Hot Chocolate: Let Me Count the Ways

Hot chocolate ingredients with which to experiment. | Priya Hutner

Baby, it’s cold outside and the perfect time for a cup of hot chocolate. There is certain magic sitting by the fire, the wood crackling, your hands wrapped around a hot mug while the aroma of chocolaty goodness envelops you like a warm, fuzzy blanket. Hot chocolate brings out the kid in all of us. There are so many versions of hot-chocolate creations it can make one’s head spin.

Instant hot chocolate is one way to go, open the packet and throw it in some water and in less than a few minutes you’re sipping away. But there are many ways to make the perfect chocolaty beverage with little effort. These recipes will take your cup of hot chocolate to a whole other level and offer a specialty drink that will impress.

I love cacao and making a cup of hot chocolate with raw cacao is divine.

There’s the old-school method of hot chocolate with Hershey’s syrup and milk, that is super easy. Add 1 or 2 teaspoons of syrup into a cup of warm milk. Top it off with a few marshmallows, a good dose of whipped cream and a drizzle of syrup. The kids will be thrilled. Ghirardelli cocoa makes a pretty delicious hot-cocoa beverage. Stir the cocoa into a cup of warm milk and enjoy.

Publisher Katherine Hill uses baking cocoa with a dash of pure vanilla extract to prepare her cup of hot chocolate. Dark chocolate or cacao is my preferred route. I love Altar Eco chocolate, but any good bar of dark chocolate will do the trick and with so many flavors to choose from, you can create some pretty exciting variations.

Chuao Chocolatier (pronounced chew-wow) is a Venezuelan chocolatier based in Southern California. It has a number of unique chocolate bars: bacon, salted caramel or rocky-road, which all make for interesting cups of hot chocolate. For true marshmallow fans, try a dark chocolate s’mores bar melted in heavy cream and topped with extra marshmallows.

Consider giving your hot chocolate a Mexican twist. The Mi Pueblito Market in Truckee sells Mexican hot-chocolate wafers. Add the wafer to warm milk and melt it. Then add a touch of chili spice, cayenne, cinnamon and sugar, and serve hot with whipped cream.

I love cacao and making a cup of hot chocolate with raw cacao is divine. What is the difference between cacao and cocoa anyway? Cacao is made by cold-pressing raw cacao beans. The process keeps the living enzymes in the cacao and removes the fat (cacao butter). Cocoa powder is raw cacao that’s been roasted. Cacao is the purest form of chocolate and less processed than cocoa powder. Cacao is also a source of antioxidants and magnesium.

Try dairy-free milks
While writing this article, I took a break and went to the kitchen to experiment. In my fridge I found a bottle of Ripple Pea Milk. I poured 12 ounces of the dairy-free milk into a small pot with a teaspoon of coconut butter and warmed it on medium heat. Once the coconut butter was melted, I added a teaspoon of cacao powder. As it heated up, the kitchen erupted with thick smells of luscious aromatic chocolate. I added a teaspoon of maple syrup and a pinch of salt and poured the rich dark-chocolate beverage into a stem-less wine glass. It was delicious. I decided to add a sprinkle of chili powder. I loved the little extra kick.

My next experiment was an Indian version of hot chocolate. Using the dairy-free milk, I added ground ginger, cinnamon, cardamom powder, cloves, a pinch of ground pepper and a dash of maple syrup for a chai-flavored hot chocolate. This was pretty fabulous. I think it would be the perfect dessert after a bowl of dal and basmati rice.

Extracts are also a delightful way to perk up your hot chocolate: vanilla, anise, almond and mint extracts offer a variety of flavors for any palate.

Want a creamier version? Make your beverage with heavy cream or half and half. For a nondairy version, homemade cashew milk is the way to go for a creamy consistency.

Adult versions of hot chocolate might include Baily’s Irish Cream, Amaretto or Frangelico for an after-ski warmup or Sunday brunch. I love a theme: use tequila for a Mexican theme, Amaretto for an Italian theme, Baily’s for an Irish one or Grand Marnier for a French one.

Host a hot chocolate bar
Here are some fun ways to create and host a hot chocolate bar. For the base consider milk, half and half or heavy cream. For dairy-free versions use almond milk, cashew milk, oat milk or coconut milk. Use dark chocolate, flavored chocolate bars, cocoa or cacao or try a white-chocolate variation. Added flavors can include extracts and spices; chili, salt, cayenne and cardamom are wonderful to add to a beverage. If you need a little extra sweetener, add a touch of sugar, stevia, maple syrup or honey. Flavored whipped cream is another fabulous touch.

With all the variations, have fun playing and experimenting. Then sit back, relax and enjoy a warm cup of hot chocolate, cocoa or cacao.

Priya Hutner’s Chai Hot Chocolate
8 oz. almond milk
1 t cacao powder
½ t ground cinnamon
½ t ground cardamom powder
½ t ground cloves
½ t ground ginger
Ground pepper, to taste
Maple syrup, to taste

Warm the milk. Add cacao powder and spices. If you want, add a pinch of ground pepper and a dash of maple syrup. Enjoy.