It’s been a chilly, damp, drippy Monday–the kind of day that takes an inordinate amount of caffeine to achieve a minimally functional state. The day’s to-do list included taking the cat to the vet. Of course it was raining  when I toted Frankie out to the car, and it was raining when we came out of the veterinarian’s office. Frankie was lucky–he was in the carrier and dry (not that he was at all appreciative of that).  Now we’re back indoors.  It’s still chilly, damp, drippy Monday–but now dark.  It’s time for a warm beverage that must have chocolate in some form in it–but there must be lots of if.  That means hot coca!

The hot chocolate is sipping chocolate–thick, rich, creamy–for when you feel truly decadent and in need of something sensuous as well as chocolate. There are times when chocolate is required–after a long walk in the snow, or after you’ve finished all the errands that made you go out on a cold, damp, grey, and miserable day. Those are the times when I want hot cocoa–a lighter beverage that comes in a BIG mug (and maybe even whipped cream) to warm me up. It has to be lighter than drinking chocolate because I want to drink more just because. I don’t want the stuff from the grocery store shelves that is supposedly “hot cocoa” but is usually too sweet and lacking in cocoa/chocolate flavor (e.g. Swiss Miss or Nestle’s).

Some chocolatiers have cocoa or drinking-chocolate prepared mixes that are very good–Chuao chocolate Spicy Mayan (expensive and really drinking chocolate), Starbucks, Ghiradelli, to mention a few of the up-scale ones. Even with these, I feel that the cocoa flavor is a bit lacking–I end up using more than suggested on the package,  and they are often sweeter than I like–I’m paying for lots of sugar and powdered milk. For a review of a hot cocoa mixes see Serious Eats.

Scharffen Berger does have sweetened cocoa powder–though more flexible, you’re paying for sugar (that you can get at the grocers inexpensively and you probably already have it in the kitchen).  So, how do I get my great big, steaming, warming mug of hot cocoa?

I’ll start with a premium cocoa: Valrhona is a favorite, Ghiradelli but  you can use the cocoa powder of your choice. The basic recipe for hot cocoa for one is from Epicurious. (On particularly miserable days, I recommend doubling the recipe even if it is just for one.)

Simple Hot Cocoa for One

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar (depending on how sweet you like it
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup milk or any combination of milk, half-and-half, or cream
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation

  • Whisk together the cocoa, sugar, salt, and about 2 tablespoons milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat until cocoa and sugar are dissolved.
  • Whisk in the rest of the milk and heat it over medium heat, whisking occasionally, until it is hot.
  • Stir in the vanilla and serve.
  • If you like it frothy, blend it in the blender
  • This recipe multiplies easily. When you get up to a quart of milk, use 1/4 teaspoon salt

For a bit more oomph, you can use both chocolate and cocoa together–and if you don’t want to do more that heat milk to get you cocoa and chocolate fix, here is a recipe for The Best Hot Chocolate Mix from Cook’s Illustrated, November/December 2014, page 23 that makes enough mix for 12 one-cup servings. Frankly, I get less than 12 since I usually use a big mug.

The Best Hot Chocolate Mix

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
  • 6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine
  • 1 cup (3 ounces) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup (1-1/2 ounces) nonfat dry milk powder
  • 5 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

Preparation

  • Process all the ingredients in food processor until ground to powder (30 to 60 seconds, or as needed)
  • Store in airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 months.

Making hot chocolate

For 1 serving:

  • Heat one cup milk (whole, 2%, or 1% low fat) over medium heat until steaming and bubbles appear around the edge of the pan.
  • Add 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons) hot chocolate mix
  • Continue to heat, whisking constantly, until simmering (another 2-3 minutes)
  • Pour into a heated mug and serve

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Hot chocolate or hot coca sometimes begs to be dressed up with some additions like Krupnikas or perhaps Jabberwok. If you’re going to add a sweetened liquor like Krupnikas, you may not want to use a mix (as above) that contains sugar. You can only tell by tasting.

Other liqueurs that to dress up hot chocolate or cocoa beverages:

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It’s always fun to dress up your hot cocoa–but for me, forget the marshmallows (unless they are homemade), and the whipped cream (unnecessary when you use at least part half-and-half), but adding some spices or other flavors can be fun. Sometimes I make hot chocolate with favorite chocolate bars:  Chuao Spicy Mayan bars, and I sometimes use that to make hot chocolate. My local Harris Teeter has a “house” dark chocolate with orange that makes a great cup of hot chocolate, and the pear and dark chocolate is a way to get a boost if your bar doesn’t include the liqueurs.

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