When the weather turns so chilly, I start dreaming about hot cocoa. I consider it a quintessential wintertime treat~! ♥ When it’s snowy outside and the wind is blowing fiercely, coming home and curling up with a mug of something warm is cozy and comforting. I drink tea on a regular basis–it’s my beverage of choice–but while I regard tea as a regular beverage, I think of hot cocoa as a treat! Tea involves water and tea leaves. Hot cocoa involves chocolate and milk, ingredients that I associate with desserts. This is a particularly strong association for me because I really can’t drink milk anymore due to a mild lactose-intolerance, so I only have it on rare occasions when it’s an ingredient in with something else.
Most hot cocoa around here is the instant powdered kind, and there’s nothing wrong with that! It’s certainly not the best around, but it does the trick. It’s also really convenient, since there is no actual cooking involved. You only need moderately-warm water to mix up most instant hot chocolate powder–it doesn’t even require water of a particular temperature the way teas do. My husband really enjoys any instant hot cocoa with those tiny dehydrated marbits marshmallows. I’ll sometimes have a mug of it, too, even though the marshmallows are more for show than for taste. They always seem to melt before it’s even cool enough to drink!
What I really enjoy, though, is hot cocoa made the old-fashioned way, by sloooooowly melting chocolate into milk in a pan on the stove top. My siblings and I actually share ownership of a hot chocolate pot thanks to a Christmas present several years ago from our grandparents. It’s made of cast-iron–which ensures even heating of the milk, coated for easy cleaning, has a wooden handle that resists heat, and includes a spout for even pouring. None of that is necessary, but it does come in handy! The spout is what I miss most when I make hot chocolate in a sauce pot; I’m not very good at pouring it out accurately.
This works best if you use low heat, so you don’t scald the milk, and break the chocolate up very fine. One of the reasons I like making hot cocoa this way is that I have full control over the milk and the chocolate used. If you can’t have (or don’t want to have) sugar, you could opt for sugar-free chocolate. I can use rice, soy, or almond “milk” instead of dairy milk, and get different variations of flavor by starting with differently-flavoured chocolate bars! (You can’t really use most filled chocolates, though; the filling gets kind of goopy and weird most of the time.) I have a crazy soft-spot for the very expensive chocolate bars sold by Vosges. By breaking up a Naga bar with curry and coconut I can get a much different flavor than a simpler chocolate-only bar. You certainly don’t have to use a flavoured chocolate to have flavoured hot cocoa, though; you can add spices and extracts, too, for something really customizable. It’s best to add spices to the milk before the chocolate and extracts after the chocolate.
Making hot cocoa on the stove is easy and pretty quick. Low heat is important–scalded or burned milk can be very unpleasant. Add milk (I usually measure it by using the mugs we’ll be drinking out of as measuring cups) to a pan, turn the heat on low, stir the milk constantly to avoid any hot-spots on the pan where the milk could burn, and when the milk is hot (try not to let it boil) slowly mix in the crushed chocolate, little by little. Sometimes I turn the heat off at that point and let the chocolate melt as the milk cools down, so it reaches a drinkable temperature more quickly and the milk doesn’t risk burning.
I also love this recipe for Earl Grey hot chocolate! You could very easily modify it to use any tea that suits your fancy–no reason it must be Earl Grey~!
Toppings are another fun thing~ I’d love to have a hot chocolate party, with blankets and cozy attire, hot chocolate and sugar cookies, and lots of toppings! Whipped cream and marshmallows are pretty classic options to start with. However, recently I had hot chocolate from “Froth,” the hot chocolate bar at Forever Yogurt locations. The toppings included normal marshmallows and fancier marshmallows, such as coconut-coated. There were crushed candies to sprinkle on top, caramel and chocolate syrups to drizzle, and sugars and sea salt to dust with. The sea salt was a really great addition to my Nutella hot cocoa. _ So delicious~ ♥