Hot Cocoa

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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Something warming–Krupnikas!

trees with snow

February snow

In preparation for the snow that was supposed to (and did) arrive last night, I had a few errands to run yesterday afternoon–there are some basic necessities for inclement weather: cat food, cat litter, TP, candles, and supplies to aid in keeping warm in case of power outage. (You will please note that bread and milk do not appear anywhere on that list.)  I stayed well away from the grocery store.

The important errand yesterday was to Wild Birds Unlimited for a huge bag of safflower seeds for the feeders which provide much entertainment for Frankie as well as for me. For keep-warm supplies, the was ABC store.

Quite recently while I was enjoying lunch at the Hope Valley Diner, another regular customer and I were have a very food-oriented conversation and Krupnikas was mentioned.  I’d not heard of it before. From his description of it I definitely had to remedy that oversight since I’m particularly fond of honey,  herb- and spice-based liqueurs such as Chartreuse (both green and yellow).

snowy deck

Snow day

Since the ABC store was conveniently (as in driving right past it) near the bird-food store, I thought this kind of weather would be ideal for trying some warming spirits while having relaxed bird-watching day and quality time with the cat.

Krupnikas is traditional Lithuanian-style  spiced honey  liqueur being  made right here in Durham, North Carolina! I thought it was necessary for me to try this one in the spirit of continuing education and experimentation. Thus, a stop at the ABC store. According to Wikipedia, krupnik or krupnikas (Polish or Lithuanian) was created by Benedictine monks–does this suggest why I might like this as well as Chartreuse? Bottle of Krupnikas located, bought, and carted home along with bird food. Errands completed.

While waiting for the snow to arrive last night, I poured myself a reasonable tot of Krupnikas–neat in a snifter since this was apparently the traditional way of serving it. Warmed by hands around the bowl of the snifter, the aroma was sweet, somwhat floral from the honey, with spices, and a bit of  orange-like citrus component that brightened up the warm spices.

The taste–wow–definitely warm, cozy,  almost cuddly, but certainly not fuzzy, though it feels very smooth and rich in the mouth.   The first sip gives warm brandy/cognac-like “burn” with sweetness, followed by floral honey sweetness and the spices that linger after swallowing. The spices are very warm and complex, without any one being dominant.

I’ve only tried this neat as a sipper, but if you check the  Facebook page and the website for The Brothers Vilgalys Spirits  there are suggestions using Krupnikas in mixed drinks.  I’m going to be trying it with coffee as you would brandy; the White Lithuanian sounds really good (as I do like brandy Alexanders occasionally).

For me, this is definitely a keeper that will live right with my bottles of Chartreuse! I can see it as an apéritifs and/or digestif, or as a sipper for relaxing with friends, or the cat and a good book. I’m glad I found out about this–especially as it’s made here in Durham. Another way to be a locovor!

As well as the Krupnikas made with neutral grain spirits, there is also Mystic Bourbon Liqueur (Barrister & Brewer)  and other products made here in Durham that need to be investigated. For those of you interested, this is available from distributors outside NC.  spiced honey liqueur