. It should be frothy. Turn the flame to medium heat, add the grated chocolate, and whisk occasionally until it’s melted in. *Note: if using a metal whisk, don’t let it sit up against the side of the saucepan for a few minutes and then try to pick it up. Common sense, yes, but apparently that is something I’m lacking in, as my poor hand will tell you.

This recipe serves three, so you can share with a few friends. Choose these friends wisely. This cocoa is good. So good, in fact, that I’m afraid an Agatha Christie-like mystery might break out when you find that your cup is missing.

Hot Carob Drink

Ingredients –
  • 1 and ¼ cup of coconut milk
  • 1 and ¾ tablespoons of carob powder (carob powder looks exactly like cocoa powder, but it doesn’t taste as much like chocolate as you would expect. But, unlike chocolate, it has no caffeine, which is why I like to use it)
  • 1 tablespoon of Grade B maple syrup
  • ½ teaspoon of vanilla
  • A dash of cinnamon
Directions –

1. Mix all ingredients in a vitamix. In case you’re wondering, I choose not to use the old-fashioned ‘whisk the dry ingredients in slowly’ method for three reasons: one, I have issues with my hands due to Lyme and Mr. Whisk is my mortal enemy. Two, I’m not patient. Three, blending it ensures that there will be no lumps and it makes the drink more frothy.
2. Heat in a saucepan and then serve. The heating is optional, as this drink does taste good cold.

Since reading her book The Mysterious Affair at Styles, I’ve moved on to read about three or four more Agatha Christie novels. This one might still be my favorite, but all of hers are great because it’s usually pretty hard to figure out ‘who dunnit.’ 

And, in case your wondering, her books are not gory. Agatha Christie has the weird ability to write murder mysteries without making her stories sick or overly bloody. It's quite impressive, really. I attribute it to the fact that she was a British writer, which, of course, immediately makes a person very tasteful and refined. A bit generalized, yes, but don't most older British writers have that peculiarly delicate kind of writing style? A style that, unfortunately, didn't seem to get passed along to American writers. I always find it interesting how very different American writers are from British, especially modern-American versus 20th century British. If I were to describe this difference in one image, it would be this one:

British writers generally know how much is enough. Americans usually think they can get away with more. In case you're wondering, I happen to be American. But no, I didn't drink the big cup of cocoa...at least not all of it.

Have you ever noticed the distinct differences between British novels and American? If you’ve ever read Agatha Christie (which I hope you have), comment below and tell me about your favorite book! Or any other British or mystery novel, for that matter. And, while you’re at it, you might as well tell me: hot chocolate, tea, or coffee? 


  1. No, it's not strange at all that you've got all this knowledge of poisons *cough-cough* No, really, it's quite natural *cough again* I love your recipes, I think mu little boy will "inhale" either (although, probably BOTH) and will want me to thank you. So I am - in advance. Thanks! :) You have a wonderful imagination and excellent flair in concocting these recipes. Lovely!

    1. Lol! Thank you for your reassurance. I feel much better now.
      Thank you for your kind words! I'm glad you enjoyed the post...and I hope your little boy enjoys the cocoa drinks just as much. =)

  2. I've read that book at least twice; it's one of my favorite Agatha Christie books. And, I love your alternative hot chocolate recipes. We drink vanilla coconut milk with either cane sugar sweetened chocolate syrup or Hershey's unsweetened cocoa and sugar in my mostly dairy free household.

    1. Vanilla coconut milk? Why did that not occur to me? It sound delicious. Thanks for reading! I'm so excited to meet another Agatha Christie fan.


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