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Brandied Hot Chocolate

['2 teaspoons cornstarch', '1 1/2 cups whole milk', '1/2 cup water', '10 oz fine-quality bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened), finely chopped', '1/2 cup heavy cream', '1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder (optional)', '2 tablespoons brandy (optional)', 'or to taste']

Whisk together cornstarch and 2 tablespoons milk.
Bring water to a boil in a 2-quart heavy saucepan, then reduce heat to moderately low and add chopped chocolate and a pinch of salt, whisking until smooth.
Add cream and remaining milk (1 1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons) and increase heat to moderate, then cook, whisking occasionally, until mixture is smooth and heated through. Taste; for a deeper chocolate flavor, whisk in cocoa.
Whisk cornstarch mixture, then add half to chocolate mixture and simmer, whisking, until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Add brandy (if using) and remaining cornstarch mixture to thicken if desired, then simmer, whisking, 1 minute.

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